Can you tell us a bit more about the
larger project from which this comes? “House Lights” suggests a
performance, setting us in the theater, which complicates the intimacy
suggested by this poem.
is a book-length
long poem about my family, my hometown in rural North Carolina, and
self-erasure. It was written as a continuous line and used what I’ve
settled into calling liminal syntax—a syntax that, for this poem,
allows for numerous voices to sing both melody and harmony. It is a
syntax that resists closure and results in accumulation and a
circuitous approach. Being voiced this way does compromise the poem’s
intimacy, but its allowance for polyphony outweighs occasional loss of
intimacy as a formal concern.
Everyone in my family speaks in the poem, so in that way it suggests a
performance, but one in which the lines are constantly interrupted and
overlapped (easier to read than stage, I’d imagine). I do not intend
the poem’s setting to be a theatre, but the title does
have a theatrical origin. A stage manager cues “house lights” as on/off
signals for the theatre/aisle lights before and after a performance and
intermission, signaling the emergence of a liminal space. This poem’s
major preoccupations are memory and death—quintessential liminal spaces
(and wellsprings of motivation) that prolong and complement each other.
This seems to be a poem in which
language empties out: What should be a pleasantry (“I’ve enjoyed this”)
becomes a statement of despair. Once this received language has been
emptied out, what’s left?
Being alive having encountered my past.
“Thank you I’ve enjoyed this” are the last words my grandmother spoke
to me before she died. I was initially afraid of ending the poem with
her voice, with her words. Last words are sacred. When I was generating
the second half of what would complete House Lights
and first wrote “Thank you I’ve enjoyed this,” I realized I had
something very loud on my hands. The words felt wild, like they didn’t
trust me, so I set out to break them.
Repetition is easy. Timing is difficult, especially when timing the
repeated collision of the voice of Thought and the voice of Witness. To
empty language this way reveals something, and in the case of House Lights
it reveals a cavern of saudade. Loosely translated from Portuguese,
saudade is a profound longing or nostalgia for something/someone lost,
but there is no word for it in English. I’m attracted to this failing
of language. When I repeat something in a poem, I am emptying it of its
value so that new value can be added from beneath.