EP: You mentioned to me recently that you were thinking about circles and squares. I’m also thinking about circles. And I think I’d like to think about squares. Can you talk to me a little about what you’ve been thinking about circles and squares?
LL: When I wrote to you about my thinking about circles and squares it was the middle of a long night. Now I can’t remember what it was I was thinking about, but I like rethinking about thinking about this, about how we like shapes to define and confine, to give form to ideas and abstractions. And our bodies are shapes. And sometimes I wake up and only remember the shape of a dream. Squares: there doesn’t seem to be anything very natural about squares, does there? But we make a lot of squares: tables and books and boxes and rooms and houses. Circles: I sometimes think in concentric circles like I’m inside myself, a little bodily circle inside a world inside something else. And how circles are loops, walks that come back to where they started. I have a woods loop walk I do almost every day. Is your walk up Mt. Sugarloaf a loop or an out-and-back walk? That’s an interesting shape to think about too.
And a square, a rectangle, is a framed something, isn’t it? Of course frames can be circles too. And frames give us context, but they also exclude.
EP: I really like loops. Especially walking loops. I have some friends who have a graveyard loop they like to walk and I like to walk that walk with them. These friends also have a chicken coop loop that I like to walk with them. My little mountain walk is not a loop. I walk down the same path I walk up.
Square and rectangles certainly do some interesting framing work and I like thinking about how frames might influence perspective, focus, tension.
I wrote an essay last year about a genre of books I called Poetic Picture Books and in doing research for that essay I read a book called, Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang and in this book Molly Bang says, “Smooth, flat horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm.”
LL: “Smooth, flat horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm.” I love seeing the horizon where sea meets sky. Bang’s is another book for me to check out. Thanks! And now I’m thinking about asemics which make me feel anything but stable and calm!
EP: I can think of a few poems in Rainy Days On The Farm that have circles. What you were saying about the squares and rectangles and circles all being possible frames makes me think especially of your poem, “Rain, Birds, Amendment” and its beginning lines –
A circular frame goes around us and touches itself where it started,
but ending where it started does not make it a circle.
– And then of course, I think of your poem “In Every Square” and how that poem does work to create frames around a series of images. There are numerous squares in Rainy Days On The Farm too:
the insides of glass squares
a maroon square
inevitable square eclipse
Square maple fanning
I really love imagining an inevitable square eclipse.
What has brought you to your thinking about asemics?
LL: Oh my gosh, do you give me things to respond to! First, I had no idea there were so many squares in my poems! Maybe it bothers me a little to think so. Squares seem to me somewhat forced, like plots. There are many things to think about here: definitions, boundaries, houses, celestial vaulting. (Have you been to Mass MoCA and stood before Turrell’s light spaces? Some are absolutely shapeless!) Asemics: I have been drawing squiggles for a long time, sometimes when I’d like to write but have nothing to write. Then I discovered a whole tradition of asemics. Now I draw some nonsense every night before bed. I like thinking about lines, the drawing-writing connection. You draw too, don’t you?
EP: I do draw. Often I draw endless spirals before going to bed, filling some designated page space with spirals. I haven’t done much work with asemic writing since I was a kid, but when I was a kid I had a small stuffed animal bunny named Snuggle Bunny and a mouse named Mary Mouse and they were poets and I would cut out tiny little pieces of paper, bind the paper with one staple, and on some of the pages compose poems by way of asemic writing.
I have seen the James Turrell light spaces at Mass MOCA and I think they provide some rectangle work that I really enjoy. Thinking back to Molly Bang’s assertion that rectangular shapes provide a sense of calm and stability makes me want to return to those light spaces and examine my sense of calm or the opposite.
To return to squares, I would say without thinking on it too long, in art that explores geometric shapes I can find myself quite liking a square or many squares. Colorful textile patterning involving squares I can quite like. And I like numerous square pillows. I also understand why there are things about squares to be bothered by. Calling someone a “square” is of course a putdown that has long existed. Associating pens and cages and man-made boundaries with squares is going to understandably lead one to dislike squares. Perhaps the idea of a square is additionally bound by some idea of artificial perfection that is troubling. All sides the same. Four required 90 degree angles. Maybe the squares are appearing in your poems because they bother you and you are exploring that?
LL: Yes, I bet you’re right that things that bother us appear in our poems. And I guess I’m bothered by squares and even by rectangles. And maybe not so much by circles and ovals and spheres. And then of course there are triangles and dodecahedrons and cylinders and hearts and stars. Shapes are definitions and so they are necessary and limiting as language is. They are asking to be accepted and asking to be rebelled against. We can be inside them and outside them. When we are inside a shape, we can’t really see it. There are private shapes and public shapes. Now I’m thinking that conversations, like this one, have an overly self-conscious shape. My day will have a shape. Doubt has a 3D shape. What about the different shapes of thinking? If one takes sharp turns in one’s thinking but ends up where one began, that’s rectangular. One can slant or lean and end up with a triangular thought.
EP: Speaking of slants, I was at dinner the other night with Dara Wier and Rachel B. Glaser and we were talking about shapes and they both quickly declared their love of parallelograms and I asked them to tell me what about parallelograms they loved and they in unison leaned to the left and sitting next to each other they seemed to create a parallelogram. It was really really lovely.
LL: Lovely to think about the shapes that we love, the leaning parallelograms, the oval minds, three dimensional shapes, the fourth dimension, etc. . But I also find myself resistant. What’s the shape of my resistance? Does it come from being more attracted to the uncontainable than the container? Do I prefer the question to the answer? Do I believe more in uncertainty than certainty? And I’m thinking about the circle of a life that begins and ends in nonexistence. Can shapes be open-ended? Can stuff leak out of shape or is the stuff trapped? Can stuff leak in? I think that our bodily shapes and lives are porous. I think maybe I have a bigger thought about shape that’s leaking in slowly.
And then I was thinking about shapes as perimeters. And the shapes of various poems and books. You know how I’ve been studying Flow Chart for years and years? I think the shape of that poem is a long, long, three-sided rectangle with one end open: “the bridge, that way.”
The shapes of sentences interest me too, how they pretend to be complete thoughts.
EP: Maybe there’s some important movement to preferring the question to the answer? All the possibility in questions, in uncertainties. Questions might lead one to walking down the paths one most wants or needs to walk? Rainy Days on the Farm is full of questions, so many excellent questions. Here are a few I particularly love that feel in conversation with shapes and lines and perimeters –
What if overloads of non-narrative informational detail become
So what if uncategorized information overrules the categorized?
Where do my edges meet your logic?
What you say about sentences having shapes makes me think of your poem, “The sentence is an industrial building.” and how that poem does such wonderful work lighting up sentences as shapes.
Four sentences are like four sleeping dogs or four visible wavelengths.
Can you tell me a little more about seeing Flow Chart as a long, long, three-sided rectangle with one end open: “the bridge, that way”?
LL: I think FC has taught me how to get from moment to moment and thing to thing, how to have a way to keep going.. And how to include everything or at least not exclude. When I first read FC (and every time since) I was thrilled to get to the end and have it not be an end at all. Because it’s a poem and a book of course it has a shape, but it’s not closed. It’s not didactic or know-it-all despite its wisdom. Maybe it’s more a big, open-ended question than an answer.
If all matter is shaped (isn’t it?), maybe we (I) find rest and consolation in the woods because trees are so definitively shaped and I think they don’t have any questions although they probably desire and suffer plenty.
Thank you, thank you Emily for helping me think about all this! Until this conversation I didn’t realize how many questions and shapes and questions about shapes were in my brain.
EP: Thank you, Lesle for helping me to think about these things. Tonight I want to draw some tree shapes.