“Days on earth consist of this draping, air furs contact with the
Cushions of gravity.”
Stacy Doris is a poet always elegant, daring, often outrageous. Stacy Doris is a poet eager to fly in the face of convention always with the most delicate of manners. She manages to politely affront the reader. She consistently wrote and lived displaying a rare courage — to evolve from one book to the next, to invent, to create cultural, literary and historical commentary, to translate, and to explore the dual impulses of the erotic and the violent—always within an intricate envelope of newly-conceived form.
The text I must write for Stacy, as a friend, contains thousands of tears. We do not believe in such tragic losses, the unimaginable, until one occurs. What is not acceptable is the continuation of such absence. It marks each breath. This writing for her is an attempt at reformulating the world to incorporate loss— though I do not believe it I stand in it. To know her, to read her works, is a gift. If you are already a reader of her works, place her texts into the hands of others. If you are new to her work I hope that this collection of writings will provide many entrances.
I first met Stacy Doris in 1990 in New York City. One of my very first readings was with Stacy, at St. Mark’s Poetry Project. Our mutual friend, poet Lee Ann Brown introduced us and so began a friendship spanning decades, various cities, bodies of text, simultaneous living within the body of a city and the bodies of the poets to whom we listened, followed, and wrote through and for. Her nature is always collaborative and in company of many voices, both those embodied and those in texts. Hers is a path of multi-lingual poetic travels, always arriving for the next visit squarely receptive, appreciative, generous, poised. Stacy Doris is a poet always thinking of everything, not drawing divisions between poetry and life. For instance she writes in the introduction to her book Paramour that her sources include: Ovid, St. John of the Cross, D.H. Lawrence, Mozart, James Joyce and Michael Jackson. People, conversation, cities are poetry. In her cosmology— teaching, walking, translating, making tea, reading, swimming, listening, are all part of the tempting and dangerous infusion, which she unabashedly savored, deconstructed, questioned and entered without hesitation.
Her world could often be constructed of thought positive practices even in the face of the outrageously difficult. One example is in her unafraid lunging in her writing into intimate realms of love, sex and magnetism of all kinds (attraction to video games, beheading, philosophy- and that nature of mind to covet as well as to distract, to entertain —songs, plays, performance, comic and comic-tragic gestures). Another aspect of her work I’ll call enmeshing—this refusal to draw categories. Nothing is not worthy of poetry. Nothing is not content. Everything is form, in theory, until she begins and creates each book different from the last with no inhibition, only a joyful abandon to materiality, the body, dialogue, and the invisible. Her writing inhabits longing and premises for longing. Often there is in her work both exuberance and then whatever impediments check that exuberance—thus a dialogue between many players. Whether in constriction or premeditated flight from constriction, whether in life or in whatever happens next Stacy Doris is a poet whose work cannot be contained, encapsulated, or framed within one limited aesthetic impulse.
But back to enmeshing, perhaps this concept is best understood in a statement she made to me once, deceptively simple. She told me that she did not believe that individual bodies / persons were separate from each other. This belief, when applied to the wide range of her writings, sheds some light on how she manages never to appear aloof from her content, regardless of the often-contextual project of social or cultural commentary. All the world takes part in the transfer of text action within each of her books. She brings new breadth to the concept of a wide sphere of influences and attentiveness. What other poet has imagined “Pindar as a cheerleader” (Cheerleader’s Guide to the World: Council Book)?1 No other poet illustrates as she does that:
“Form means we keep changing our minds, at every velocity, due to life; poetry is that fact’s lucidity.” (Knot, “Entrance”).2
Her book Paramour begins with a note to the reader: “It was written between 1995 and 2000 in the South of France and in North America by a willful female author who, nagged and baffled by questions of poetic form’s future, set out, as if she had all the time in the world on her hands, to catalogue, through strategies of parody and vivisection, an eclectic variety of Western Prosodic models. For subject matter the theme of love, certainly the most prevalent topic of poetic tradition, was readily selected.”3
In Paramour we find instruction manuals to love, insatiability, songs, dances, epistles, palindromes, cautionary text, dramatic interludes, visual experimentation, calendars, holy books, joys of war, an attraction to pain, charms, trials, gender meshing, proverbs, suicide and laments. In all of this is a prodding against limitations of social constructions regarding how humans consider sexual love. She writes “Only risking danger / have I found arousal (88).4 Doris assaults as well as plays within these limitations in modes comic, tragic, and lyric. The speakers plead for a disrobing of convention, an abandon to ecstatic or devastating arousal.
In Conference, she writes:
Sappho’s related prayer:
Banish fear— fear extinguished
by burning decisive
my nymphies: come.
Whatever the result
You’ll be better off.
(17) 5 Her book Conference combines theatrical impulse with evocation of Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar’s twelfth-center epic poem, The Conference of The Birds. Doris takes the concept of birds in crisis to examine global conflict and historic strain through characters such as “Genocidal Logic” and “Tragedy.” What is so brilliant about this work is that it manages to present such conflicts with no trace of didacticism- but through a dialectic and dramatic play in which characters appear and morph or molt through the text, with use of comedy combined with questions of crisis and violence. She writes:
Okay—(the lover and the loved and love being a
trinity of the same) it is spiration, the rolling of love
to the point of all enveloping. Where the invasion and
invaded are the same word nearly (meaning every-
where; inhale / exhale) the lover abandons all in the
loved “to the point of entire depenence.” 6
The evolution of Stacy’s work continues dramatically from one book to the next. When she was writing Knot, she told me she had decided to try writing something “serious” as opposed to “funny,” saying she was quoting another poet, (perhaps it was Michael Palmer) who said, “Now all funny poets will be serious and serious poets will be funny.” In Knot is an example of a movement away from previous works in terms of tone, form and visual construction, as well as in density of language which accumulates as her unit of composition in this work moves closer to prose, or the sentence, as opposed to previous elaborate structures, each unique, but which shared usually a shorter line, (or more variation on line length and a shifting visual construction of the page) a sense of dialectic and dramatic performance.
In Knot she writes: “A wish can refigure itself and others, but only where imagined” (iii.XV) 7
Knot provides a complicated surface of language and an interior below which broods and delves. In earlier works players inscribe upon us through sometimes chafing action, dramatic longing and lament, speaking through highly active, interconnected and alertly invented pantheons. In other words, often times characters represent a spectrum of conflicting perspectives. Through this spectrum the reader thinks through performative speech and gestures, and a lush erotic cacophony propels the text- desire always being central. In Knot, we are escorted quite differently, beginning with a series of questions from Eduardo Cadava, including: “ What happens when our eyes meet what they cannot see, when they encounter what cannot be encountered? What would an iconography of evanescence look like?” Doris writes, “Only in saying yes to disappearance is anything live.” (iii.IX). 8 The action in this text is often contemplative in nature. The many movements in the text represent aspects of thought pantheons pronounced internally in response to acute observation and concentration on external forms of constructing and obliterating meaning. In this work notions of “inside” and “outside” change places to create a revelatory text utterly distinct.
At the center of her work is an incredible generosity, a willingness to look, to listen, to reconsider, to play and to examine up close and in glorious or disturbing detail the inner and convulsive workings of forces we might call a vast range of human impulse and desire. To love is always central in her work, along with consideration of the many permutations of love and how they might possibly propel one into action or speech. Stacy Doris is a poet who does not flinch, does not appear ever to have regrets or to turn from taboo.
In a recent collaboration with poet Lisa Robertson, “The Perfume Recordist,” she co-pens the following:
“the Perfume Recordist was born from the confused and wildly charged encounter of waves and molecules, a tardive yet opulent (voir peonylike or Venutian) offshoot of early twentieth century Quantum Physics, her roots winnowing back to the great Physic of Avicenna, foundational to Well Being as one would wish to know it, yet in coyest contradiction to the contradiction of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. In other words, in a flagrant refutation of what’s commonly known as logic, the Perfume Recordist finds it her vocation to be beaten and burned until she demonstrates that to be beaten has indeed much in common with being burned, and to be burned has much in common with beating. These beatings and burnings join in layers of raptures, though the Recordist assiduously attempts to avoid both alchemy and redemption in her ecologies of (re)constitutions. The forging of senses entails forgeries? Ha !” 9
In “The Perfume Recordist” we find exuberant protest- exuberance in the breadth of collaboration- a liveliness of camaraderie in co-mingling expression- and a lively protest or shout- against the seclusion of ideas. For instance, take a global glance at questions of consumption, bodily impact, and chastity. We find “We can nearly lift our own body weight and abound in bioavailable optimism” 10 as well as, “ Perfume’s history is the record of shit”11 and “We are all invasive specious”12 . This collaboration includes correspondence, missives, laments, proclamations and public gestures toward the most desperately serious or absurd. At work here is a beginning to map or remark, to claim or untame linguistic associations with “perfume,” euphemism, coded politically driven banter, as well as what is entailed in demands or rewards of embodiment at this moment. We find ourselves enmeshed, not at all removed from questions of materiality, desire, direct address (both angelic, luxuriant and antagonistic or deliberately scathing). The richness here is an example of the abundant and enfolding sense of play and seriousness in collaboration through which we find an expanding linguistic and performative field.
Her most recent book, The Cake Part is described as: “a fantastic redeployment of banned pamphlets from the time of the French Revolution in the form of a book-length poem. Long kept hidden because of their transgressive content, these pamphlets were stored in a secret archive at the Bibilothèque nationale called the enfer (hell). Highly pornographic and formally promiscuous, The Cake Part is an eruption of all the repressed joy and terror of that 18th century revolution, back into our time, into the 21st century. Set in the typography of Web 2.0, the design of this book searches for the modern day equivalents of these banned pamphlets in the virtual networks which aid and abet current revolutionary movements.” 13
Stacy Doris decided to use the internet to create a virtual book launch and asked many poets to contribute videos including: Lee Ann Brown & Tony Torn, Toni Simon & Nick Piombino, Charles and Felix Bernstein with Susan Bee, Anne Waldman, David Buuck, Norma Cole and many others. (Videos can be seen here).
In reading the text and watching the videos what is most striking is that we are brought back to that cacophony of performative voices we find in much of her work- here materialized in a series of very different interpretative approaches to the text, which make use of the internet as a site of collaboration across geography and also historic moments. Reanimating the death of Marie Antoinette, in a time when political violence is made global, here we have a close up and unafraid gaze directed toward beheading. We are drawn to examine the impulse to spectacle, and to ask, why always a crowd for public beheadings? What manner do we document or attend to today? Do we deny or separate ourselves from attraction to violence, and if so, on what grounds and to what ends? What happens when we replace denial with scrutiny? Doris creates a text which requires an intense awareness and wakefulness.
Looking back through some of our recent correspondence I am struck again by Stacy’s heightened consciousness, courageousness, and by her tendency to turn everything toward the greatest light. She writes:
May 7, 2011:
“On Friday I changed chemo to a more intense toxic one. It is in-patient; I checked in yesterday and am now here 'til Wed.
There is a lush English garden out my floor-to-ceiling window and I can go sit in it when I like
Epic hospital delays
Feeling physically not so bad really
Trying to pretend this is a writer's retreat but I don't much feel like writing”
In our last phone conversation, a few weeks before she passed, she spoke to me about the beauty of California, about feeling stronger after a recent surgery. She was hopeful. In her last text message to me, a week after that, her words were “feeling stronger every day.”
In the summer of 2011 I asked Stacy for some work for the online journal Trickhouse. She sent a piece from her most recent manuscript, titled Fledge: a Phenomenology of Spirit (forthcoming from Nightboat Books).
She talked to me about this work about a year ago, walking along the beach in San Francisco. At a certain point rain began to fall and we ignored it, continuing to walk. As always she spoke much about writing as translation. She spoke about writing through Celan and Hölderlin. She spoke about the slowness of work evolving. She walked into the wind and rain as if this were no matter at all. In the first page she writes:
“Please bee get my hands I
want my hands back I love
you - so time’s gone? Rind’s tight
that means no time’s not want
churns don’t eat don’t want calls
give to grab, extended”
In this forthcoming work we are promised yet another permutation of Doris’s poetics, one with an eye again toward philosophic, precise forms and turned by the perspective of a child’s gaze. This work is both arresting and evocative of various vantages in relation to mortality and consciousness- returning us again to question the invisible as well as the weight of impressions which remain to us outside of the confines of “so time’s gone?”
1Doris, Stacy. Cheerleader’s Guide to the World: Council Book. Roof Books, 2006, p. 7.
2Doris, Stacy. Knot. University of Georgia Press, 2006.
3Doris, Stacy. Paramour. Krupskaya, 2000.
5Doris, Stacy. Conference. poet & poet’s press, 2001.
6Ibid, p. 88.
7Doris, Stacy. Knot. University of Georgia Press, 2006.
9Doris, Stacy & Robertson, Lisa. “The Perfume Recordist,” I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women,
editors Bergvall, Browne, Carmody, Place. Les Figues Press, 2012, p.247.
10Ibid, p. 235.
11Ibid, p. 238.
12Ibid, p. 239.
13Doris, Stacy, The Cake Part, Publication Studio, 2012.