Laura Mullen
“All the Time in the World”: Some Postcards

“A beginning / has no beginning” (Paramour p. 58)

An extended and extraordinarily active meditation on “poetic form’s future,” Stacy Doris’s collection Paramour is also an inquiry into “the problem of change.” (22) The book exposes what we tend to think of as oppositions (extension across time, and transformation) as interdependent. Here is a lust or love story: one allows us to feel the other.

My proposition or proposal is that this book, “about” poetry (about love) is about time—as the author (in an overture that will stay forever in the present tense as it regards the book and slides into the past already as it takes the author for its subject) so much as tells us. Told us. So. This: “willful female author who…set out, as if she had all the time in the world on her hands…” “catalogue[s]” a variety of (“Western”) models for poetry and a singular subject, “romance.” “Dearie! / The old-time love-joints, / remember, ravishing?” (16)

Where the author locates her reflective and inventive text, where…”Sir Jewel Box and Dame Internet meet,” is where we are, or course, not just you and I but (hello there) all of us—so, at once, separate and connected—our individual subjectivities capable of going viral in a heartbeat.

(A rhythm made of sound is made also of silence.) To invoke a plentitude of time is to invoke its opposite: impossible to miss her “as if.”

Rereading and rereading Paramour in the wake of or the absence of, in the after

Telling us also that this “writing should feel palpably performative and ephemeral…” and “hand-crafted” for “standard white ‘multi-purpose’ paper,” Doris entangles us, at once, in the uneasy relationship between the apparently transient and the apparently durable, or (reverse the order) what Diana Taylor calls The Archive and the Repertoire. To say the book’s subject is time is to say that the inquiry is to some extent about memory. How, who, what, where, when: that jealous lover’s list. Amid the changes. We do get (some) extensions. There is “A MONTH OF VALENTINES” in Paramour, laid out as on a calendar: 28 different lyrics, no same sender, no real repetition but ceaseless (it seems) imagination, and yet, also, for this reader, an anxious sense of rehearsal and surfeit…as if we’re stalled out (think Ground Hog Day) mid-February, on that day when the lovers do or do not see their shadow.

I once asked an undergraduate class for an example of a cliché and someone immediately answered, “I love you.” There is nothing anyone can say more meaningful than…there is nothing anyone can say less meaningful than... Doris, as we say, works it, that semantic plentitude and lack, for all it’s worth. The generative core of the book might be the absence of just that dull phrase (as the book seems to change each time I read it I find myself unsure about that—but I didn’t find it).

Sexual time the time of desire is overwhelmingly “l’heure” of Paramour: the poems are mostly present tense and gerunds abound. It’s the “quick” (a word repeated often) time of seduction, arousal, and that uneasy and exquisite “don’t wait” (96) “waiting, / liquid” (97), “Thus wait, liquid” (136), time of the word we use to mean a long and pleasurable arrival: thus this book, whose author is gone, is constantly coming. “[A]nd going.” (11)

Paramour’s anagrammatic play can also be seen as sexual (it’s all about positions) noting then that these variations at once affirm liberty and imprisonment. You can do anything—with these four limbs, I mean letters. The materiality of the medium has rarely been more in evidence.

In the palindrome (racecar, for instance) to advance is to be returning. “It is bad, reader, no longer to like retracing one’s steps.” (Jacques Derrida: The Post Card p. 4) Impossible not to see Paramour as informed by the “Envois” of the philosopher’s earlier book. As well impossible not to think of Michel Serres’ Parasite.

“It suits me to take you in my arms / And it suits me, this hour of fast love”: that’s how the book begins (“An Introductory Song-Within-Song”). I note for you (who will have seen it too, I think) the move from “hands” in the opening prose to “arms” as the poetry starts: we are being held closer…and we are being held “fast,” which in one of those funny turns of the language means at once tight and loose, or—more accurately—stuck, and quick.

By the close of the book we’re too close, almost, caught forever at the “open edge” and “center,” at once “between, behind,” in the on-going “convulsive gnaw…” (138)

I promised

“I warble then melt, rousing. This me infinitely, Thus.” So “Geliebter” writes to her “Dear Embers,” introducing us to “This” and “Thus” early in the book. (21) Uneasily gendered aspects productively at work in what Laura Sims identifies as a “tragicomic love story” (I refer you to her words in the Boston Review), “This” and “Thus” can also be read as tenses: a present (This: The is) and an odd future-past (“Thus” functions as reference to cause and announcement of result). Their intercourse on these pages makes a (“fast”) shorthand of Wittgenstein’s assertion that the world is everything that is the case.

“Are you my now?” (21) Tush.

“This Thus bellowing, quick flame.” (83) Where “quick” means both alive and brief.

The time of the book is the time of the body: the time the virgins are urged to make much of, the increasingly giddy hurry of the Western canon as carpe diem seems to turn (cf. Eliot’s moan, “I grow old, I grow old”) to carping panic. The time of our lives, the tune and turn of… Against and within which Doris arranges her palindromic structure and the ecstatic vision of an “infinite burn.” (138)

“This could find no other justification for his new love except to see whether he could find sexual fulfillment without love, and eventually forget Thus through this new satisfaction in time, just like she seemed to have forgotten him…” (82) To speak of time is to speak of memory (I said that already): our only—as Dickinson saw—physical experience of “eternity,” “Show me / Eternity, and / I will show / you Memory…” We invented the latter from the former…it’s worth remembering. Or, “They lives ageless and patented after.” (37) as Stacy Doris puts it.

I promised again and then wrote to ask if the deadline could be extended (again) [“a little hour; a vacant stall” (78)] but of course—“the earlier the better would suit me” (11)—none of us have “all the time in the world” or that is exactly, in fact, what we have. Our serving. Thinking of the way Virginia Woolf opens time in To the Lighthouse (as Jorie Graham, in another century, leaning over the open book, helped me to see), so that in a sentence in which a woman is finding a morsel of something delicious for her guest she is also “carefully helping” him “to a specially tender piece, of eternity.”

“THAT STENCH / of lilies.” (75)

Marry the poems say (often and in more than one way), a bit like Woolf’s Mrs. Ramsey—and like Mrs. Ramsey the author mocks or admits the lack of satisfaction in a “lean eaten wedding” (130), but the formal play of the work as a whole stands as a flirtatious but forceful dismissal of free verse. “It’s a pity the way the free are. Their lot’s cast. ” (125)

The Post Card: “you will burn it, you, it has to be you.” (p. 256)

“Oh, hurry.” (98)

When my stepmother died, in 2005, I went out to the Pacific Northwest for the memorial service. It was the end of August. I’d seen her at the start of July. Her neighbor handed me the postcard I’d written to her—part of the white drift of mail that stacked up while she died, slowly, alone in the wilderness. I felt I’d delayed in getting back to her to say how much our brief visit (in San Francisco) had meant to me. “At last I have time…” I wrote.

“Then she said, ’What right do I have to take any drops of solace, when This is away from me, in sorrow?’ She took the magic bell and shook it just a little, one last time…” (134)

It’s music that matters: “The hammer, tine” (63 & 136) in time.

“Stays she,” I heard, with the quickened liquid ear being with her book left me: “Stays she, Door is.”

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