Sunday 13 December 2009

Divining for Starters, or How It Began and Begins and Begins

"Divining for Starters (65)" is now up at Intercapillary Space. Edmund Hardy, one of the editors, asked me where the phrase came from, and here's an attempt at an answer.

My series of poems "Divining for Starters" began with the first two written in late 1999. I was in my third year of the Ph.D. program in English at the University of California, Irvine, and was completing my graduate coursework, which included an emphasis in critical theory. The emphasis involved a 3-course, year-long survey, and a required number of optional courses, which for me included Marxist Literary Theory with Rey Chow and Pardon and Perjury with Jacques Derrida. Anyway, in 1997 or '98 I read Derrida's seminal essay, "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," and related writings, and began thinking about this Western compulsion to create/assert origins, and the way this compulsion is embedded in our thinking--it's a new day, new project, new year, new beginning, and so on, always suggesting we can decide such an origin simply by stating it (I know I'm getting away from the Derrida now; this is the direction my thoughts took me in when I thought of the work more abstractly later). That was the idea when I wrote the first, and hence unnumbered, "Divining for Starters," and I explored the idea more explicitly in "Divining for Starters (2)" a few months later. For me, the phrase divining for starters means trying to find a way to create a beginning, to originate while acknowledging one is always
in medias res. I think many people, consciously or unconsciously, live by divining for starters, and each poem in the series considers the possibility of a particular new origin or the possibility/problem of deciding an origin more generally.

I'd be glad for questions that may help me clarify this answer further.

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