Lauren Shufran on Beverly Dahlen
“there are two or maybe even 18, no the number approaches infinity, ways of saying this.” That’s Dahlen, in recognition of the profound distance between the thresholds of the residual, which contains as many apertures for admission as there are entries into interpretation. I use “admission” here not only to acknowledge the access, the re-approaching, that “A Reading” endeavors, but also the voluntary and autobiographical truth-telling contained therein.
The thing about the residual of the daily is plenty of us decline to persist there; Dahlen lingers in our absence – neither as respite nor as intermission, since the work by no means seeks ease, nor would it presume the textual could ever function as total sanctuary (she once said “I don’t agree (to begin with) that “poetry is to stop fear.” It may focus fear or anxiety but stop it? No.”) – but just long enough, and just urgently enough to assemble, to perform response as an offering to the immediate past, making the utterance contiguous with its moment. “A Reading” acknowledges its participation in a totality both textual and experiential, but the totality is such that the two become indistinguishable. It is the exploration of limits as such: a work whose extent, scope, and duration is equivalent to the life of the writer who writes it: the writing an extension of one’s reading, the construction a materialization of how one has construed. It grapples necessarily, then, with both authority and the authorial, polyvalent in registering its collaborators, but singular in its subversion of the hierarchical, as each digression is also fundamental, as each digression is also a locus: or (this is Dahlen): “it seemed to me then that we had stumbled upon a clue of greater significance than we might easily be able to unravel.”
Does “A Reading” sacrifice privilege to the practice of preservation? Probably. Does it convoke the arbitrary? Most likely. And because each section is accompanied by the date of its revision, not only is the living recorded, but the text becomes a record of its own being written. “A Reading” is an exploration in how to refuse to close the parentheses, how to circumscribe the interminable, how never to leave it alone… and though “somewhere we tread a line that is not total,” to write a complement to that which is serially unfinished, and to write that complement within it. (Dahlen): “if the word does not arise it will fall back, the thing itself, it will fall again into that ocean where it is not biodegradable. it is not truly broken up into its constituent parts. it is a hunk of something indigestible.”
This is from “A Reading (16)”…