Douglas A. Martin
It Must Be True
When I was starting out...
I mean not yet settled, in those days when wanting to be someone who could live within the conditions of a life started with going back and forth between how I felt the place for “my work,” “my writing” was best described. Diary felt loaded, pretty (boys are not, you’re told, using the word wrong). Journal, notebook, or how the words on one cover provide: record. I felt then I could do whatever I wanted, call it poetry.
I would wind up always somehow in the same spot eye level in stacks, perplexed there by both an Acker book, Literal Madness, and collections by Lydia Davis that had been taken out of print but at one point good enough to publish. It mattered too who had published them. It was how they got to the library to me, when I had not yet gone North from South. (Later to read AC because of where I sleep at night, having thought before something must be wrong with it—not that good—if on all the front tables of bookstores.) Sentences had their frames that might be entered enough further in than brief fits or long rambles I tended to go into when I felt it time to write.
I know there are some words I am not supposed to use anymore. Monique Wittig teaches the relatedness of genre to gender. I wonder if you already feel yours to be fluid and what this means for the other.
“Novel,” I said, referring to my first book. I thought fiction because I also felt how not telling everything was a form of lying. For me, the novel is not ever necessarily a reductive thing, but more capacious than the poem, perhaps not as capricious as ones I tended to go into. Some might disagree. Eileen Myles tells me how she brought my first prose work into a class she was teaching on the poet’s novel. That opens something up for me: rather than a lying aside, a prising within, a kind of living out of a problem.
To Get It Back Here
Duras’s Writing book: she talks of what counts in a house. In a talk for a museum event, I go over how I stage-set for composing the address that holds not just me but my companionship.
Reading Three Lives, beside someone I won’t picture here, on a beach. It opens up into me a conception of yes, she had hers—but who are my analogues in the contemporary. Victor Man. What would it look like in prose, a black rose feel of folds? (I like the word “prose” because I see inside of it the rose and think of Stein.)
One agent said to me sometimes you just have to tell the story. I didn’t listen. Another asked me when I was going to leave my world behind. I searched rather for another way into concerns, to translate subject into structure.
To an at times perplexed class I was visiting, because they had or were supposed to have read a book of mine, while they want to talk about how I used information I got where and why, I find myself going back again to Duchamp’s urinal.
I get to a point where most of what I do, or am able to feel for myself, to offer in my own writing between and outside of jobs has become more unclassifiable, no doubt in a reaction. I wanted a job to feel I had stability financially to then write whatever I might like, but the sustainable job becomes contingent on whether or not what you do is largely recognized. You do not yet go on the “market” as a writer of prose. If I am hired as a novelist or fiction writer, I feel confirmed somehow but also the need to perform.
I do more what I like at Goddard College. It is there I am a reader for Jill Magi’s Labor, giving notes on the visual element in the manuscript that also punctuates among the paces of words and how. There on Bhanu Kapil’s lips I first hear the word “hybridity” used in the sense of writing. It roots in her study of Haraway I know, but too it makes me think of fruit trees and such in proximities, plantings and patterns, seeing what else might, through other interceptors, happen. Is it any less true of an art if your medium is paper, paper that still has the tree somewhere in it? I think also along lines of what were screens before interfaces. How the light hits, from behind like in an audience of a film, feeling we are being sent out through it, or more from the front coming into us like a TV. I try to explain this to a class not going well. Everyone wants to be the center. Writing is the thing that makes you go where you have to go. I go for a job talk at CalArts. I am still not genre enough. I still have not done enough. I still am not convincing enough.
I wear what I call my masculine skirt, a kind of gray (grey) canvas thing, with a green jersey, on the day of a class Bhanu and I taught together many years ago now. We have participants using masking tape to position along a spectrum in the room from Mary Oliver to Alice Notley what they generate, around whom they feel the most closeness. There should be more places than just right or left, I feel, class, so up on a chair I reach toward the ceiling and go down to the floor for others. I could do this. I could be someone who moved how I need to think.
It is more about where I am standing in relation to it at a time through time.
There are conditions where my life currently is, and then the work that happens that does or not allow. I propose to be a poet working in novel forms. The curious seem to get this when I say something like that. Recently I have been literally writing on walls in a studio, as a participant in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space program on Governors Island. I claim and practice “autobiographical investigation and lyric research.” Part of what I mean is with a manuscript I did as an intervention into true crime accounts, that genre, the time I spent working on this I made correspond to sentences my models served. For inspiration, I look to Tehching Hsieh more than Truman Capote.
In a translation I work on, hold there in front of a tacked up photocopy of a page of a poem, as I write out onto the white words I could stand to know better, it’s forms that spark traces involving, evolving connections I sketch alongside in spirals. Graphite and gesso, other compounds, conspire where some letters obscure fine and others take shaping again, the novel, adjective.
It is important for me to iterate how long you work at something for it to pass or to do more than that, how much of the centering you do as you grew.
How much I believe in this writing to move life as it has.
If lines do become sentences, what kind of rhythm true for how surely I want it to come into focus.
Douglas A. Martin is the author of eight books across genre. Learn more about his work in T Clutch Fleischmann's interview series "Queer Essaying."