02 January 2007

THINKING case sensitive / Kate Greenstreet

case sensitive, by Kate Greenstreet (Boise: Ahsahta Press, 2006)

Disclaimer: This is not a review, or even a close reading, as I've done on this blog with other books or parts of books. Rather, it's a path into and perhaps through a book, although I have my doubts that one ever gets through any book, or certainly any book worth its words, as this one certainly is.

I love looking back into books of poetry I have read, not necessarily looking back from the beginning and through again, but randomly, openly, finding some other way in and through, again.

Kate Greenstreet's recent book, case sensitive, is one I read a month ago and liked tremendously, and thought a book full of experience, passion, a sense of the world unfolding, often through memory, but unfolding nonetheless. I loved its intricate, developing, diverse structures of thought, of poetry.

In looking back at it today, it is precisely "thought" that caught my attention. I opened the book, as randomly as I could, and ended up on page 14, where I read,
"Matter." And "thought."
Both must.
Suddenly the book, to me, was about thought, thinking, and its relationship to matter. But mostly about thought: ideas, wondering, imagining, thinking.

I looked through the book, pretty quickly, noting 37 instances of this cluster of an idea, although primarily, 30 instances, specifically of one of these words: think, thinks, thinking, thought. In a book of 100 pages of poetry (more than that many pages in the book, but when I subtract title pages, section titles, notes, etc., it's just about 100 pages of poetry), this can't, I think, be insignificant.

case sensitive begins with the line, "Many things about the story are puzzling." The story told here isn't quite a narrative with the gaps filled in, rather very much a narrative of the gaps, the puzzles. And when one enters a puzzle, one enters with a question, with a thought. The book ends with a recall of "the idea that all messages join, somewhere." To get from puzzle to a conjunction of all things, a wholistic universe, requires not only a lot of thinking, but a lot of faith in thinking. Thought, in process, we must remember as well, is a far different thing from knowledge, or certainty. It is precisely a transitioning, a movement in the mind.

How do we get from matter to thought, thought to matter? Try this.
Once mentally created, they had life (7)
There is a balance in this book from believing in reality because it is thought, and in thinking provoked by the real. Clearly it takes both, things and thought about things, to make something permanent, something that will not "just / disappear when their presence // became uncomfortable for him." Along the way, thinking is related to speaking or saying, and Greenstreet is at her most philosophically provocative when she makes this connection.
"—talking clears the air
and brings out half a laugh
. . . we poor beings

with what we think . . .

[D]irectly
that's our best way"
"not just for me

but the world. And while we live." (12)
But our saying and thinking directly (I wonder if "directly" is possible) are compromised, because we exist, and think, inside the puzzle that began the book.
Thinking about mysteries—the books called mysteries—as I drive past town after town, "the middle of nowhere." (13)
I want to relate thinking to meaning in the book, and soon she relates seeing to meaning, on this map through town after town, act after act.
Why bring it up again? Red eyes,
read for meaning.

The buried ring, marked map, "the consolation
of religion."

Things go together because they are together.
It's a challenge to the spirit that cleans the spirit. (21)
No, given what's gone before, I think, things go together because we see them together, think them together, say them together. The real is conditional, i.e. "If you had a cup of ocean water, I don't think that it would smell." (24)

What matters here? What endows life, what sustains life. Everything.
Affection. Love. To make things. Time to think. The outside. The outdoors. I need salt. I don't know if all mammals do. But people do." (26)
And what happens without such thinking: "Not thinking about it won't work." The salt won't be provided, desire won't be experienced, life won't be lived.
Not thinking about it won't work.
When certain foods will remind you of
certain cruelties.

Salt deprived, he could die and never feel the desire
for salt. This is common,
even fated.
Thinking can be casual, though it implies more. "Or rain, / You'd be thinking—" and thinking can be a statement of uncertainty, a kind of speculation. "These are harder, I think." (35) Sometimes the transition from thinking to feeling to matter is stupefying. As when a found bird has granules (salt, perhaps?) on its feathers, and "I don't think that could prevent it from flying, / but the feeling of the weight would stupefy it somehow."

There are times in case sensitive when we seem purely embodied in and by thought.
They wanted to know the exact location of the afterlife.

she: Are you listening? What are you thinking?
he: I was wondering . . . when the Bronze Age was. (37)

When we start thinking about thinking in case sensitive, metaphor creeps in. A house is a house and perhaps a world, and "Why is the house empty anyway? / No one thinks of it." (39)

Thinking brings the past into the present, this is how memory works, "I used to think it was you." (42) We think about how we are, how we feel, "I'm thinking how she also loved the air, / crushed ice, / the wooden walkway." (52) Thought is like prayer, lending possibility to existence and desire.
As it fell, I thought / prayed.
Maybe it won't break.

Loss of voice. Shattered glass
in our cuffs.

The river cracked. Time
isn't where it was.

"He's losing his frets." "I don't exist yet!"
He's losing the facts. (54)
Sometimes in case sensitive, thinking is present even without the words, as it becomes the connective tissue between things, between us, our desires, our saints; between sight and language, hands and words, letters and space.
What isn't made from the impression: the mold.
Maybe not named.

The numbness
and the swelling,
the blood,
the rain filling the screen,
what connects us
to the saints.
Desire.

We could read the words with our hands.
"All are welcome through the eyes of God."

There are still a lot of letters out there. (57)
Maybe thoughts are the eyes of God, maybe they are the letters, out there, somewhere.

But if we are to act, to make our desires into the possibility of change, we must first imagine it. "I was thinking: I want to make / a few little changes." (78) For if there is desire, what moves it? "Love, I think. / Or maybe it was goodness." (87) And through love, we might acquire anything, acquire the sun, and even through disappointment,
look for the break
it's enough

glow brightly in a vacuum

I think we have that, don't you?
it's green

and
it's unpredictable (93)
So we go back and forth, from matter to thought to desire to sun, sometimes being cautioned,
"'You can think about it,' he said, 'but
don't believe in it: on the earth
already means under the sky.'" (97)
We look at ourselves in the mirror, and what do we see, or what do we think we can see. Can we know? In "Bridge" we are told, by a doctor, "How you think you can see." (98). Do we? Don't we? What do you think? And how can we know, when all we remember is what has been captured in snapshots? And what if we don't even have snapshots on Kodak paper, but in our minds? Who are we?
"Were you always like that? I say yes,
but later think: who knows what I was
like? (having just the usual handful of
mental snapshots) (101)
And what if we get stuck. Don't give up. We can think of "something nice." (110) And we might find something, not a mental snapshot, but a real postcard, which says, "I think the best part—the reason why we're here—is the lake. It's pretty round, a shape I like, a mile across. Now it's almost frozen. Even as I write this, I keep looking to the lake. We're very isolated here." (114) Isolated, but not without a place, a lake, in which, or to which, to think. Because in that lake, or in those letters (there are always more), or most importantly, in the thinking, all things gather, all things join. And we are multiple; and we are one. Thought is poised at the edge of being, and we are its companions there. It is a place where all things, all connections, are possible. The book ends,
Sometimes one person is ready. Sitting in weak sun. The lawn chair padded with an old plaid blanket, and me in his heavy woolen coat. Weren't the happiest days of our lives lived here? You know, sometimes a message from me may seem mixed. But do try to recall the idea that all messages join, somewhere. (118)
I have thought and joined or tried to join things, through thinking, through case sensitive, by Kate Greenstreet. This is only one way of reading through this passionate, thoughtful, beautifully written book. There are other ways that would better illuminate particular poems, and perhaps the whole. But I like it that the author has allowed ways in, and this particular way in, for me—to the lake, the sun, the idea, the messages.

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