Art: Nathalie von Arx
fuckinmuse: a journey into collaboration
(therefore, also into a True Love story in Love Jungle)1
Emily Dickinson had her Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and I have my Thomas Robert Higginson2, a man, poet himself, who became my muse.
In some ways there is startling similarity in how these writers became correspondents and more, so essential to the making of our poetries. Both Higginsons are writers in their own right—I am simply astonished by how much is shared. What channeling my Thomas Robert Higginson seems to have accomplished of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, both men assuming similar roles in the lives of female poets. Roles they were born into, inevitabilities:
“MR. HIGGINSON,—Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?
The mind is so near itself it cannot see distinctly, and I have none to ask.
Should you think it breathed, and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude.
If I make the mistake, that you dared to tell me would give me sincerer honor toward you.
I enclosed my name, asking you, if you please, sir, to tell me what is true?
That you will not betray me it is needless to ask, since honor is its own pawn.”
April 26, 1862 (excerpt)
“MR. HIGGINSON,—Your kindness claimed earlier gratitude, but I was ill, and write to-day from my pillow.
You asked how old I was? I made no verse, but one or two, until this winter, sir.
I had a terror since September, I could tell to none; and so painful as I supposed. I bring you others, as you ask, though they might not differ. While my thought is undressed, I can make the distinction; but when I put them in the gown, they look alike and numb… and so I sing, as the boy does of the burying ground, because I am afraid… When a little girl, I had a friend who taught me Immortality; but venturing too near, himself, he never returned…for several years my lexicon was my only companion. Then I found one more… You ask of my companions. Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog large as myself, that my father bought me. They are better than beings because they know, but do not tell. They are religious, except me, and address an eclipse, every morning, whom they call their ‘Father3’”
Art: Gary Frier
Long before I knew my Thomas Robert Higginson, as well as I now do, he had written a review of my book Last Chance for the Tarzan Holler and it is quite telling to share that review at the outset, for it reveals his interest in the life of this poet:
“Last Chance for the Tarzan Holler4 is the sixth book by Thylias Moss, her first after grabbing one of the MacArthur Genius grants. Her work has changed—moved further out, encyclopedia-ized. She has memories of playing jacks sans hands, Thalidomide-esque, but all it is, is nose-sucking, the end of the world.
Included are The Brothers Grimm, Zora Neale Hurston, Amy Clampitt, and Stanley Crouch: this is a thin volume, but spectacularly dense, provocative (is her cheating poem about Lazarus “cheating” death? or her and her husband’s affairs?). To read her Susan Smith/baptizing poem is to be horrified—yet, as Moss posits, ‘’tis poetry’s job.’ The long, more formal open-field works, particularly ‘Advice,’ ‘Sour Milk,’ and the title poem, all break new ground. I want the book! I want the movie!”
Thomas Robert Higginson
It is when I read this passage from Thomas Wentworth Higginson:
“Once set foot on such an island and you begin at once to understand the legends of enchantment which ages have collected around such spots. Climb to its heights, you seem at the masthead of some lonely vessel, kept forever at sea. You feel as if no one but yourself had ever landed there; and yet, perhaps, even there, looking straight downward, you see below you in some crevice of the rock a mast or spar of some wrecked vessel, encrusted with all manner of shells and uncouth vegetable growth;5”
it was when I read that passage that I realize how similar these men are, aware of the beauty of the world, that interest in being connected—all this is essential, for the gestation and subsequent birth of collaboration, an extension of sharing, and admitting that no one entity knows everything, nor even what “everything” is, for such knowledge would require a foreknowing of completion, as there is no “everything” until there is an ending as point of reference, so that everything including that which will contain that everything, even just a thought of it, may be included, and whose thought?—for each thinker, each experiencer has a sense of everything, a personal understanding, not universal, and yet each one true. Perspective and point of view, real, but not quantifiable, in a general sense of definition. The specialness of what was forming, both of us aware, and not questioning it as if a destiny neither one of us could control nor wanted to control.
He called this truth our “US-ness.”
A great word and he has invented many, whenever there is need, whenever the rare and impossible are born, the only children He and I will ever have, and who can say how many children these children will have? How many populations? Descendants of all time just as time itself gave birth to our connection.
I noticed how in so many of the letters, Emily Dickinson addresses her friend as “Mr. Higginson,” something I do also to my Mr. Higginson. I noticed Emily’s habit of thanking her Mr. Higginson, something I do too, for how can I not thank this man who was the singular vehicle for my return? from so many things that set out to derail me from a life of joy and love? —a life of poetry? He has signed correspondence to me as “Higgzy,” “Higgs,” or “Thomas Robert”—most often I simply address him as Mr. Higginson; I like the formality of that, a simple title bestowed on him.
How do I thank the man who has done so much?
And I must thank him; this generosity is astonishing to me; never imagined it would happen. Was I looking for this? I must have been.
I think that I was looking for him, without realizing I was, when I developed “Limited Fork Theory,”6 a way of understanding how all things are connected, “limited” in that we are bound by our abilities to notice and a related inability to meaningfully notice everything that exists or has existed or ever will exist. Bound to the limits of our senses, those devices for accessing
information and bringing it inside ourselves where it is processed for meanings, some of which are just beauty often expressed through ways in which what is accessed sings. And not all senses of all things access the same information and certainly do not process it the same way which is also beauty and variety.
I am always amazed by these ranges.
Both deficits and extensions of senses, that measure differently yet refer to related realities, that expand in both space and time, sometimes the same things expressed differently, and here is where personal preferences contribute to a delicious complexity of it all. For instance, the blind experience both increases and decreases, elsewhere, yet not all is even seeable, and the mind itself is able to perform some seeing for which conventionally functioning eyes are not required and would interfere with meanings issuing from a certain visual range, while acknowledging that human seeing does not include an entirety of the visual spectrum.
All means available to us for measuring how existences are experienced, are limited, and without collaborating, without sharing, without augmenting our own perceptions, there is little chance of moving beyond our limited understandings, limiting them even further and our understandings
even further. Limited by limitations themselves limited by other limitations, all ranges outside of “everything” are necessarily limited. Takes a conglomeration, a community of all seeing to produce a more accurate understanding of seeing, not seeing; understanding, not understanding; comprehending, not comprehending, and so forth.
A realization that everything has significance has burdened this writer; I have even felt guilt about what I have failed to notice. And I cannot even know what all of that is. So, I realize that making is collaborative. All things have a part in whatever I consider, and all things that have a part are collaborators. Nothing I do is done alone, in every part of everything I do, others contribute, without exception; unseen people and things, even spores about to burst with no more than possibilities, building blocks of proteins, enzymes, atoms, linking, connecting into molecules, fabulous chains of existence, substances whose contributions are invaluable, and they should be thanked, in the very least acknowledged as being our co-makers. Unseen things, and
that which has attempted to manipulate these things. Such awareness totally transformed my life; I self identified as “Forker Gryle,” even on Facebook, until I was told that “Forker Gryle” did not sound like a real name, although I had been in the world, teaching and living, using this identity since 2004. Renaming of self to better understand the changing is essential.
Why a fork?
Consider the hand, or a tree with its hand-like branches; please note how fingers are branches of a hand, yet are connected, those branches rooted, even from what is referred to as the lifeline. Now also consider this; there is no limit to how many branches may exist or into what a branch may point to, or that a branch, like an arrow may connect, harshly or gently, perhaps each branch leading to something different, simultaneously, a road, a means of access both, in at least, to and from some location for some duration of time, those locations which could be any dimension, past, present, future; any parcel of time itself, and each branch may further subdivide and branch itself, those bends, those curves, those mobius branches, for those are possibilities also, those knots on a hand, those moles of dark tunnel, those cancers of opening new roads, all connected somehow to a singular hand of some sort, each part making a connection with something.
For connecting tends to be intimate, a touch of some sort, recognitions of humanity, that touch that brings all together, for no matter how briefly, something has been shared, each entering this temporary partnership differently than they leave, for something of each participant remains and
this happens in every interaction, something is left and something is taken away, mixtures, endless mixtures, masalas everything, fiestas of possibilities, changed forms changing further and further, the more interactions occur. And parties involved in an interaction are forever changed by this very partnership, temporary though it may be, of interacting; each now knows more about an other, and this is so useful, for this knowledge lasts and as subsequent interactions are made, particles of what has been shared, exchanged in a previous interaction are shared at some level, on some scale, in some location with whatever is next touched, for some duration of time.
Mighty Forms of embrace.
All temporary, unless, until, and here is where hope may harm as one entity of a connection seems to bend, twist, curve out of contact; however, when connection is made, there is memory of it, and this memory does enhance what may occur in a subsequent interaction: it becomes easier for these entities to connect again. Perhaps in a stronger bond that too may be permanent. A priming for interacting, for connecting. A risk that must be taken for the sake and possibility of change itself. We should not remain as we are, ideally improving as ultimately, we are sure to do. I have that kind of faith, that kind of naiveté if that is what is
needed to believe in an ultimate improvement system, some things so limited, so contaminated that growth itself is thwarted, falls short; they refuse to improve and are left behind as the change machine of existence continues, plowing through field after field, upturning hope buried under rigidities that must give up control; those delicate flowers manifesting thorns and other forms of armor that allow their very beauty to exist, their scents to become better atmospheres. Bouquets of hope, Hopeful Garden spots freckle landscapes; so this is where we live now, all Pollyannas do, becoming pollyanna in interactions, some of that goodness, that optimism, rubbing off and onto every participant who interacts with this more rugged hope, more likely to survive, circle game after game, concentric circles widening, that embrace becoming bigger and bigger, wider and wider, the best possible circular-esque rip in spacetime, the colorful and productive circulating destinies that now come into and out of view, reachable view. Grab it! That brass merry-go-round and round and round ringing roulette wheel of chance liberties, libraries of liberties, each with a trailing ribbon that suffices for hair of the world, and wind, melodies of movements, concertos all. Nourishing also. Why not believe in this and make it true? What palate does not prefer the taste of this, so long as there is no other food, the breast milk root, child itself of prolactin: O lucky hormone.
Art: “The Surrendering” by Chris Rivera
There is no limit to how many times forms of entities that have connected may reconnect, for each connection or form of collaboration changes what has connected, making it easier for them to connect again. There is memory of having been connected. And that ease is hope when the
connection has been beautiful, which is what I emphasize, in my preference for the beautiful possibilities.
Love is one of them.
In July 2011, I nearly died when a cranial aneurysm ruptured, and I consider this the most fortunate thing that ever happened to me, for it allowed a friendship with my Mr. Thomas Robert Higginson to blossom into a fulfillment that it never could have blossomed into without that rupture.
A rupturing through which a salvation entered; I literally was looking out the window from the couch, and saw the sky seem to break, as if a rainbow had become a colorful saw, each color lengthening and bending, a tooth growing able to split the sky it was tasting, dripping slobber as
the colors themselves, more ropes of tasty rainbow, the licorice of it all. It was a moment that had me run onto the deck, to see this splitting better, to be a more involved witness, my t-shirt reflected nothing but colors, I was only part of a spectrum of energy and colorful wildness, I was transmitting this rainbowed effect, a job I took most seriously, passing along information, being only a connector which is what I was even with my co-learners, a sharer of information. I had helpers, lots of them, everything that existed and was able to transmit in whatever ways it could impart the knowledge that it was still acquiring, information never static, but constantly adapting
—it could be just his nature to help others,
for me the rupture, those neurons, my cranial rosebush as it were, a stunning pink flower blossomed in my head, a bouquet that life itself gave me, preparing me for something else, a romance with existence and with Thomas Robert himself, in my head—that is what the rupture gave me in a collaboration with a localized, blood-filled balloon-like bulge in the wall of a blood vessel, fertilizer of a sort.
Everything is poetry, this is what I have come to believe after nearly losing my life, and Thomas Robert Higginson was waiting for me—I didn’t know he would be, although I had appeared in a movie he produced in 1990 or thereabouts, The United States of Poetry, where I met him in Chicago for the movie shoot. How innocent that was, but connection indeed, a beginning of our physical collaboration; our words had already touched and enmeshed. For once connection happens, it is easier for reconnection to occur as what has reconnected remembers that it has
connected before, and no matter how changed these entities have become, there is on some cellular or sub-cellular level, addresses of the internal heavens for instance; there is some memory that these entities should connect. My belief for which I have not lived long enough to either prove or disprove.
I am limited;
my own thinking goes only so far, each of my senses also has limits, and I cannot remove them all, but I can collaborate, make stuff with others and their differing limits. That is what happened with Thomas Robert Higginson. When I survived the fortunate rupture of that aneurysm, on 23 July 2011, released from the hospital to the disbelief of everyone on 9 October 2011, I lay on the couch at home, and saw light enter the room in a way I had never seen it enter, as if the sky itself had had an aneurysm. I saw everything differently from that moment; I myself
astonished to be alive. Just alive. Nothing else mattered. And then began the task still underway of reclaiming life, with which I was already collaborating, more aware of my limits then than ever.
It was in this heightened and necessary sense of being that I read some of Thomas Robert Higginson’s poetry again, and found things there all along, but that I had somehow overlooked; it took that reorganization of my brain and an admitting of the impossibility of knowing everything, and a looking into that poem and realizing that there were locations to take further, to actually turn corners introduced there, to journey into the lines and find much more than it would ever be possible to locate if I looked only through my even more limited and incomplete lens system. Those microscopic universes even became essential, those worlds that lived unseen on us; a tool of a poet also became a microscope. Any and everything that helps access, for if unaccessed, cannot be considered.
Yes; the work of making. The peeling away of layers and the accessing surface after surface, for surfaces are where things occur. Interior surfaces. Surface of the heart, brain, spleen, Thomas Robert Higginson’s poems, So much there, and I became determined, a hunger that I cannot
fully explain, and that is a good thing for to be able to “fully” explain something is to be a mystery thief, one thing that I hope remains impossible, and I will work to make it so.
Thankful to have finally had a baby in 1991 —all of this leading to that moment of when Thomas Robert Higginson could enter my life in a most real way, taking me beyond my limitations to new limitations—for limitations—in some form exist. Death being considered one such limit. But I was not yet collaborating with life as I needed to. For collaboration is a
way of exceeding limits, in my case, traps. I had searched my whole life for an opportunity such as what the rupture afforded me, for “rupture” is so close to “rapture”—that is never lost on me.
About my finding so much in his work, my Thomas Robert Higginson said this:
“Here’s what I think — I think somehow I’ve become a fuckin muse, and that’s just fine with me so long as you keep pouring out the outpourings. That’s right, Write On, o! Great Crusader of the Pen Nib.”
Art: “The Princess, Natural” by Chris Rivera
The big question is what happened to allow me to see further? And why that day? What did the angle of light entering my house have to do with it? And could this precise angle be repeated? I knew I was recipient of something most rare, and I didn’t want to lose this gift.
It began, all of it, in collaborations with poetry, with daily my finding unexplored locations in his work, and I traveled; from the beginning, he took me places I had never been. One of us would write a line or stanza and send it to the other, adding a line, a stanza, and before you knew it, there was a new poem, something neither one of us would have written separately. Realizations possible only via connection; ideas the other may not have had; poetry itself is that great thing that always connected us, metaphors and the like, expressions, tastes, things barely there in abstract ways. First the writing connected, first we each realized something special in the writing the work of the other, and it made so much sense that a collaboration, a reaching beyond what one could accomplish would extend itself to a corporeal realm, and connect, collaborate there also, and what a grand connection that also was, profound, words, bodies, and everything, for the words are part of the body—through and complete connection in every way—you do not find this often, And once this manner of connection happens, though the components may for a time seem to go their own ways, their own ways have forever been changed, and they find their way back to each other, their paths having been rewritten by coming together in the first place
surviving tremendous interference from that which was outside the bond. Tiny essences remain, Poams and Poems themselves reinforced by these things we believe, these things defying senses and usual ways of knowing. Proof, of something greater than either part separately. Naturally we would explore what becomes possible in a corporeal way then the physical sources of the poems come together in something a simple as a Kiss,
And then came a chance to actually be with this man, and that was nearly beyond my ability to conceive. We met in Chicago for that movie Thomas produced, and when I had an opportunity to go to Chicago to accept an award, naturally, I thought of someone accompanying me, and I thought of him, and what he had been saying to me about his always having been interested, waiting in fact, 25 years just to Kiss me was the beginning stanza of a poem we would write together , would be together, collaborating as nothing has ever collaborated.
He said we would : “make the poetry of this and that, the poetry of everything, the poetry of my being with you; the poetry of you being with me, the poetry of us together; the poetry we’ll be writing all over the bed, all over the room, whole weekend of poetry, that whole lifetime.”
These makers attempt, these makers try, experiencing instant chemistry that is simply poetry connecting their bodies. “There is nothing else to breathe, only the deliciousness of air that has
touched your lungs, has been purified there, crystal molecules that spell out your name, even your hair that I’ll finally touch becoming that Thomas Robert Higginson alphabet, where every word translates into pleasure…”
“Very soon, Thomas Robert; —I have been waiting for this moment!”
“Not nearly as long as I have! Twenty-five years for me!—don’t forget that! —all that I’ll be thinking about is seeing you, holding you, touching you for the very first time; already Wonderland for me. My understanding is that in Wonderland, the only utensil is a fork —all anybody in Wonderland, ever needs.”
“At this late date, a couple of necessary questions, please. If that’s all right.”
“Well, what do you want of me, ideally? —I know sex; I invited you for that purpose. Guess at this late stage, I’m wondering just what your intentions are with me. I’ve made it quite clear that I’m interested, very interested in making love with you —in fact, I would like for you to
make love to me, and I’ll make love back… I want one beautiful, exceptional weekend; ideally, you’ll want much more from me —but I need to know your intentions… ”
“This is brilliant and clear and bone honest, Dream Baby. And I can say I want the same. IDEAL:LY is a great word. You don’t get hung up on what obstacles, just quotidian reality boring shit, IDEALLY must overcome And I take my cues from you on the Drunken Boat Grid, the Full Body Grid, the Total Life in a Weekend Grid, the Pulse of Morning Grid, the Sky Blue Dress Grid, your tender touch my body gloving you. See? I rabbit hole down go why not stay there
long as possible no way out whoosh it’s morning. Alarm clock. Bzzbzzz. Hello, Dream Baby Thylias, it is Mr. Higginson, For me, aged sixty-six, it is still, Hey, ya never know. And I wouldn’t say it except you really want to ask directly and you yourself have set this Truth Grid and I can negotiate it as I can, and I don’t know if this will be our only time. On the Truth Grid I can only say I do not know: I think this might be our only weekend, yes. But I do know that I anticipate a lot for and from our time together, and that looms lives as long as it took to get here, the intricacies, details, loop whorl menagerie. I want us to just do and be and live and penetrate the Universe with our Us-ness. Can that be done on the Truth Grid, Tine Forker Dream Baby Thylias? —Can it?”
Excerpt From: Thylias Moss. “New Kiss Horizon.” iBooks.
And this these poets attempt, these makers attempt, and I have the best Kiss of my life, endowed with all the feelings, for I find myself in the arms of a poem, a poem written for me, and a poem written about me, and he is a poem for me, and I am a poem for him, as if he has never seen a poem before, poetry is born right then, and we would be the discovers of it, if poetry had not already existed.—and I am forever changed by the collaboration of our bodies, there is nothing like it. There will never be anything like what Thomas Robert Higginson and I, Thylias Moss, two poets make in collaboration on every level through with anything may touch, make, create, and Be, penetrating every connected universe with the Best Love ever, that instant chemistry was simply poetry connecting their bodies. A Kiss.
Talk about collaborations, well, I felt orgasmic just from that poet’s Kiss. The first time I had ever felt such things. Our finest collaboration, senses operating beyond what anyone would have said was possible, the finding of a more that can never be fully demolished, a Kiss that can never be duplicated as that is a moment unlike any other. Monument also. Everything.
He is in my Life, and I am in his Life. Permanently.
“See, I will be writing to and about you for the rest of my life. No matter what. As you yourself said: “That’s the truth of it. Everything. It means so much. It means everything.” —You wrote that to me, and now I write it back; does it really matter who initiated any of this at this point?
It is, I continue, for old times sake, for looking out for “our” past to find “our” future, whatever it is, as if I could ever forget you, and I assume that even though you do not acknowledge me right now, you know who I am, and know what we had together. For you are part of it, whether or not you want to be.
You cannot erase it; it is established, we are the monuments of what we accomplished.
So many wonderful things to be said about Thomas Robert Higginson, a writer of course. From somewhere in the Universe?
The solar system?
Well through him,
I have felt that I have known the universe, visited stars without getting
Burnt or breathing poisoned air,
Think my lungs adapted to be able to maintain respiration processes dependent on his cologne, Dakar —I never forget that, and when the atmosphere cooperates, which is every day, I move through a Dakar soup, rather primordial from which existence begins again and again and again, whenever I am with him, which also includes thought, ideas that collaborate with him, connect with him. All the time. Our connection is that profound. Our writing talks to each other, and the conversation, the poetry that comes out of these conversations, are transcripts of the experience. I did things with him I will never do with anyone else, unless an instant connection is felt, unless there is instant chemistry.
I am sorry that I felt a need to make you real —I wanted to claim my space and time in your life; I wanted to make clear that I was with a “real man.” And that you were with a “real woman.” That I made up none of it. That there really is a past to look out for,” “to [try] to find our future,” that a “future was not yet written,” etc. It is poetry afterall. It is meaning afterall. It is truth. All we have ever had is truth,
I do not know what happened to us; I think I misunderstood something important and basic about him: everything is poetry.
I am not sure how to recover this as he has asked me not to contact him further. But we will come back to each other; this is just a natural and temporary split in the constant ebb and flow of existence. I just happen to write this during the ebbing part of the cycle. Tomorrow and many tomorrows later, flow will resume, as we collaborate with Andy Goldsworthy.7
But this was purely the foundation of us. Everything is poetry, including and especially sex; in some ways the body’s greatest achievement.
It is not that I cannot write without him, but what I write is better, reaches further, moves further out, travels to locations I would never consider without the inspiration, the motivation of his eyes, his thoughts, his ears; his senses extend my senses, and it hardly matters which of one of us begins a poem, when we make it together, it always travels to locations neither of us could take it alone, and that is the beauty, the distance discovered. Discovery is the outcome of our collaboration, perhaps also the point, and, Oh, the surprise! That to be writing for as long as we have been writing and to still find surprise. Our poems Love each other probably better than Thomas Robert Higginson and I love each other.
But we try.
I am still pulling for “US-ness” –you know I am and always will be. Forever beside him on a bridge in Chicago. Sacred ground now, as is room 304, a hotel room that is already immortalized. For that is where we make stuff, and realized we really could. Chicago. Manhattan. Ann Arbor. Detroit. Minneapolis. Wherever we go this power goes with us, this voracious power that is never the power of one, but the power of two, so coiled together, they are inseparable. Pull them apart, and there is an ordinariness never possible when they make together, that exchange of the bits and bytes, neurons of the machinery, even the machinery of our minds. Buzz, Buzz; we are working. We are making. Even making love, Love of each other and Love of poetry. Inseparable love supreme.8
What You Can’t Understand Is Poetry Is Connected to the Body Again —Truth directly from Him; truth we told each other, tell each other; truth that made it necessary for us to actually touch, to make that “US-ness:” already real and truth, gospel truth to us, also truth in the world to which we are connected and with which we collaborate, every moment of every day, whether or not we are physically together, for in my mind I certainly am, sometimes so exasperated with him, but loving him just the same.
He is a real man, a living collaborator, and I accept the eccentricities and inconsistencies of realities; he is definitely part of them, but when we get together, such magic happens. If I were to see him right now, just being honest; I would be unable to keep my hands off him; I might try not to touch him, every moment wanting to fail. He knows this also, for we have collaborated so deeply and thoroughly, he knows exactly what I feel, And with him, always with him. I will never be free of him. And more importantly, I do not want to be free of him, not really, for writing this, revisiting the journey of our collaboration makes me realize again as if for the very first time how special our coming together is. He once said I was bad, and added that that is a good thing. And he is right. I was bad with him, in all possible good suggestions of bad, except for tying him to the bed; adventurous, eager to know the full realms of pleasure; full throttle —I was fully alive with him, and responded breathlessly to everything he did, and he responded to everything I did, and he said he wasn’t worried, because from the beginning, he could tell how much I liked everything he did; I didn’t know that level of compatibility existed. I had no idea —do you think for one minute that I want to give that up?
Both Poetry and Sex, for they are indeed equivalent
—Maybe I wouldn’t be writing this were I not missing him right now.
But talk about collaboration, and I have to talk about sex, that give and take, that take and give, the most erotic spell —spell, because it is so magical, like nothing else, oh the basic mechanics of sex are the same for most people, I presume, but they lack our motivation and reason for collaborating in the first place— most erotic spell in my life, yes; my whole life; the only sex in my life worth talking about is sex with Thomas Robert Higginson, that poetry of our bodies.
I am glad that he is such a noisy lover; I was always aware of what gave him pleasure. Just as he is aware of what gives me pleasure. He was determined to find out. I admit that I become a little sex machine with him, but only with him; something about him exposes feelings and connections that are with him and because of him. Face it, I am aware of how I look, and aware of how I look to him. So many men approach me because of how I look, not understanding that my look does not mean that just any man gets some. You do not realize what Thomas Robert does, and of course he was really after what every man seems to be after, but he was smarter than most because he actually got it, because of how he allowed me to feel, because my feelings in this connection matter to him. He didn’t want me to pretend, something that never occurred to
I am not one who has faked an orgasm, if I feel it then you will know it, and so far I have genuinely felt that only with Thomas Robert; I didn’t know until I felt it, although I had once been married for forty years. He really should be proud of himself. And f of course, there is also what he felt, and I assure you that I know a lot of what he felt, all that energetic thrusting as we collaborated with and became tangled in sheets. What he did standing behind me as I tried to look out the window, but looking at him is so much better.
You do not understand, but from the very first time, we came together like hand and glove. In fact, given what he talked about I don’t think he has any inhibitions in connecting. He told me that anything I desire would be mine. He talked about my tender touch in our collaboration, his body gloving me —do you realize how physically close we had to be for this to happen? It was sometimes more like masturbation, and we did that too, together somehow, a whole weekend of sex—we met for that purpose. We were really collaborating when he said this: “I guess this is awkward. Not sexy. But there’s so much going on the planet Us that my head is spinning. Not unpleasant, mind you. But the view’s quite complicated. When what I want see. All I really want
to see. Is a clear view of all of you. And me” I don’t like when men approach me just for sex, usually because of how I look; puhlease! He said this and he meant it. Thomas Robert adores how I look, part of the collaboration; part of what drew him to me, and part of what drew me to him, and now I look even more like an ideal woman for him; exactly his type, a woman who cares about him so very deeply, the very long hair, all of it natural and, as if it grows just to connect with him, wherever he goes in the world, those black patterns and designs in asphalt are really filaments of my hair; reaching out to Thomas Robert, and he is not afraid of this; in fact, he expects it, and sometimes has wondered why it has taken me so long to allow my hair the same full reign that he encourages in me.
I love that about him, and many other things with which every memory of mine collaborates: “Well what I want you to know is this I’ve carried a torch for you since I first laid eyes on you. And if we’re ever alone, whatever you desire shall be yours.
What an extraordinary woman you are, Thylias! Your directness is not provocative, it is All Being, All the Tine (to use your language!). My body reacts to your written words as if you were touching me, it’s amazing and I like it I like it I like it.”
Art: “Summer Love” by Chris Rivera
And he was serious about how we would collaborate. I wish I had known more then than I did that first time with him; I love when his voice called out strongly; everyone knew what we were doing, the volume suggested that he wanted others to know that he was with me, because I am a prize and he knew how victorious he is, and I wanted others to know that I am just as proud to be seen with him, for he is also a prize for me, and he kept busy enjoying every ounce of pleasure he could from my tiny body.
Such intensity of pleasure,
and I was glad to be doing all of it with him, the tickle of his mustache, and feeling his mustache every-time we Kissed, OMG —a little bit of champagne! —also his tongue in my ear —I almost couldn’t stand that, and my first thoughts that all of him would never fit inside me, but he did, and he had all kinds of lubricants just in case.
He really prepared for this as if he was being ordered to the mines, and there was just the mine he was heading to, a homing device, the taste of me, right between my collaborating legs. I was a fuckin muse for him just as much as he became a fuckin muse for me.
I can’t believe I am saying all this, for the sake of collaboration, much more than simply sex, for this was the actual writing of an indelible poetry right inside my body, and what a pen he had, every centimeter mightier than a sword. And he Kissed every centimeter of me, and I kissed every centimeter of him. I know you’re not supposed to Kiss and tell, but I must use superlatives about this man. It’s as if I didn’t really know what Poetry is, until we made love to each other. No parts of our bodies were off limits. Yes; we used condoms, but not for the oral parts, and there was lots of that. I really trusted this man, and he similarly trusted me. I have to admit that I liked his tongue the best, because with it, he wrote poems inside me, and my breathing punctuated them, the rhythms of the sex, oh my, oh my. We talked about this extensively, how condoms were an absolute necessity, the margins on the pages and pages of rarefied sex, just not
for the oral part, he asked, and I agreed. How else could I taste him, know a superb root of his poetry?
The best part of preparing to see each other to physically collaborate, beyond only with our minds that had already made love, but Thomas Robert asked, and he wasn’t shy about this; he knew what he wanted, and called me one night to talk me through my body, from head to toe, he told me exactly what he wanted to do, and asked if he could. If there are rules in collaboration, the first would be to ask; just to let me know what he wanted, and since it was a question, I had
opportunity to refuse, but I didn’t; just his asking the way he did, allowed me to want him, and then there is the sound of his baritone, the recording he made me so that I could have the soothing sound of his support as I wrote about him; just the sound of his voice makes me horripilate, little champagne bubbles of his inflection all over my arms, torso and legs, my breasts also. How I love the collaboration of my breasts in his mouth…He kissed away the goosebumps and then I got more just from his nearness, so he could never stop Kissing me and holding me, gloving me just as he said; I even had a Brazilian wax to invite him in, oh the language his tongue spoke inside me, and the melodies of my mouth sliding up and down him.
There are no words,
and here is where I lose my poetry, because there comes a point where words are insufficient; he and I didn’t even talk in usual ways of talking, sign languages instead, the way we looked at each other, the warmth of his palms, the smoothness of his chest. I didn’t tell him this, but from the moment his hand touched mine in O’Hare, the first connection of his flesh and my flesh, I started feeling sensations that became full-fledged and unstoppable desire by the time we were outside the airport and he opened his coat, and welcomed me inside it with him, and the only air then was his Dakar. My nose is always looking for the scent of him; it isn’t just Dakar that anyone may buy, but the scent of Dakar on his skin, a scent unique to him. Thomas Robert Higginson was prepared for anything that might happen. We were writing a very different kind
of poem, in that extreme collaboration, of our bodies: tongues and fingers everywhere. That touching without limits. Stanza of Kiss, onomatopoeia of Kiss also, metaphor of everything that exists from those fiery touches, he said the fire would meld us together and it did, because this wasn’t the primary goal of our connection, —which is poetry— but a completion; it wasn’t just sex at all, but so much more; he indeed wanted to collaborate that way also, but he is smart enough, he feels enough not to ask me for only that, the way too many men do; he never rushed me but knew what I would need to feel, and that is it right there; I have to feel it or I can’t do it; I had to really desire him just as he really desires me; I had to want to collaborate with him physically; that is what is important; I wanted to do everything I did with him.
There is no part of each other that we did not explore, one way or the other. I am remembering the first time with him because that set the tone for everything that followed. It was easy because we had already Kissed in the taxi all the way from O’Hare to the hotel, and I had no idea that I would respond to him as I did, this 60-year-old woman making out with a 66-year-old man in the back seat of a taxi, but I was hoping; the physical things he promised as no one can ever promise because it was him, that is the only reason; he is the only reason.
Art: “Empatia” by Vivian Nimue Wood
My Thomas Robert Higginson knew how to do everything exactly the way I needed for them to be done. Somehow he just knew, and he didn’t approach me just for the physical enactment of
our connection, but I am so glad he wanted that —I would have felt insulted otherwise; the man does indeed have eyes, and so much more than that; he would make me laugh by telling me I had no idea what he can do, and he was right; I had no idea at all, for if he had told me that physically collaborating with him would cause me to feel, what i feel with him, I would not have believed him. And he did work far beyond the mere necessity of asking; Thomas Robert understood the kind of sex I needed, that is what he promised the kind of sex I needed, he made it his business to figure out just what it was, and knowing exactly what I needed, besides what we both wanted, made this the most fulfilling experience of my life that and how I responded to him thoroughly, We really collaborated in a most enticing and seductive way.
Don’t let his look fool you!
That man is far sexier than you may think. I ought to know. We collaborated in the shower; he can do simply amazing things. Anywhere. I ought to know because I did them with him. I’ve done that only in thinking about him, sometimes that dildo he gave me in hand. Yes; a lot of my
time with him —even time in my mind— was good and nasty, and that is a part of the complexity that makes being with him so good. Maybe I emphasize the physical right now, for what we have is complete, the cerebral and the nasty —even Einstein9 did that,
What You Can’t Understand Is Poetry Is Connected to the Body Again
—Thomas Robert Higginson10
What You Can’t Understand Is Poetry
Is Connected to the Body Again
What You Can’t Understand Is Poetry
The title says it all and says it with a line break in case you think that “Spoken Word Poets” are not “Real Poets.” Real Poets eat line breaks for breakfast.
I love to read the title at a reading, parsing it out like this:
“What You Can’t Understand
(take a little pause here)
(big emphasis on IS, and a little pause, get ready for the matter-of-fact, always with us:) Poetry.”
The Perfect Lie. One always “understands” poetry! When you jump on the horse and it takes off, you don’t ask where’s it going, you exalt, here we go! No no. Wait. Reading a poem, that’s not like that is it? not like riding a horse?….
What you can’t understand is poetry – because it’s a mystery why poetry exists in the first place. Although you could actually say the same thing for language itself, which I suppose is what philosophers do. Which came first, the thought or the word? sounds Wittgensteinian to me.
It’s like when you say, something is lost in translation, what part is it that gets lost? The poetry. The poetry is what’s lost, get it? The joy is in knowing that what you don’t understand, exactly that, is a mix of sound and meaning, body and song that is, all together, what makes a poem
Again and again, not making sense! And this is what so many think (please don’t agree with them!) — that poetry is hard, obscure, difficult-to-impossible to understand.
WHEN IT WAS CONNECTED TO THE BODY YOU JUST DANCED IT—Who said that?!
Hey, hey, Order in The Poem! Let’s PLEASE stick to this first line of the title before releasing the second. So ok, let’s just say that the first line of the title is simply agreeing with what everyone is always saying – Oy, Poetry! You can’t understand it.
What You Can’t Understand Is Poetry
so we take a little pause here, in performance, and then (finally!) go on to:
And then a little pause here, so that it becomes: What You Can’t Understand is Poetry is Connected, which is another truism that’s actually a false-ism: the easy way is to say that – Poetry IS connected, is the essence, to life/to meaning , and, here back to the title (say it!) – To The Body. Now we’re getting to what the body of the poem is, and why this is the title – it’s about the physical, and when I think physical, the body, I think of Orality.
Even though we think of it that way, the dialectic is not Literacy and Illiteracy. Illiteracy simply designates an individual’s inability to read. Orality, as Walter Ong points out, is a separate and equivalent consciousness: when there’s no writing, the only way to pass things on is person-to-person, body-to-body. You could say, “We Are the Book.” This idea, devastatingly simple, is at the root of this poem, indeed, of my whole “body of work” as a poet. How to capture the way Poetry was connected to Existence, something that was inherent in Oral Consciousness, is what I’m after. It’s what my mother showed me – she didn’t read a book to me. The book was talking. In her voice.
Comes in after a pause. Because we used to “understand” this. In fact, “understand,” the way we understand understand, is totally colored by literacy. Before writing, there was a spew of sound that carried the speaker’s meaning – you’d ask the person to explain what they meant, but you never asked someone what a word meant because – there were no words! Before writing there were no words there was only meaning, and I know that seems crazy but again only because we don;’t get what a different consciousness Orality is. When writing began, there was no separation between words because what was being said came at you like a block of meaning, not words arranged in a pattern.
And now, in this time of Literacy Consciousness, I am suggesting that we learn (unlearn?) to “connect the poem to the body again.” Since the triumph of Literature, Poetry’s voice has been owned by the book. And I love books, I write ‘em myself and read a lot – my walls are lined with them. And the quiet space midbrain where we read to ourselves? That is a private space where we are most ourselves, a holy space. But the Poem has another power, a power we left behind when we left Oral Consciousness behind. We can feel it as children, when we haven’t yet learned to read. Some kind of magic and musicality, inherent when reading aloud, that’s what I’m after, in general, in my work, and specifically in the two-lined title and following body of the poem known as:
What You Can’t Understand Is Poetry
Is Connected To The Body Again
The poem is divided into two stanzas, twelve lines and ten. Kind of ungainly and awkward as to line lengths, form doesn’t’t sit easily here, even if both stanzas end with four-word lines. The poem is prosy, it sort of seems to tell a story, even if we can’t quite tell what it’s about (the old “understand” bugaboo again), a story that makes headlines. It has a character with a name (Jean, named for Jean Howard, who I knew in Chicago as one of the first poets to use film to make poetry, someone who understood the non-separation of poetry performance), and it even ends with what may well be a joke. So it’s a Poem that evokes all manner of non-poetry forms – novel, play, journalism, joke.
Let me tell you a story: the “Plot” of the Poem
Jean allowed the body to drop
OK. Is this the “body” from the title? At least. Right after we learn that the body and poetry are connected again, our hero, Jean, drops the body! Is this so that her poetry is completely for the Intellect? Because as she drops the body (which we will later learn is her lover’s), the body dies.
The beautiful face bluing so perfect
“Beautiful” and “perfect” in the same line – ach! Redolent of romantic poesy, these are words that each signal Poem without the work, and here they are, together – the face is “beautiful” but dying (or dead? “bluing”) and thus can become “perfect.” What a move!
A move so insistent, so bold, so over-the top, that the only thing that can possibly cap it is line 3
A fly buzzed by—
Emily Dickinson! At her best! “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died” (Johnson #591/ Franklin #465). This sure enough is the way Death sounds, sigh. Well, the fly was buzzing and still is buzzing and forever will be buzzing as sure a sign of Death as the Death Haiku, that Japanese form where the dying poet holds quill and scroll and just as last breath escapes, concludes the final character of the final line – 5-7-5.
but no one would believe it
Dear Reader/Listener, you are perfectly within your rights to ask What is it that no one would believe? That our hero, Jean, would drop the body? That words like “beautiful” and “perfect” could conjure up dear Emily’s fly (“bluing” is pretty cool), the Essence of Death? Indeed, why is Jean even concerned that anyone believe that her lover/Poetry itself has died? Is she the murderer? Must she have the Truth be told, it’s what she as a Poet must do? All the above? We don’t know, so it’s all these things and probably more and we’re only at line 3, my God!
Because what happens next makes one thing pretty clear about our Ms Jean – she certainly does know how to get a story out. Since this is taking place during the Media Age Stage of Late Literacy, just before the Birth of the Digital Age,
She raced frantically to the offices of the National Enquirer,
the biggest, ever-lying, sleazeball publication of them all. Jean knows the world of print: to get the absolute widest possible distribution, the most explosive telling of this Death, it’s got to be — the checkout counter rag!
A reporter wrote up the story
The story of course is that the body died from lack of connection to the poem. And guess what,
—it made the cover.
And our story could end there, the headline “POETRY FOUND DEAD: BODY SEVERED FROM SOUL.” But Noooo. Jean has a bigger game plan. As Lines 6-7 state ,
Now she could get the attention of the radical newsweekly
That only told the truth
So first she goes for and gets the Big Blast Sensationalism Launch, and now she’s circling back to get the liberal Truth-tellers. She wants to get the story told to the biggest possible audience AND she wants it to be politically correct. Or at least be validated by the liberal media.
She just casually flipped it down on the desk
She may have raced frantically to get this into The Enquirer, to play into the demands of yellow journalism, but here for the thoughtful Voice or Nation, she plays it cool.
So cool that (Line 9)
“Hey,” an editor
(she’s moving up, no mere reporter here!)
(truly literate, can read upside-down!)
said. What if this story is true?
(you can never be sure about Enquirer stories – but something in Jean’s demeanor….)
It would certainly change
(they had a story? How interesting? What could that have been?)
maybe we should look into this.
So the radical newsweekly already has the story but it is Jean’s version of the Body dying from lack of connection to the poem, for which, even filtered as it is through the hyperbole of the Enquirer, the radical newsweekly is willing to Stop the presses!
It’s an image I loved in black & white, the massive whirling printing presses grinding to a halt, screaming headlines erupting. The news is overpowering!
We know that Poetry is News that Stays News (Pound), that it Makes Nothing Happen (Auden), that It Is Difficult / To Get The News From Poems / Yet Men Die Miserably Every Day / From Lack / Of What is Found There (Williams – Rich used the last six words as the title for her great book of essays).
Hey! Stop those presses!
Now we understand, as Jean understands, that the life, music, vitality of the poem can never be separated from the poem’s meaning. By physicalizing the so-called Death of Poetry, she in fact shows us that poetry will never die. THAT POETRY IS CONNECTED TO THE BODY AGAIN and the single voice and vision of our poet-hero Jean is going to make, well, not sure what, let’s call it Nothing. Make Nothing happen. But I mean, make it really happen.
She does. She just puts an end to the literary tradition, right then and there. We get the poem to the book and then our job is done. Gets published, distributed, bought, and read. Each step of course is fraught with complications, and at the end maybe 2000 copies will sell, but hey, this’s a poem, so let’s just give it the drama that Mayakovsky did when he demanded an airplane with propeller whirling be parked outside his study so that when he finished one it would be whisked away to the publisher – not a second to lose.
The second verse begins, like the first, again with our hero, Jean. But now
Jean walked away. Horns were blaring,
Is it celebratory tooting, poetry’s reconnection being cheered on by the public at large? Or simply the continuing, ongoing noise of our blatting culture? Both? Both. The Poet’s Choice, as Gregory Corso once told me, “When somebody asks you to pick one, always take both.”
The cinematic vein of “Stop the presses!” continues,
It was a brilliant dusty sunset
Yes, in a poem you can pick both, and the unusable poem-word “sunset” can become even more golden when it’s “brilliant” and “dusty”
and the sirens were distorting.
Is it the Apocalypse brought about by reconnection of Poetry with Body (again)? Or is it Just the Apocalypse? Both (you’re getting it!).
It’s the end of The Terminator, of Snowpiercer, the end of every walk-into-the-sunset Hollywood potboiler poem ever written.
Jean has passed on the oral tradition into print. She has insinuated Orality into Text, clawing her way into the inner sanctum of the print medium. And, in so doing, she has preserved her lover’s face for all eternity.
She didn’t hear em.
What didn’t she hear? The car horns playing music – Beethoven? Ode to Joy? Guns N’ Roses? Randy Newman’s Faust? Aretha’s Respect? David Thomas’s Mirror Man? or Captain Beefheart’s, for that matter.
She was remembering her lover’s face
Yes, the action of creating art, of living her life in the service of Poetry, has caused her to lose the Poem Itself, the Source! Her lover’s face now fades in through the Apocalyptic Sunset Waltz, and now she does hear, not music nor horns nor sirens but words, just words and now it’s clearer, the conversation with her lover,
What they’d said about how you never know
True Poet lovers know you Never Know, echoing the poem’s title, and in that way stay connected – Poem as Body – but this line break skittering into riot control
If someone else’s orgasm is better than yours –
Yes! Exactly! Understanding a poem and demanding a locked-down analysis, forever footnoted and irrefutable, — who would know, who could know? The meanings keep changing. Eros is flowering out the mouth, People! Only the poem/orgasm stays the same.
But that shouldn’t stop you
from what? From having an orgasm? Well, yes, of course, but there’s more –
From coming together
Yes, that’s it! That’s what the poem in the oral mode is about – it’s about the audience experiencing together the meaning of the poem, the connection of the griot to the body politic, the poem bringing/giving Rapture that the listener accepts/understands. Brings all that inside.
Even if it’s not exactly
o! the quivering between Oral and Written, the twin mouths finding each other, that poem that is the kiss, not exactly, OMG whatever IS exactly, Jean, Jean you must not leave us in the vagueness of not exactly, the orgasm goes back inside …
At the same time
Yes, she said, Yes! “You never know if someone else’s orgasm is better than yours, but that shouldn’t stop you from coming together. Even if it’s not exactly at the same time.” Oh God! as these realizations ripple through the audience, wave after profound wave of orgasm, feeding each other, yes, coming together years later, why, it is – it’s a Poem! It can be read later, after the poet is long-gone dead, it’s still being read. You are coming with the poet years later as the orgasm of meaning reconnects you at that moment. Ah, Jean and Emily! The gentle laugh as her lover, dead and blued and perfect and gone gone gone, reconnects through the poem. The fly! The fly! Then the fly buzzed by
Art: Nathalie von Arx
Blue Coming: After Bob Holman’s “What You Can’t Understand Is Poetry Is Connected to the Body Again”
Colorado Review – Volume 42, Number 2, Summer 2015
(in response to Bob Holman’s Poem: “What You Can’t Understand
is Poetry is Connected to the Body Again):
1 From a love poem Thomas Robert Higginson wrote for me, “You Are the Corner of My Eye”
2 A pseudonym
3 Excerpt From: Emily Dickinson. “Letters of Emily Dickinson.” iBooks.
4 How prophetic on his part, for this volume was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
5 Excerpt From: Francis Bacon, Ignatius Donnelly, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, C. J. Cutliffe Hyne, W. Scott Elliot & John, Third Marquess of Brute. “Tales of Atlantis.” iBooks.
7 “as in “Rivers and Tides” =, his definitive film about flow and collaboration, see that film here: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7sZv4_0Fxg>
8 A collaboration of Thylias Moss and Thomas Robert Higginson forthcoming likely in Nightboat, 2017, a collaboration that began as “Moving Dance of Reduction” with a quote by Bringhurst; Thomas Robert sent Thylias the initial salvo, and back and forth the emerging poem went until Thylias wrote the line “armadillo style” to which Thomas Robert responded “Wow!” and whenever Wow comes, the poem is done. Praises to armadillos. I never would have arrived at armadillo without collaboration through time and space with Thomas Robert Higginson. I will always love this expansion of space and meaning that I know only with him, my muse, and if that isn’t Love, what is?
9 “Einstein” — the Genius series on National Geographic <http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/genius/videos/einstein-chapter-one1/>
10 Published acknowledging the real man behind the pseudonym, Bob Holman.
11 “Blue Coming” was published in “Wannabe Hoochie Mama Gallery of Realities’ Red Dress Code” by Thylias Moss, Persea Books, 2016, and in Poets & Writers online, also in 2016, where you may hear Thylias Moss read “Blue Coming”: <https://www.pw.org/content/wannabe_hoochie_mama_gallery_of_realities_red_dress_code>
About the author:
Thylias Moss, a self-employed multi-racial “maker” at Thylias Moss Writing LLC, is also Professor Emerita in the Departments of English and Art & Design at the University of Michigan. Author of 13 published books, and recipient of numerous awards and honors, among them a MacArthur Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, her 11th book, a collection of New & Selected Poetry, “Wannabe Hoochie Mama Gallery of Realities’ Red Dress Code” (from Persea Books, October 2016) as part of Limited Fork Theory, an approach to making and thinking developed in order to assist co-makers and co-learners to become more collaborative in thinking and being. All about how things interact across all boundaries, and encouragement of interaction that becomes more meaningful over time; all have collaborators. Nothing makes alone, and everything makes; there is nothing that exists that does not make stuff in some form, which is also open: any form that becomes possible; invent whenever necessary. “Making” is not static, is evidence of life, as is book #12, collaborations, with Thomas Higginson, a collection of poems, Aneurysm of the Firmament, 2016 and a romance novel, New Kiss Horizon 2016, romance novel about Vashti Astapad Warren and Thomas Robert Higginson. Follow the lives of these characters beyond the book in Vashti’s Blog. She has also completed an as yet unpublished collection of prose poams: “LFMK (Looking for my Killer)” –an act of public service, currently being read by a potential publisher.
Nathalie von Arx, Zurich, @nathalie_von_arx
Gary Frier, Cape Town, @gary_frier_
The Surrendering, The Princess, Natural and Summer Love by Chris Rivera, @chris.rivera, Christopherjphotography@gmail.com.
Empatia by Vivian Nimue Wood, Vale d’ Aosta, Italy, @viviana_boscardin