Sonia Di Placido, author of “Hands—On World” from Issue 24: Winter 2014. We think …
Recent Puritan author Sonia Di Placido discusses the origins of her poem “Hands—On World,” which was featured in Issue 24: Winter 2014.
A Quiet & Defiant [In Canto] Incantation to “Hands—On World”
This poem maintains a variety of inter-textual and personal contexts, in effect evoking larger underlying themes. The piece unravelled with the assistance of a weekly exercise from The Lorine Neidecker Workshop, which Hoa Nguyen, originally an American poet and now living in Toronto, offered in summer of 2013.
Lorine Neidecker has a quiet and defiant poetic style and voice. I felt an instant connection to her sparse poems, pieces left almost seemingly undone, like accents without letters in words. I also enjoyed her softer touch—a quieter voice juxtaposed with her incredibly strong and straightforward personal imagist poems; her work grabbed me at the clever attempts she made to express the personal by both objective and distorted means. I found this inspiring. I strove to understand the why of it, without the modern context. And much came to mind—one aspect, a woman isolated and apart from her time; another, a woman capable of speaking what could not be spoken.
And so, “Hands—On World” is, I dare declare, an objectively personal poem.
Through imagery, emotion, and a heightened ‘sense’ or sensory perception[s] of my own ‘in canto,’ working in tandem with the poet and the requirements of the exercise: what was it evoking from within? I began this poesy. At times there’s nothing to say or perhaps poems do not require meaning, but in this case, the mystery of the piece lies in relationship to the overall analysis and comprehension of various themes the workshop poet tends to evoke, such as notions, thoughts, ideas of ‘home,’ ‘place,’ ‘time,’ and their relationship[s] to ‘space[s].’ I found these translated quite readily into my own thoughts, feelings and imagery.
As the speaker of the poem is ‘in being’ or ‘in canto’ within the/their ‘World’ or having and being of it or not of it: in/out of somewhere, someone, something, the strike out worked nicely with the opening and closing phrases beginning/ending with ‘of.’ Playing with the various implications about or ‘of’ English phrasing, both technically and emotively retains what is suggestive of any underlying themes. In revising the phrasing, I began to create connections between ‘Orion’ and ‘St. Agnes.’
Orion is a popular image; as star imagery, it keeps connection to various trinities: Mother, Maiden, Crone; Mother, Father, Child; The Holy Trinity. For me, Orion evokes various imagistic slow memories of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, from childhood. The silences, the slow filmic pacing, the tempos coincide with the poem’s lyric, the visuals of space, astronauts floating swoons into the music of ‘Swan silent,’ which to me is the sounding [out of] the piece. Part of the exercise brought about an image associated with Swans, their silences, smells: the irony of how such a poised bird does, at time, keep a foul scent! Truffles aren’t far from the context of what is home. A popular and sparse fungi, it is currently farmed out of Europe and Italy in various mountain ranges. Truffles have a strong odour, are considered a delicacy and only eaten with ‘exclusive’ dishes. The incidental confluences of these images just fell together in tandem so naturally, as Swans and Truffles have such commonalities. And with the in canto of the poem, the metric tempo being a slow metronomic pace, it induced further imagery in which a mood was previously set up from the beginning and continued to evoke stronger connective language devices and imagery that encapsulated an objectivist personal experience, being the essence of the poem’s undertow—what and how is there “Hands—On World”? Further informants, such as my previous study of poets in conjunction with subtexts of women’s experiences: Yeats’s infamous poem “Leda and the Swan” fit perfectly with the direction of the piece. Of course, the poem is suggestive of Zeus’s Rape of Leda in Greek myth, which is revisited again with St. Agnes.
Moving further down into grounding imagery of “Hands—On World,” I was debating putting a bullet between the first stanza and the larger second half of the stanza in the poem to create a division, so the first segment would come at a different pace and also appear as two parts of a whole: a division—perhaps a binary, perhaps a cellular splint, a divide between air and land, a metronomic beat—a pause.
The ‘rattled grip’ of lawnmowers with ‘nails jutted out’ scraping soil brings the undertow up from the ground’s roots and yet shows a story unfolding: how to keep various rhythms in or [out of] survival. Here the metronomic quality moves musically at its quickest pace. Images of tidying grass and tilling earth are juxtaposed with water, lakes and birds—the incapacity of flight and the weight of gravity. The poem hints at keeping one’s place in the world, naturally returning to the soft metronomic tones evoked from flowers, sensuality and some of Neidecker’s poems. I am proud to ignite the possibility that poets’ finer works can and often do arise in/out of Workshop.
I close the poem with St. Agnes and return to the dichotomy of being in the world and [out of] this/other world, returning to spaces within and spaces outside of the ‘self’ human experience, and questioning the very naming of ‘Worlds.’ It is a saint that “Hands—On World” reaches to for ascension and the world’s completion. The poem looks to, returns to and similarly juxtaposes the opening with the closing of the poem: vast inner spaces of solidarity versus outer spaces, solitude found in outer space and the questions death evokes in relationship to space. I chose St. Agnes of Rome because she is recognized and referred to as the martyr-virgin saint, often seen with a lamb, again a white animal grazing the earth versus a swan (usually white) over lake water. St. Agnes, beatified by both Greek Orthodox and Roman Papacy, is the youngest female saint; she was murdered [304 AD] in a vulgar and violent manner by Roman soldiers after her refusal to give up solidarity and devotion to the plight of Christianity. She is the patron saint of chastity, gardeners, engaged couples, rape victims and virgins. There’s a co-relation between this Saint and the myth of Leda. The name Agnes is actually derived from the feminine Greek adjective hagnē, meaning chaste, pure and/or sacred.
Sonia Di Placido is a poet, playwright, actor, and artist taking long strides in the attempt to complete an MFA in Creative Writing with the Optional Residency Program, University of British Columbia. Her most recent poetry book, Exaltation in Cadmium Red, was released by Guernica Editions in Fall of 2012. She has published two chapbooks: Vulva Magic (Lyrical Myricle Press) and Forest Primitive (Aeolus House Press). She has published poems, articles, profiles, and creative non-fiction in various anthologies, literary journals, and online or print magazines such as The Toronto Quarterly’s blog and Carousel Magazine. A graduate of the Ryerson Theatre School and a Humanities Hons. Major from York University. Sonia is a member of the League of Canadian Poets and Canadian Women in Literary Arts.