Louis Esterhuizen. Mary Karr se poëtiese woede na David Foster Wallace se selfmoord


Die veelbekroonde skrywer David Foster Wallace (foto) het hom sedert sy debuut in 1987 gevestig as een van Amerika se gewildste en mees innoverende skrywers; ‘n reputasie wat veral met Infinite Jest (1996) bekragtig is. Na ‘n jarelange worstelstryd met depressie het hy egter op  12 September 2008 selfmoord gepleeg deur homself op te hang.

Enkele weke gelede is daar ‘n huldiging, “Rereading David Foster Wallace“, vir dié begaafde skrywer gehou tydens die New Yorker Festival. Een van die paneellede wat oor Wallace se lewe en werk gesels het was die eweneens bekende digter Mary Karr met wie Wallace ‘n bra stormagtige verhouding gehad het in die 1990s. Veral haar gedig “Suicide’s Note: An Annual“, wat kort na Wallace se dood in Poetry Magazine verskyn het, was vierkantig onder oë geneem aangesien dié gedig baie direk met Wallace in gesprek tree.

Mary Karr

Mary Karr

Volgens die dekking wat Slate aan dié paneelbespreking gee, die volgende by wyse van inleiding: “It’s a knotty, complicated poem, one that bears sitting with and puzzling over. Beginning with that title. Why ‘an annual’? It is as if Wallace’s death were something that happened over and over, both defeating the finality of death and hammering it home. The title keeps dragging its subject to life, for better or worse.”

Die gedig self bevat vele biografiese verwysings; soos die insident toe Wallace Karr met ‘n koffietafel gegooi het, of die keer toe hy haar uit die motor geboender het in ‘n minder as veilige buurt … Tydens die bespreking het Karr wel genoem dat sy ‘n brief by wyse van apologie ontvang het: “Karr recalls a ‘letter of apology’ Wallace wrote her, in which he regrets ‘being such a dick.’ Reading the poem, you’re not sure if Karr has forgiven him. ‘Every suicide’s an asshole,’ she writes. ‘There is a good reason I am not/God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten’.”

Sjoe. Dat Karr se gedig in woede gepekel is, is gewis.

Ten slotte, die slotparagraaf van Slate se berig, gevolg deur die betrokke gedig.

But beneath the anger is a remorse that feels deliberately exposed. I’m sure Karr’s pugnaciousness and humor-“I just wanted to say ha-ha, despite/your best efforts you are every second/alive”-are meant to read like defense mechanisms. After all, she groups herself among the many who administered to DFW “collective CPR.” Every poem contains layers of revelation and control, and the line “There is a good reason I am not/God” feels unguarded in its despair. Karr implies not only that she lacked the power to save Wallace, but that such power could never have been rightfully hers.


Suicide’s Note: An Annual

I hope you’ve been taken up by Jesus
though so many decades have passed, so far apart we’d grown
      between love transmogrifying into hate and those sad letters
          and phone calls and your face vanishing into a noose that
I couldn’t
      today name the gods
          you at the end worshipped, if any, praise being
impossible for the devoutly miserable. And screw my church who’d
      roast in Hell poor suffering
          bastards like you, unable to bear the masks
of their own faces. With words you sought to shape
      a world alternate to the one that dared
          inscribe itself so ruthlessly across your eyes, for you
could not, could never
      fully refute the actual or justify the sad heft of your body, earn
          your rightful space or pay for the parcels of oxygen you
inherited. More than once you asked
      that I breathe into your lungs like the soprano in the opera
          I loved so my ghost might inhabit you and you ingest my belief
in your otherwise-only-probable soul. I wonder does your
      death feel like failure to everybody who ever
          loved you as if our collective cpr stopped
too soon, the defib paddles lost charge, the corpse
      punished us by never sitting up. And forgive my conviction
          that every suicide’s an asshole. There is a good reason I am not
God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten.
      I just wanted to say ha-ha, despite
          your best efforts you are every second
alive in a hard-gnawing way for all who breathed you deeply in,
      each set of lungs, those rosy implanted wings, pink balloons.
          We sigh you out into air and watch you rise like rain.


© Mary Karr (Poetry Magazine, 2012)


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Een Kommentaar op “Louis Esterhuizen. Mary Karr se poëtiese woede na David Foster Wallace se selfmoord”

  1. I’d like to ask a highly contentious, possibly provocative and almost certainly ill-informed, question: are Americans, and particularly American poets, immature people? Oh yes, to top it all, the question is sweeping and unashamedly catholic.

    Well, are they? Take these two poets and the poem above. (I have no intention to be disrespectful to a deceased person. He is not around anymore to defend himself). Okay, here we have two gifted (by all reports) people who behave like badly disciplined teenagers – throwing tables at each other, putting each other in harm’s way, and, I suppose many other equally unsavoury behaviours. Yes, I know there are many instances in other cultures and languages of artists behaving in socially unacceptable ways – but most of them did and do not reflect their childishness in their art, as American poets (sweeping statemently) seem to do.

    A father-figure in American poetry, highly respected man, writes a world-famous poem which impresses with it gawky indecisiveness: the speaker in the poem walks in the woods, finds that the road forks and cannot decide which one to take. Should he have brought Nanny along to help him decide?

    But back to the poem above. (Again, I mean no disrespect to the suicidee). Mary Karr, reportedly a well-known and respected poet, addresses her former lover in terms that remind one of primary school parlance. She hopes the dead poet has “been taken up by Jesus”. I have no quarrel with the religious concept, erroneous as it is, but I am flabbergasted by the juvenile tone it is phrased in.

    And so the poem lurches from self-pitying phrase to deprecatory epithet until it gets to: “And forgive my conviction that every suicide’s an asshole”. Elegant phrasing? Just picture what is really being said here. I shudder.

    Judging from this poem, and most other American poems I have come across recently, it seems that American poets are inexplicably unable to look beyond their fingertips (or toes, very often) when they write. Their personal agonies, their individual aches and worries are to them (it seems) the engines that drive the universe. To them nothing is more important.

    I have patience with children. My patience with American poets is wearing so thin, one can see the candyfloss on the other side.