inside there is a structure, which is inside another structure, which is inside another structure, which depends on a map.

Somewhat in awe of Donna Stonecipher’s ability to use subtle repetition, simultaneous simplicity/complexity, and what I’m going to call structures-within-structures, for lack of a better label, I’ve decided to look at her “Inlay 9 (Azar Nafisi)” (page 39) from The Cosmopolitan to address this idea of a layered turn not grounded in negation.

            While the whole of the inlay is part of a larger structure that houses the smaller structures and structural turns I want to look at, I’m just going to focus on four of the numbered sections of the poem to map a few turns:



She passed a store full of blue, yellow, and red messenger bags printed with the letters DDR.  It was 2006, and she saw a girl inside the store lay her hand on a bag abstractedly, as if imagining herself here and there wearing the bag announcing the name of a country that no longer exists.


The hungover tourist happily bought the red T-shirt printed with the letters CCCP, though he couldn’t say for sure what the letters stood for. She told us with a little frown that she had grown up on the Stalinallee, and then the Karl-Marx-Allee, and then again the Stalinallee (in her mind).

“It is said that the personal is political.  That is not true, of course.”


That night the girl with the DDR bag met the boy with the CCCP T-shirt in a bar.  History does not record what followed—the fatal attraction, the hero worship, the erection of monuments, the pacts and breaking of pacts, the inevitable bitter dissolution once again into sovereign states.


How marvelous, they thought, that it was possible to have been born in Chemnitz, spend your life in Karl-Marx-Stadt, and then die in Chemnitz, all without ever leaving your hometown.  How marvelous to have been born in a country that no longer exists—though you do, you still exist.”


I see crucial turns in this poem occurring in the following places:


* in part 8, when Stonecipher writes, “That night the girl with the DDR bag met the boy with the CCP T-shirt in a bar.”  Perhaps this, though a kind of turn, would more appropriately be described as an “arrival.”  This seems to tie in to the conversation we had in class today regarding whether or not there is any rhyme or reason to the extensive cast of characters running through The Cosmopolitan.  Here two of them clearly meet, almost turning the poem in on itself. 


* The poem turns in this section again: “History does not record what followed…the inevitable bitter dissolution once again into sovereign states.”  Here, Stonecipher seems to effect a turn by using not negation, but double entendre.  This dissolution into sovereign states seems to refer both to a bitter parting of the girl with the DDR bag and the boy with the CCP T-shirt after their suggested one-night stand, and to the dissolution of “the country that no longer exists” in part 1 (the DDR) and of the CCCP, represented in part 4.  The double meaning turn takes place both in a sort of narrative about these one-time lovers who meet in a bar and in a larger collage of narratives defined by the meetings/intersections and the dissolution/separations of its constituent parts.  This turn, ironically, ties loose ends together at the same time that it is establishing ideas of separation.  But it is much more complex than merely negating what has previously been stated.


* Stonecipher does something similar in part 11, turning both in this individual section and in the larger structure of the inlay.  This turn is realized in the last line: “How marvelous to have been born in a country that no longer exists—though you do, you still exist.”  This is definitely an ironic turn, but not in the “classic” sense, if we can call it that.  Stonecipher’s ironic turn does not just resonate with the “they” in the previous line of section 11, but also with the girl with the DDR bag, the boy with the CCP T-shirt.  Even if these characters are represented by the “they,” Stonecipher is structuring a turn that has meaning not only in its respective section, part 11, but that resonates retroactively through the previous ten sections.  This is structure within a larger structure, a turn that impacts not only the smaller sub-structure, but the larger whole of the poem.


* I would also like to draw attention to the “dropped-in” line Stonecipher used in this inlay: “It is said that the personal is political.  That is not true, of course.”  Whether or not the choice of this line was truly haphazard, its consequent significance is strong.  This line resonates especially with part 8, in which the sort of narrative of the prose poem, the bar hook-up, represents both the personal and the political. 


Stonecipher is effectively creating structural turns that not only pack a punch in their respective sections, but create turns in the meaning of the poem as a whole of many parts.  She is creating structures within larger structures, turns that depend/build on previous turns, turns that work both in individual sections and in the context of these sections as parts of a larger whole. 


It would be interesting to try to map the turns within the parts of each inlay, within the inlays, and within The Cosmopolitan as a whole.  This would be a daunting task, if possible at all, but much like the image of someone reading a book within which someone is reading a book, etc., keeps coming up in Stonecipher’s inlays, she seems to have crafted an overarching structure in which there is an overarching structure, in which there is an overarching structure, etc.


She is turning by utilizing smaller, tools – double entendre, irony – but largely by connecting the dots of a map of turns.  I think the repetition in The Cosmopolitan aids her in this task, making some of these connections-between-dots more apparent to us in trying to follow her structure.


I would love to find myself skilled enough to employ this tactic in my own writing.  In some ways it seems very connected to what G.C. Waldrep was doing in One Way, No Exit, this structuring founded on repetition and the connections drawn from it.  I wonder if this tactic could be employed in a shorter work, or if it would take the span of a book-length work for the map of structures within structures to be fully realized. 


I think the most important thing to take from this realization is that, though we may isolate a turn to examine it, a turn only exists in context.  We may be turned off by the idea of a turn by negation as a cheap trick, as a dry poetic tool, but even this simple idea of turn-and-reverse only works because of what comes before or what happens at large. 



One Response to “inside there is a structure, which is inside another structure, which is inside another structure, which depends on a map.”

  1. Melissa Goodrich Says:

    It seems as though effective turns are made (a) when the poet writes as if they wish to effect a kind of joke (like how one might end a serious conversation with a kind of light-hearted twist to even-out the mood), (b) by instinct, as if the ironic occurred to them as they were writing, or (c) by re-imagining what they have already written. Moments like part 8 or Inlay 10, “The memorial’s aim is to sap time. The memorial dreams of vanquished space. The memorial pretends innocence. The memorial is an artificial scar. The memorial wants to live forever. But the memorial is mortal. The memorial is amoral.” There is either a joke or an instinct going on here, for the words “mortal” and “amoral” are so very close in their letter architecture, and the irony may be that even if only a few letters change hands, a sentence can carry such very different weight.

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