Guest Post, Maari Carter: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Obsession

Headshot photo of Maari CarterFor the past thirty years my grandfather has kept almost every single issue of Golf Magazine he’s received in the mail. A constant source of vexation for my grandmother, these issues fill the shelves of armoires, stand knee-high in his closet, and serve as a veritable fortress surrounding his TV stand. Every now and again, he’ll take one from a pile and peruse images of Jack Nicklaus captured mid-swing, Arnold Palmer lining up a putt, and advertisements selling everything from Big Bertha drivers to golf gloves. Being the stoic and laconic man that he is, my grandfather’s obsession with golf always made sense to me. It was a game he could play alone; a brief time during the week when all he had to contend with was himself and weather conditions. As far as obsessions go, it’s about as harmless as you can get. We’re not exactly talking Sartre’s mescaline-induced chats with crustaceans here- more like Tarantino’s frequent call back to Fruit Brute cereal, or Hirschfield’s habit of hiding his daughter Nina’s name in most of his drawings. There’s a familiarity there- one that evokes some element of order or existential meaning in its preservation of an artifact- in keeping it close and ever-relevant. And despite her aesthetic objections, I think my grandmother recognizes this as well, because not once has she ever asked him to get rid of them.

As for me, I’m only just beginning to recognize the nature of my own obsessive gestures.

A couple of weeks ago, I revisited Spinoza’s Ethics for the first time since undergrad and came across the passage in which he discusses the mind-body problem by examining the nature of sleepwalkers; how they often wake, surprised at the actions their bodies were able to execute while the mind seemingly took a backseat. As is typically the case, the text elicited a different response this time around. In terms of morality, this conceit provided interesting jumping off points that I had never really explored in my own work, and that led to a bevy of questions, such as: if mind and body are ontologically inseparable, is there any difference between the moral agent who only thinks of committing an immoral act and the agent who actually commits said immoral act through bodily extension? And isn’t imposing an etiological framework onto questions of morality further proof that it can’t be objective, because it relies upon the individual’s subjective conceptions of what constitutes cause and effect? And do we merely perceive something as good only by virtue of its being desired? And doesn’t the notion that a person’s ability to dictate what is genuinely good presuppose the existence of an idealized model human? And, by extension, if mind-independent moral properties don’t exist, then wouldn’t each person’s concept of an idealized model human be constructed in their own image and therefore be inherently fallible? I think you’re starting to see where I’m going with this…

Within three days I had written six poems entitled “Sleepwalker,” in an attempt to deal with the existential aftermath of this curious deluge. At one point, I even expressed concern to a fellow poet and friend, saying that I was worried about devoting too much poetic capital to a singular device for fear that it become gimmicky. But being the ever-supportive and wise friend that she is, she cautioned me against questioning it too much. Just go with it, she said. There’s a reason for the obsession. Since then, I’ve written five more “Sleepwalker” poems. Of course, I’m not so naïve as to believe that one poetic sequence will effectively bring about any sort of resolutions to the questions I have regarding morality, but resolution isn’t necessarily the goal. It’s enough to simply participate the act of recollection and extrapolation; to know that, when the mood strikes, there are artifacts of experience that I can return to again and again, because they represent something foundational to my understanding. At different times I’ve written poems for various reasons. Lately, I’ve been trying to write poems that examine how I know a thing; the calculus behind my knowing it. Because more and more, writing and sharing that writing with others is becoming a way to put my worldview in conversation with theirs; to allow my own subjective experience to be complicated, altered, and influenced through reciprocity.

As artists and writers, it’s not always easy to resist the inclination to impose our own ways of making meaning onto others. Because so much value is put on the unique elements of our individual style, syntax, point of view, and what have you, we tend to want to apply those when considering another’s work. But I do think there is a moment that precedes this reflex; a moment in which we want another’s experience to stand unqualified. Perhaps, that is a bit of an oversimplification. But mostly, in a lot of my daily interactions, I think I often get in my own way; I sometimes default to the notion that another’s perception somehow discredits or calls into question my experience. But there is something that occurs during the initial reading of a poem that actively opposes such qualifications and encourages me to reserve judgment. Coming to a poem is an act of surrender, or if not surrender, it’s at least an act of reception. In this way, I’m often surprised by poems- not just by their direction, scope, ambition, etc. It’s more like I’m startled by the gravitational shift away from egocentricity; how it feels to melt into a poem; how it takes a while to become solid again.

Much of my mental energy as of late has been devoted to a pre-prelim reading list of critical theory texts; so much so that on more than one occasion different friends have joked that I’d be perfectly justified in moving forward with that Bakhtin 4 Eva tattoo I keep threatening to get. I mean, you can only be that person who brings up polyglossia during casual conversation for so long until something needs to be done about it, right? But, truthfully, obsession has its place in art, in writing. And as much as I’ve hesitated to utilize the same subjects, objects, ideas, and figures in my poems, there is something to be said for paying attention to such patterns of cognition, for being aware of the through lines that are inherent to one’s intrinsic, critical thinking. After a somewhat creative drought, it’s been extremely productive to revel in this latest obsession. By not constantly trying to determine the source or validity of it, I’ve come to see it not as intrusive, or as a failure of my singular imagination. Rather, I can accept it as an antecedent to wonder… or as Spinoza might say, a point of origin from which infinite things follow- one I intend to ride all the way to the ground.

Guest Post, Maari Carter: Poetry & Piledrivers

When I moved to Tallahassee to start graduate school at Florida State, I found myself, for the second time in my life, a watcher of professional wrestling. When I was a kid, my mother and stepfather rented all the big Pay-Per-View’s, and I sat enthralled as my favorite wrestler, Stone Cold Steve Austin, crushed countless beer cans together above his head, foam raining down over his working-man tanned arms and leather vest, while stadiums full of fans cheered in approval. Then in ’98 Austin drove a Zamboni into the arena in Detroit on Monday Night Raw, rammed the stage, and dove over the top rope at Vince McMahon.

I was dumbfounded. As security placed Austin in handcuffs and marched him through the backstage toward a cop car waiting in the parking lot, I kept thinking, they can’t take him to jail. They just can’t. Not once did I consider who let him drive the thing in the first place, how McMahon just happened to be in the exact right position for Austin to tackle him, or why so many “officers” were already in place. Instead, I yelled at the television, too young to understand how well Jim Ross was selling that bit, and how much planning went in to pulling it off.

I marked out. I marked out hard—

Coming to wrestling the second time, in the company of seasoned veterans who also happened to be Comp/Rhet. scholars, was a far departure from my previous spectating experience. I was inundated with terminology, tips for card predictions, etc. We talked finishers, jobbers, promo spots, kayfabe, and meta-narratives. As a result, I could no longer look at it the way I had when I was younger. The mystery was gone; the curtain pulled back, the apparatus revealed.

wrestling-149939_1280At first, this was disheartening. How could I cheer a shallow victory? How could I boo a heel that was only following a script? I needed to believe he deserved it. I couldn’t just boo without justification. I spiraled into a full on wrestling induced existential dilemma, and soon realized that I had to adjust my vantage point. I read Reddit threads, listened to those who knew more than me, and started to appreciate the moving parts: the calculus of a storyline, characterization, and iconography, which made those moments when the show deviated from expectation all the more exciting.

I often approach poems in the same way that I initially approached wrestling; it’s about the suspension of disbelief—the willingness to go along with the poet and trust the reasoning of what they are showing me. The poems that have had left the greatest impressions on me operate in ways similar to an epic match. There’s a battle between oppositional ideologies, each dependent upon the other, each altered and informed by interaction.

When it comes to writing a poem, I’m Attitude Era through and through. I don’t want a poem to be a handshake. I want it to be a fistfight. I want it to be Mick Foley landing head first onto a table after being thrown off the top of the steel cage at Hell in a Cell. I want you see to blood but not the razor blade tucked under my wrist tape. But I also know I have to anticipate the reaction of a reader; that the pacing should be deliberate, the argument clear in order to elicit the desired response. A poem has to be a good technician as well as a good showman. And I’ve gotten better at recognizing my hang-ups: the tendency to barrel toward the ending, forsaking logic for musicality, and many more that I won’t bore you with here. There’s no shortage of new moves to be learned.

Over the past few years, I’ve gone back and rewatched a lot of those iconic matches from my adolescence. And sure, I see the referees calling the minutes, the botches. I know it’s predetermined. But that doesn’t mean it’s fake. It doesn’t matter if I can estimate about how many near-falls will occur, how many signature moves will be executed, etc. If a segment lands, it lands every time.

There’s a common trope in wrestling known as the “hope spot.” It’s the moment in a match when a “good guy” or “a face,” after he’s spent a respectable amount of time being dominated by a heel, a “bad guy,” suddenly mounts a comeback. He hulks up. He rallies. Maybe even lands a few blows. Then the heel strikes once again, high-jacking his momentum, instilling doubt. It’s a beautiful tension builder. And despite the fact that the majority of the audience knows the face will, nine times out of ten, eventually go on to win, it has to look hard-fought, like he earned it. The audience can tell when nothing is at stake.

I have those poems that I read again and again—mostly to see what I can steal. Because when a poem is well engineered, I never doubt it. It lives in the hope spot. I forget the language of line breaks, metaphor, and buy in to the possibility that poetry is a space in which I can confront seemingly oppositional truths: my own perception vs. the unquantifiable experience of others. Sometimes, those truths are reconciled. But even when they’re not, there’s plausibility, a reason they occur, and a reason why it’s important that I engage. Poetry doesn’t exist in a bubble. It’s a distillation of all of our greatest fears, our greatest aspirations. In poetry we may be down, but we’re never out.  There’s a chance. Anything can happen in a poem… even a Zamboni. It’s a genre dependent upon a metaphysics that hinges on our capability to embrace feeling first, to stand in disbelief of a reality that doesn’t facilitate our wonder.

And for the record, the result of every “Which Professional Wrestler Are You?” quiz that I’ve taken on Facebook has been Stone Cold Steve Austin. So that’s something.