Written over a 10-year timeframe, Orange Roses enacts a poet’s development: the process of her discovering what a poem might be. In this work, there is hardly a difference between dream and reality—the line between that which exists and that which is merely a construction of perspective is blurred in any attempt to portray a given experience. Ives questions not only what we can get away with, in attempting to add to or alter whatever “poetry” or “literature” might officially be—but, too, what will we be able to take away? Writing is less about choosing between worlds, she suggests in this exploratory book, than it is about existing in one where life and our perceptions thereof are complementary.
“Lucy Ives’ Orange Roses is a thrilling book. It is also brilliant, hard-earned and honest. In the acute materiality of its poems—part diary/travelogue, part theatrical event, part philosophy—fervently anti-chronological—it is an urgent (albeit always witty and wry) inquiry into the aesthetic set of mind and the act of making. One could say it is an undressing of the readerly act, of the eye itself and its habit of ‘tugging incessantly forward.’ In fact, Ives’ work contests that forwardness and, in its numerous sequences (most vividly in the stunning ‘Early Poem’ and ‘Orange Roses’) she undertakes to imagine alternatives to the no-longer-apparently-natural forces of progress and growth. In this it is also an urgently political book—but without a trace of polemic. Its politics are where they do the most work—in its form and in its poetics. Ives’ work is certain in its undoing of certainty; it has an unforgettable voice as it strips itself of voiced identity; it summons a deeply trusted narrator in a work which cunningly challenges that trust. What illusions are to be left standing? That you cannot improvise the truth. That you can go backwards. That you cannot start over. That you must. The erasures and reappearances of figure and ground—that hard drama—have rarely been so movingly undertaken. A heartbreakingly beautiful work.” —Jorie Graham
“I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of Orange Roses. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. Especially do I marvel at ‘Early Poem,’ the prose poem sonnet sequence that counts its one hundred sentences with great delicacy, freshness, wit, surprise, and wisdom. Original in form and expression, it brings us to attention, thereby to the real, and the leap mid-sentence from one page to another is dazzling. I’m serious. Here we have objectivist vivacity and accuracy near the U-Haul headquarters in Emerson’s America. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the poems ‘Orange Roses’ and ‘On Imitation,’ is a sober certainty—read the latter as a prospectus for the new poetry. To quote an earlier work, ‘If one follows one’s understanding rather / than resisting: pleasure.’” —Paul Hoover
Bees go mad on late summer evenings, should
People stray from their jobs towards water
Who makes the rented red boat’s
Who is the younger one always
Who professes to be better because
He is just looking
Who says he is worse off as
He cannot look
The unicycle girl, thin
Like one with a sexual problem,
The Schlosspark. This follows:
Father rolling his eyes
The man from Manchester
Has my breast in his hand
These are funny
They don’t do anything do they
Being burnt by a fire I say
Similarly, if only
You grasped some
Titanic misery or a
Love like an old man’s
Where were we
A ballroom competition goes on
A yellow satin bikini
A fuchsia floor-length are
Dancing; an audience is
Drinking, clapping 1 2 3 1 2 3
Copyright © 2013 by Lucy Ives.
“Though lyric in its form, Orange Roses is a coming-of-age narrative that unfolds against the backdrops of college, California, cityscapes, and an American art conference. Explicitly influenced by the work of George Oppen, Ives takes accretion as her lodestar, moving fluidly from analysis to aphorism, concept to sonnet, and paragraph to fragment. . . . Ives is a poet of aporia or lack, seeking to discover what exists by examining what is absent: poetry ‘is not a question of relating language to a person one is but rather of relating it to the exact person one is not.’ Orange Roses is autobiography composed of its omissions.” —Katy Lederer in Boston Review
Lucy Ives was born in New York City in 1980, received an AB, magna cum laude, from Harvard College, an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is currently completing a PhD in comparative literature at New York University. She has lived outside the U.S. for extended periods in Hirosaki, Japan, and Paris and has studied French, German, Greek, Japanese, and Latin, among other languages. A deputy editor with Triple Canopy, the arts magazine and publisher, Ives continues to live in New York.
Asked once why she wrote, Ives responded:
It’s probably better not to admit this sort of thing, but one of my main interests in writing, or the act of writing, has to do with the way writing mimics, retroactively as it were, more precise recording devices we now have, digital and others. I’m curious about how exact written description can be, or what the powers or limits of written description are. Could I write like a tape recorder? Could I write a line that’s photographic? I mean, of course I can’t, but it’s difficult, on an intuitive level, to really know that you can’t do this, since it’s logical to feel that you can describe what is in the frame of a photograph, that you could transcribe your own thoughts. So this question of fidelity is of great concern when it comes to what you might call “being in a poem.” If I write a line, what exactly will I be repeating or saying? Is the content just the referent of the words, if I attempt to relate or reproduce an event? What do I even think I can accurately talk about or show?
Asked once if she were a poet, Ives responded:
I’m often taking notes on something or other. I suppose I am a poet, or it makes sense for me to identify as a poet, but I can’t seem to stop being interested in sentences—in the periodic variation of prose. I’m, unfortunately perhaps, far less interested in the larger structures we think of prose as destined for. I do love the word “novel”; I love it that someone who is a scholar of the novel might be interested in something called “novelty.”
Asked how a friend would describe her, Ives answered:
“You are simultaneously the most frivolous and most serious person I know.”
Winner of the 2008 Slope Editions Book Prize for Anamnesis, Ives has been an Iowa Arts and a MacCracken fellow and was the 2012 recipient of the NYU Department of Comparative Literature Penfield Fellowship.
Orange Roses is a book that I began writing more than 10 years ago, when I was 20. It began with a poem now titled “In Sonnets,” a group of short lyrics, each 14 lines long. I wrote these sonnets all together in about five minutes, and they haven’t changed very much since. Other poems followed slowly through the years and became attached to this manuscript, which has since come to seem to me to be a story about how one discovers the process or project of writing poems and, in so doing, discovers what it is possible for a poem to be—in both a personal and literary sense.
The book takes its title from the most recent poem contained in it, in which I am still asking about the nature of poetry (and, perhaps embarrassingly, proclaiming my own confusion and even ignorance). The “roses” in this title (“Orange Roses”) refer both to a personal memory and to a more general idea about writing: The roses I remember were seen growing on the side of the door of a stranger’s house built into a steep hill in a town in Norway. I was climbing up this Norwegian hill, traveling alone when I was 23, and I stopped to make a note about these flowers. (That note is included in the book.) The more general idea about writing would have you understand that any flowers you read about in a poem might be stand-ins for the so-called flowers of rhetoric, or literary commonplaces, clichés, tropes. There is a useful story about these flowers and what one should think of them told by Jean Paulhan, the great publisher, critic, and muse of Anne Desclos, who supposedly wrote The Story of O for him. In his book The Flowers of Tarbes, Paulhan describes a warning sign hanging on the gate of a public park, “IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ENTER THE PARK CARRYING FLOWERS.” Presumably, the law of the park forbids visitors to bring in cut flowers both because these extraneous blooms might distract from the impeccable floral beds provided by the municipality and because it is easier for an individual already armed with a bouquet to make off with a few clippings. As an allegory about the project of writing, I like this story very much. Paulhan observes, of the warning sign posted at the park, “And we find it, still today, at the gate of Literature.” What exactly will one get away with, in attempting to add to whatever “poetry” or “literature” is—and what might one take away? “All the same,” Paulhan notes, “it would be pleasant to see the young women of Tarbes (and young writers) carrying a rose, a poppy, or a clutch of poppies.” The roses in my book share in this feeling.