100 Notes on Violence
Winner of the 2009 Sawtooth Poetry Prize
Named a Top 5 Poetry Book of 2010 by Library Journal
Carr obsessively researches intimate terrorism, looking everywhere from Whitman and Dickinson to lists of phobias and weapon-store catalogs for answers. Do they lie in statistics, in statements by and about rapists and killers, in the capacity for cruelty that the poet herself admits to? This book is a dream-document both of light and innocence—babies and the urge to protect them—and of giving in to a wrenching darkness, where despair lies in the very fact that no single factor is to blame.
The book about violence must be a book of quotations.
For everyone speaks about violence.
Is a book of memories, for everyone's life is riddled.
Whereas the floating hand of sexual love stirs the baby's within, the floating
arms of Godly love lift the earth to the sun. Whereas trees by the river greening.
Girls in the coffee line, ravened and foamed.
Precise in their aging, their bodies roam. Not every day's a happy day; my plays
are peppered with crime.
agree to take me with you.
Copyright © 2010 by Julie Carr
“In this polyphonic poem the voices of care-givers, killers, and children commingle and, disturbingly, sometimes overlap. Innocence and guilt are never far apart. ‘At the pool the boy in cammies reads an encyclopedia of weapons.’ This book has great moral complexity, gravitas, and courage.” —Rae Armantrout, judge of the 2009 Sawtooth Poetry Prize
“‘The book about violence must be a book of quotations,’ according to Julie Carr in 100 Notes on Violence, ‘For everyone speaks about violence.’ Few have spoken or written on the subject with the desperate accuracy and the incendiary beauty of this disturbing, necessary book. Here, the quotations include statistics and news reports as well as the more traditional poetic forms, all to engage finally a light like that of the sun, ‘its daily resurrection, daily assault.’ ” —Bin Ramke
“Here is an Edmond Jabès of the slaughterhouse, one whose spatial reality surrounds us and duplicates itself ferociously. To think of these poems or notes or quotations as distillations of catharsis and containment would be to belittle the shock of semantic and ethical recognition to which Hill gestures and that this work expresses. However, the poems in 100 Notes on Violence exude in their compositional and de-composing characterizations a fealty to confronting contemporary human reality and allowing it to articulate its vehement drive toward destruction.
“We are implicated and damaged, and we are not conscious of the snares in which we are caught ‘. . . for everyone’s life is riddled.’ These Notes do result in a stunning and remarkable ‘book of memories,’ reminding us that an alternative existence can be imagined.” —Jon Curley in Galatea Resurrects
I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, raised between two households and with, eventually, three siblings. My mother was a big reader, having been an English major in college, and some of my earliest memories are of her scanning the bookshelves for books for me to read. I read a lot as a child, and also wrote poetry. She claims I recited my first poem before I knew how to write—something about a tree. The first one I remember was a limerick about a dragonfly. Early on I discovered Emily Dickinson and found much in her writing with which to identify. At age nine I attempted to read through the Old Testament, though I grew up in an atheistic household. I read it for its rhythms and stories and because I wanted the idea of God. Leviticus slowed me down. I also read novels, of course, and at some point was reading mostly nineteenth-century ones; Jane Austen spoke my mind. I fell for Will Ladislaw.
I went to high school in Brookline, and there I was lucky enough to have fantastic English teachers. Margaret Metzger was, and continues to be, a necessary guide. She (and my mother) taught me how to write paragraphs. Margaret Metzger not only read poems to us, she performed them. “This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper,” she said, and then quietly walked out of the room. That was the end of class and I was stunned.
I went to Barnard College, hoping to become a writer. But in the meantime, I had fallen into dancing, and at Barnard I danced all the time. My friends and I made dances in hallways and classrooms and staircases. We created evening-length pieces with text, music, and sculpture. We went to performances and classes all over the city. The first time I saw the Merce Cunningham Company, I cried. Also when I saw Trisha Brown. In my sophomore year, I spent a summer studying with seminal dance improvisers Steve Paxton, Simone Forti, and Nancy Stark Smith. This summer not only shaped my future for the next decade, it also shaped my aesthetic. I began to understand abstraction, irony, juxtaposition, and chance, and I grew deeply invested in improvisation, not only as a practice for the studio, but also as performance. In 1991, with Sondra Loring, I founded the annual Improvisation Festival, which featured over eighty international artists for two weeks of performances and workshops throughout the city. Sondra and I ran this event together for seven years. Doing this showed me that, for me, being an artist must also mean supporting other artists—that’s when the work really takes off.
For ten years after graduating, I danced. Mostly I performed in New York with local companies and choreographers. But I also traveled around the country and into Canada and Mexico to teach and perform. We danced in churches, outdoor stages, abandoned buildings, bars, PS122, Dancespace Project, Judson, DTW, BAM, sidewalks, parks. Dancing is a collaborative art, always, and my community was close, supportive, and curious, not only about dance, but also about theater, visual art, and poetry. Many of the dances I made or was part of incorporated language, and after a time I began to create texts for choreographers. In this way, I stayed connected to my original intention.
In 1995 I went to New York University for an MFA in poetry. I did this in order to transition myself out of dance, but while studying, I was also performing and traveling regularly. The real transition happened a year later when my husband and I had our first child, Benjamin. After Benjamin was born, dancing became less viable. The babysitters were making more per hour than I was in rehearsal. My final professional performance was a piece by Jody Oberfelder for seven mothers and their babies. We preformed throughout the city and on television. It was fitting that in my final dance I never put the baby down.
In 2001, my family and I moved to Berkeley so that I could attend UC Berkeley’s doctorate program in English. There I studied Victorian Literature and was again blessed with an exhilarating community. I studied poetry with Lyn Hejinain and Heather McHugh, and literature with Kent Pucket, Steven Goldsmith, Catherine Gallagher, and Sharon Marcus. As important was the thriving poetry scene of the Bay Area, alive with its history. My second child, Alice, was born a few months after we arrived. Meanwhile, jasmine, heliotrope, roses, calla lilies, plum trees, honey suckle, eucalyptus, and the war.
My first book, Mead: An Epithalamion, won the University of Georgia Press’s Contemporary Poetry Prize and was published in 2004. Cole Swensen was the judge. I had never met her, had heard her read only once, but that year I’d been carrying around her book Noon, reading it over and over, studying its delicate changes. In 2006 Alice James Books accepted my second book, Equivocal. That year we left California to move to Denver, Colorado, and I began teaching at the University of Colorado at Boulder. That year also, my husband, Tim Roberts, and I started Counterpath Press (www.counterpathpress.org), which we have been running with ever since. We’ve now published eighteen titles: poetry, fiction, critical prose, many of the books in translation. Publishing is an exhausting joy. Earlier this year, Eileen Myles selected my manuscript Sarah—Of Fragments and Lines as a National Poetry Series selection; it comes out from Coffee House Press later in 2010.
Now with three children—the third, Lucy, was born in 2007—the press, and full-time teaching, the days are packed, but no more so than they were when I was biking around New York between classes and rehearsals. In fact, my focus feels similar. I’m in motion much of the time, but the ground is always the art. Now my collaborators are my husband, my children (the older two also write poems), my colleagues, my fellow writers here and around the country, and my students. Denver is the country’s sweetest and best-kept secret; though mountains are no oceans, they lift. We write every day between 5 and 7:30. The sun is rising, the kids are waking up.
In recent years I have found myself less and less able to tolerate images or text about violence. Even though I want to be informed and realistic, I found myself turning off the radio, closing the newspaper, walking out on movies. Especially when the violence was aimed at children, I just could not take it.
100 Notes makes use of multiple sources, and so is not merely a subjective account of violence and its effects, but also a research project. For example, I quote from such authorities on violence as Elie Wiesel, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag, Dostoevsky, William T. Vollmann, and Georges Bataille. I also include information from books and websites on issues such as childhood depression, child abuse, and gun control. I have also sourced material from many stories told to me in person, over email, or discovered in fiction and film. Included as well are events from the news.
As a balance to the book’s admittedly disturbing material, I include very short lyrics that I think of as lullabies. These “lullabies” are purposefully unadorned. They often rhyme and make use of simple rhythms and vocabularies. They are meant to speak toward the need for protection and comfort, and I suppose they heighten the sense of fear that is driving the work
Running throughout the material are lines of poetry from Whitman and Dickinson. The choice of these poets is probably obvious. They represent the two ends of the spectrum of American Poetry: the one populist, political, opulent, the other private, inward, philosophical. 100 Notes engages both of these modes. It is at once a private investigation into fear and violence, and a movement outward toward the larger community, an attempt to represent the fears and violent acts of that community.
This is, for me, not a book about other people’s violence. Rather, it is an investigation into the violent experiences and tendencies that we all harbor. As the wars have carried on, I wanted to turn the focus domestic: toward our country, streets, and homes —“Everyone’s life is riddled.” I embarked on this project in a sense to confront (not comfort) these fears and resistances, and to examine a collective culpability that in no way excludes myself.