Often what is most engaging about a poetry book is not the cleanliness or relative tidiness of the poems themselves—it is the feeling that, as readers, we are being exposed to a mind at work, one that has not made conclusions, but is in the process of making them, an active imagination that explores possibility in the tension between the impositions of the text and a writer skirting the edge of control of their product.
This tension is endemic to both sides of the process of meaning-making; writers and readers generally favor the kind of experience that is wild and unpredictable where, even if the endpoint is in sight, the next poetic or narrative turn seems unattainable or, somehow, impossible yet inevitable. It is, in this way, a long poem in the “walk” form that must eventually come to an end in displacement of both physical space and time.
Sara Wintz’s Walking Across a Field We Are Focused on at This Time Now is an interesting embodiment of these ideas. While certainly a finished book of poetry, reading it feels more like eavesdropping on a process journal—duplicating the thrill of actually seeing a writer in action, but of course it is a process that the reader is meant to see. The text is composed of information derived from Wikipedia searches placed alongside lyrical moments that, while not necessarily reacting to the factual references in the text, act as brief respites from a constant incorporation of time and place as organizing form or principle.
Interestingly enough, Wintz’s text behaves like the textual equivalent of an uncertainty principle: if at any time a reader is aware of physically where they are, they have lost track of time; if a reader is sure of “when they are,” there is no certainty of where.
Perhaps that is how Wintz prepares the reader for how the text progresses. There are so many elements in play at any given time that Walking Across a Field… creates the narrative state of in media res almost perpetually. However, the ways space and focus of the text are controlled or metered demonstrate that, while there is a high degree of movement, Wintz is able to focus readers effectively on distilled moments of key information such as the tension created near the beginning of the book in which Wintz writes
ourselves in relation // with relation // before perspective // while bearing individual // self as appearance among others
The use of space is a key component of the visual argument of Walking Across a Field, and Wintz’s use of the single-line stanzaic form, as written above, acts to meter the section which is situated in a poetic field that is largely blank, driving focus to the short and intense quasi-tautology that the page sets up.
These short lines pack a high degree of energy in a small space after longer, more extended utterances that make up the previous section. However, this merely sets up the contrast with what follows: lines that lengthen themselves through the wandering psyche of the speaker, locating the reader in the sensory dimension of place as Wintz writes that “We will act in the manner of moving our legs forward. // … We will bend our knees as the soles of our feet press against the grass.” While the two excerpts have different visual characteristics, formally they leverage another locating feature of Walking Across a Field, Wintz’s use of the poetic “we,” a gesture to make experience all the more inclusive further instilling the notion of being “in the midst of things” not only in time, but also in imagined physical proximity to others.
Wintz’s notions of the “found” in Walking Across a Field… are more a mirror of how one might construct a poem from what could loosely be called “ambient” or “experiential” research, a practice that is more than merely experiencing or being in a place, but also how one might interact with the kinds of information that a place or time might offer. For Wintz, this is incorporated in a process log of various articles from which time (and sometimes place) of particular events has been gleaned and employed in the text. In this, the concepts of time as a formal principle of the text show through; Walking Across a Field is peppered with intermittent references to birth and death dates such as “Sun Ra dies (1993)” or various other times that function as social artifacts such as “barbara guest and frank o’hara at the cedar bar (1963).”
These dates occur chronologically throughout the text are rarely more than small clippings or paraphrasings of the facts of an event; most are birth and death dates. They are not directly acknowledged and seem (superficially) to be unrelated to the text. But, this serves to advance the book in a way that mimics the notion that the title gives: that we (as readers) are walking through an endless field and that during our walk, time does not stop (in fact it may infringe on us even more than we’d like to admit) however, it is up to us to concentrate on what we can—that is, walking through the field that we are currently in. The bad news might be that after this field, there most certainly is always another, an incalculable vastness that the speaker apprehends when they claim “i am unsure how far i extend.”
While not a strict found or appropriated text, Walking Across a Field… does harken back to several other books that have been reviewed here, namely The Things I Heard About You and No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself. However, instead of presenting a neatly “found” product, what Wintz does is an analog for how both writers and readers do experience the process of reading or writing and, as has been a concern of several review columns, how either camp makes meaning; instead of showing us a patchwork of source material, Wintz allows the reader to see the seams of an experience by creating a text that comes as close to experiencing the kinds of mental and physical pacing that we undergo in both reading and physically engaging with the world around us, a kind of text that does not offer a substitute, but rather an exhortation to explore the relationship between the self and the world around it, to “wander alone for a while/…walk off the path and by myself now.”