My Secret Weapon Against the Attention Economy


For example, in January of this year I read “How to Draw a Perfect Circle” by Terrance Hayes, a poem about seemingly blind contour drawing, but which has expanded to encompass the “limitlessness” of life: “Everything is interconnected / It twists into a snake shape and cancels itself / It means swallowing its own collapsing tail or mind. destroying itself.” The whole poem takes the form of a circle, each line curls and cancels itself, but is also full of circles. Hayes describes many round things (eyeballs, nipples, pearls, paper plate, onion, pill) and with O uses dozens of words (spools, hole, flower, scarred, loop, soul, womb), so I found my mouth making a perfect circle as I spoke. I understood. I was no longer just reading a poem; I was embodying the text.

When I read the same poem every day, I train myself to ‘look without looking’.

Each month is shaped by the singular rhythms of the poem I have chosen. Sometimes I choose a poem that is familiar but deserves further study. that’s what got me into it “I Measure Every Pain I Encounter” by Emily Dickinson – suitably bleak for a pandemic – in February and “The Idea of ​​Order in Key West” by Wallace Stevens in March. Sometimes I choose a seasonal poem. In April, on the anniversary of my mother’s death, I was longing for something elegiac in tone; i finished i read “Rainlight” by WS Merwin. I browse the websites of the Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets, and the archives of The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Review of Books, or this journal. I even ask for suggestions on Twitter. I read in May “Vita Nova” by Louise Glück (first poem in his book of the same name); i read in june “The Sorrows” of Lucille Clifton; I read in July Li-Young Lee’s “Persimmons”; and in august i am reading this as i write “Translations” by Adrienne Rich.

Revisiting the same poem every day is the antithesis of the attention economy; Instead of navigating the surface, I dive deep. As I wandered around Brooklyn in January, Terrance Hayes’ last stanza slipped through my head: “You have to look before you make the perfect circle./Line, mind must be a blind, perpetual fluid/Until the drawing is complete.” The repetition of the sound in the “line”, “mind” and “blind” works this line together like the “permanent fluid” he describes. And this sonic repetition also equates the “mind” with the “line,” indicating that the conscious mind is flat and one-dimensional. Perhaps by simply disabling linear thinking, we can see how the different elements of this world – including humans – are interconnected.

When I read the same poem every day, I train myself to “look without looking”. Guided by the sound patterns, I let my subconscious mind notice things, circling again and again. Rather than consciously analyzing the poem, I focus on listening as the lines on the page reveal their music and meaning. Again, it nurtures a deeper kind of attention, an attention that pushes the superficial understanding of the past to come closer to the work. The kind of intuitive, multidimensional concentration you need to draw a perfect circle or write a poem (or, in my case, a story).


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