To hear with
Poet Jared Stanley writes for two overlapping audiences: readers of contemporary poetry, and people who spend a lot of time on Peavine Mountain.
“From The Sea Ranch,” a poem in Northern Nevada poet Jared Stanley’s new collection, Ears, begins:
My skin changes direction, migrates
to sleep. ’Sleep’ means ’I tongue at my left eye
as it slowly descends into its socket
from heaven as if by a chain
’til my tongue won’t reach.’
Little honeybee sucking at the cup-shaped eternity:
The left eye has its unbuilt plan,
as if a city: Ecbatan
The looming of outskirts in starlight.
To see Winnemucca named among legendary cities in this dreamy, poetic reverie might seem a bit jarring for those of us who have actually been there, but it evokes a definite sense of place and that dream logic in which the mythic mingles with the familiar.
“I just got back from a bunch of readings in the East Coast, and nobody gets this,” said Stanley recently. “I love Nevada, and I love Nevada place names. I just love it here, so whenever I’m far away people don’t quite get what I’m talking about. I’ve had to stop a few times and ask, ’Anybody been to Winnemucca before?’”
He writes simultaneously for two overlapping audiences: readers of contemporary poetry, and people who spend a lot of time on Peavine Mountain.
“I like the idea that I’m talking about Nevada in a language that’s, on the one hand, only recognizable to Northern Nevadans, and on the other hand, in a language that I can kind of work it if I’m in Philadelphia. … I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want to be able to be a part of a larger national poetry conversation, but I also want it to be resolutely Nevadan work.”Sounds
Stanley wasn’t always a Nevadan. He was born in Arizona and grew up all over California, primarily in the East Bay. He developed a relationship with Reno from there, visiting friends who lived here.
“I went to Reno High prom in 1994,” he said. (He’s now 42.) “I’ve had this weird, long relationship with Reno.”
He graduated from UC Berkeley and then the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which he refers to as “fancy poetry school,” and then taught in Merced, California, before moving to Reno. His partner, Meredith Odea, is in the history department at the University of Nevada, Reno, and he’s an instructor at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village. He teaches creative writing, literary theory, composition, poetry workshops, and new media writing to undergraduates in SNC’s English Department and works with graduate students in the college’s interdisciplinary art MFA program.
Stanley is interdisciplinary by nature. He played in rock bands in his youth and has, in recent years, collaborated with visual artists, including local artists like Megan Berner and Sarah Lillegard.
He’s a writer who values his sensory perceptions. The poems in Ears are full of smells, sounds and tactile sensations. And the book title is reflective of that recurring theme.
“That’s how it got that title,” he said. “I wasn’t even aware of that, and I’d done a reading, and someone’s like, ’I like all the ears.’ It was actually pretty dumb and simple.”
He describes hearing as a “sense that comes through the back of the mind. … I like playing with the idea of difference between hearing, listening, filtering things out, what you try to ignore, how you try to not use your ears. … I like the idea of overhearing—when you hear something you’re not supposed to hear. Like when people will switch into a different language so that people around them won’t understand. That’s a very interesting thing to me because you can’t do that with your eyes. You can’t change the color of the earth to disguise something you don’t want someone else to know.”
The sounds of words are also key to his poems. He says that he often starts composing his poems based on sounds alone.
“One of the things that is exciting about being a poet … is that you get to write for silent reading and for recitation—and it has to work in both of those places,” he said. “You write for both of those occasions.”
He started out as a musician and cites among his inspirations eccentric singer-lyricists like Captain Beefheart and Mark E. Smith of The Fall, vocalists known for convoluted word choices and rhythmic variations.
“I like the idea of setting forth a principle and then trying to violate it as much as you can. … It looks very chaotic, but it’s actually very ordered and conscientious. The poet Eileen Myles talks about giving off the impression of improvisation, which I really like. This is a famous trope forever. Yeats talks about this—the sense of working it so hard that it looks like you just tossed it off.”Abundance
Stanley aims to write poems that evoke a definite sense of place in Nothern Nevada, but defy the cliches of writing about the desert. “There’s this sense that a desert aesthetic has to be very austere, and very involved in silence, which mine is, but I write a very baroque kind of poetry,” he said. “I always want to play against that sense of austerity. … To talk about the desert as being as abundant as a jungle. You just have to look closer to see that at work.”
“Abundance,” a poem that begins, “I like to think the world is dead and / Pretty when fireworks hit trees,” has this passage:
To toss around, words like “crisis,” words
That cut from the teeth in a way
That doesn’t quite fit a competing
Sense of calm charm that flowers
Out from a noontime in June or
Weeks earlier in the cockeyed new
Weathers in which I touch a permission
I find with my fingers, the light
In an evergreen shrub, a niche
Between abstract power, its metadata,
And a close, direct, touching kindness.
“That poem … is about the problem of being able to touch things and maintain your sense of tactility and your sensual immersion in reality when it’s easier to walk around and”—here Stanley mimed using a cellphone—“not look around you.”
It’s a poem that’s about connecting, through the senses, with nature in a time of technological isolation. The word “metadata” places the poem in its post-Snowden historical era, just as quotes from internet comments ground other poems in the collection to their time just as squarely as the place names connect to Northern Nevada.
“The internet works very hard to deceive you that you’re making choices, but you’re really making a set of preordained choices that are not yours,” said Stanley. “So the idea that simply walking and, in that case, fondling a leaf, is an intentional thing that you can do that’s not a preordained set of monetized choices that someone is making for you.”
It’s also about climate change: “That’s me really playing with traditional tropes of poetry—’It is spring. Love is spring.’ OK, spring happens three weeks earlier—does that change your sense of maniacal, spazzy joy? No, but intellectually you know that this is really fucking bad.”