A Poetics of Forgetting

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I confess—I’m a deleter.

Like many others, I’ve amassed a considerable amount of digital media chronicling my life experiences, and I reckon that those which have caused me some private distress or anger are marked only by conspicuous gaps and absences. I’ve always found it strangely calming—the excision of texts and images, the disposal of objects, the burning of papers. To destroy or erase cleanses me of something’s aura, that miasma of living memories pervading an inanimate presence. It was upon reading this article, and the study—“Design for Forgetting: Disposing of Digital Possessions After A Breakup”— it summarized, that got me thinking lately about what it means to document and to forget.

The paper, a collaboration between a psychologist and a computer scientist, proposes a solution to the problem of what to do with digital possessions—emails, texts, photographs—in the event of a breakup. It acquired and interpreted data from twenty-four interviews, breaking down findings to offer three types of people via their ‘strategies of disposal’: keepers, deleters, and selective disposers. It went further to determine how these strategies affected the ways people ‘got over’ their significant others, concluding with a design idea in the form of an access-regulated container, called ‘Pandora’s Box’, which would gather and store all meaningful media.

Addressing the same issue from a different angle, there is also this article which details the inextricable role social media has come to play in romantic relationships today. In it, I learned about applications like Kill Switch, Ex-Lover Blocker, and Eternal Sunshine (ostensibly after the Michel Gondry movie), and was both amused and a little troubled by how desire and restraint work together to contrive markets for themselves in perpetuity. Related to all this, albeit obliquely, is the book “I Don’t Feel So Good” by Canadian poet, Elizabeth Bachinsky, which randomly compiles passages and fragments from twenty-six years’ worth of the poet’s journals and notebooks using the roll of a die.

In my experience, procedural poetry, which attempts to make collaborators of chance and constraint, usually results in work that is humorous or surreal, but rarely emotionally evocative. Process precedes— then becomes—the poem, and any pleasure or satisfaction one would derive from narrative or meaning, is displaced onto the language itself. That said, I thought because these ‘poems’ were culled from Bachinsky’s journals, that this book had to be some kind of next-level confessional stuff. I imagined it might read a little closer to lyric poetry, and presumed that something of the original material would collapse the distance and detachment I sometimes feel reading these kinds of poetic experiments. I mean, what’s more intimate than reading someone else’s private journal?

By turns angsty, irreverent, and charming, the poems taken together do sketch out a distinct voice. However, lacking any context other than the process, that emotional distance remained. The disjunctiveness made reading these fragments seem a little like poring over a stranger’s box of trinkets and curios. Still, I thought her experiment served to fret the threshold for, and boundaries of, our meaning- and pattern-seeking tendencies. It confirmed the difference, however nebulous or even obvious, between a document of what is felt, and what is made to evoke feeling. Bachinsky’s book perverts both the compulsions to keep and to throw away, and caused me to examine my own journaling habits in relation to my craft.

Which brings me back to my rather lofty blog title—a poetics of forgetting. I’d like at this moment to offer a worthwhile diversion in the poetry and prose of Dawn Lundy Martin, who speaks to this with much more depth and breadth. It’s simple enough to say that we document to preserve a memory, and we erase to destroy one. As memories are to photographs and letters, so is closure commemorated with rituals, traditions, and ceremonies of destruction. Emotional burdens often have literal weight, and even as I state my propensity for deletion, I’ll own up to being a hopeless hoarder. Sentimental reasoning governs the practice of both, and is influenced in part by my relationship wirh the tactile.

And yet, in spite of large swaths of deletion cut across my digital acreage, I’ve managed to keep an online journal for over ten years. It’s both public and private, which means that anyone who stumbles over it may read it, but my name—or anyone else’s for that matter—appears nowhere. It’s also itinerant and migratory in nature, so that anytime I notice an unusual uptick in the site’s viewer stats, I change urls. In this way, and given the internet’s near-infinite nature, rules of probability ensure my anonymity and privacy. It’s a wonderful liminal space to write in, where I can imagine my accidental audience just clearly enough to shape, deform, and craft my sentences. That same audience is also improbable and vague enough for me to forego sense and clarity, and to shed any inhibiting desire to please.

I may in these entries describe events, situations, and players, but within that public-private space, they’re rendered unintelligible. The lesson and feeling of the text, however, remains; the work and process of experiencing, remains. Why I document anything is not to preserve but to understand. I come back to these online journal posts from time to time, not to reminisce, but to re-learn and re-view an interior life in all its incremental flux. It’s often this very word chaos that I cut and chip away at to shape something which can begin to resemble a poem. Erasure, as it relates to a poetics, is the expression of my will and want to control. When I delete something, I function under the necessary human delusion that forgetting is a choice, and control, a reality.






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