My Secret Weapon Against the Attention Economy

My Secret Weapon Against the Attention Economy

#Secret #Weapon #Attention #Economy

In January of this year, for example, I read “How to Draw a Perfect Circle,” by Terrance Hayes, a poem that is ostensibly about blind contour drawing but expands to encompass the “unboundedness” of life: “Everything is connected/By a line curling and canceling itself like the shape of a snake/Swallowing its own decadent tail or a mind that means to destroy itself.” The whole poem takes the form of a circle, each line curling and canceling itself, but it is also filled with circles. Hayes describes many round things (pupils, nipples, pearls, a paper plate, an onion, a pill) and uses dozens of words with O’s (spools, hole, blooms, wounded, loops, soul, womb), so I found my mouth making a perfect circle as I spoke. Oh, I realized. I was no longer merely reading a poem; I was embodying the text.

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

Each month is shaped by my selected poem’s singular rhythms. Sometimes I choose a poem that is familiar but deserving of further study. That’s what led me to Emily Dickinson’s “I Measure Every Grief I Meet” — appropriately somber for a pandemic — in February, and to Wallace Stevens’s “The Idea of Order at Key West” in March. Sometimes I choose a seasonal poem. In April, the anniversary of my mother’s death, I longed for something elegiac in tone; I ended up reading W.S. Merwin’s “Rain Light.” I peruse the websites of the Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets, as well as the archives of The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Review of Books or this magazine. I even solicit suggestions via Twitter. In May, I read Louise Glück’s “Vita Nova” (the first poem in her book of the same name); in June, I read Lucille Clifton’s “Sorrows”; in July, I read Li-Young Lee’s “Persimmons”; and in August, as I write this, I’m reading “Translations,” by Adrienne Rich.

Revisiting the same poem every day is the antithesis of the attention economy; instead of scrolling along the surface, I’m diving deep beneath it. As I walked around Brooklyn in January, Terrance Hayes’s final stanza slithered through my head: “You must look without looking to make the perfect circle./The line, the mind must be a blind continuous liquid/Until the drawing is complete.” The repetition of sound in “line,” “mind” and “blind” makes this line run together, like the “continuous liquid” it describes. And that sonic repetition also equates “mind” with “line,” suggesting that the conscious mind is straight and one-dimensional. Perhaps it’s only by disabling linear thinking that we can see how disparate elements of this world — including people — are connected.

When I read the same poem every day, I’m training myself to “look without looking.” By circling back again and again, guided by sound patterns, I let my subconscious do some of the noticing. Rather than consciously analyzing the poem, I focus on listening as the lines on the page release their music and their meaning. Repetition cultivates a deeper kind of attention, one that pushes past facile understanding to intimacy with the work. It’s 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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