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Werdegang

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Jayne Dullahan

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The poetic meaning of "Werdegang" is: I have a book.

[this is not a universalizing "the," but a "the" that bears its own doubt, followed as it is by "poetic;" I could have written "my," but the "I" is implied in the poetic. Trust "the poetic meaning," but do not submit to it.]

The semantic linguistic meaning of "Werdegang" can be broken down as follows:

Werdegang: noun, masculine. German. signifies: a path to becoming. Made up of the nominalisation of two verbs: "werden," the marker of future tense; to become; and to get (in the passive sense: he got run over) and "gehen," to go.

The "Werdegang" of "Werdegang" is unknown to me, but it came to me last night while reading about Feudalism as a precursor to Capitalism. "Werdegang," like it fell into my thoughts, and then "poetischer Werdegang," the becoming of a poet. Poetic becoming. It says in one word what in English takes a much clumsier phrasing, and so I prefer "Werdegang," for its rhythm, for its consonants, and most especially for its nominalizing. As its parts demonstrate, it contains both location and movement: "Werde"--movement towards being, and "Gang"--path, hallway. At any point you can stop and consider your "Werdegang," but still it keeps going. Keeps becoming.

Werdegang. I have a book.

I've had it for ten years, someone bought it for me out of kindness. It has been my constant companion these ten, soon to be eleven years. I brought it to an event. Someone said, Ah, that must be your Bible.

They meant that metaphorically, which is to say ironically, because of its role in my life as a source, both in the sense of what it all comes down to, and a book I look things up in constantly. I considered the metaphor false, somewhat. It's more like a siddur, because I carry it around with me. It is not so much sacred as a text as it is practical. I don't roll it up and keep it in an ark. I carry it around and write in it. Its pages are dog-eared, some of them have fallen out in clumps and as I take it out to read, huge parts of it always flutter to the floor. Part of the ritual of reading is picking up the table of contents, which is now hopelessly out of order, and in the wrong part of the book. Metaphorically appropriate for the "Werdegang"--I don't need the table of contents anymore.

The way I scuff around with the book translates well into images complementing the siddur--I remind myself of some of the Orthodox men I used to see hurrying to shul, prayer shawl and siddur under one arm, barely able to keep their hats from blowing off their heads. They take their place, they get out the very old, very well thumbed through siddur, they read aloud. They read quietly. They feel the rhythm.

Poetry has often been compared to prayer, just as art has been understood as an evolution of ritual objects, and theater-going (Theatergang!) has been compared to congregation.

Werdegang. Siddur.

These words have a historical and memorial texture I like very much. My book is both these things. Anyone who flipped through it could trace my Werdegang, easily find points of invocation. It started very simply, I had to mark one or two poems so I could find them while I was talking about them or because I couldn't remember the titles well enough to find them in the table of contents, when it was in the right place. With time, most every poem had to be marked, but I was unwilling to unmark the other poems, as some might have done to relieve confusion; but this became unnecessary, because the urgency and immediacy with which I had to mark poems led to the habit of taking whatever object was handy and using it as a bookmark. The markers mark not only poems but periods of time during which I marked the poems, each one can be indentified with several compatriots or related objects. They mark the places I was when I marked the poems. In some cases they mark the mindset I was in when I marked the poems. They mark periods of development in life. A microcosm of this process is present in the notes I left myself in the margins of many poems, the time separating them erased for all but me--and even I can't remember a lot of the time--because there they all are, developmental stages recorded next to, on top of, within each other and left with only one time to read: NOW.

A brief tour down the Werdegang:

The cover streaked and bent. Was once blue. When opened the first two pages of the book come with it. Upon the first page, in light pencil, notes so as not to forget page numbers (numbers are meaningless to me, so I have to record them again and again, to match the images): "the value of mystic strains of death and rebirth is that language is reborn 141" (written sideways, and circled; probably written about 8 years ago). "Cycle=duality?" (3 years ago) The first marker you see is actually marking the poem on the other side of the page, it is therefore the backside of a red plastic paperclip, my marker of choice 1,5 years ago. But the page is dog-eared, too, facing me, from the primitive years, before I had "werdegang"ed to the paperclip. Clearly an early stage, when I had marked fewer poems. The red paperclip is supplemented by the words "Space of words" in light pencil. The next marker is a yellow post-it attached to a purple post-it, one of which has instructions to tape something on TV, and the other the phone number of a local lock specialist. My Marlene Dietrich bookmark. A folded up piece of paper with summaries on it. A piece of note paper from an antique book shop, ripped into strips, so as to make many markers. 2 years ago? A piece of paper with three consecutive shopping lists. My new cellphone number I could never remember (4 years ago). Eventually the paperclips begin to mark not only pages but specific lines. I flip to the end, and the table of contents disperses.

It all can be read: the poems, the notes, the markers, the book itself, the way I carry it, the pages that fall out. It is my narrative, my Werdegang. My book.

Charles has a book. Charles shows them his crayons. Marie has the book of Charles. (Good for Marie!)

I wonder who the next reader will be...

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