Rebecca Lindenberg on her relationship to form, the “virtuosity of attention,” and her book Love, An Index.
Love, An Index by Rebecca Lindenberg is an emotionally wrenching read. In less than one hundred pages, Lindenberg explores the elemental and complex nature of love in a way that feels expansive. Moments of beauty, despair, and meaning are communicated honestly, wisely, and economically. The poems in this collection appear in a wide range of forms (the short lyric, the index, the illuminated manuscript), which would be confusing if her focus weren’t so tightly on one vital question: What is love and what do we do when the person we love is gone?
This question takes on a special urgency in this case. In 2009 Lindenberg lost her partner, the celebrated poet Craig Arnold. As the collection unfolds so do some of the details of their life together as two young journeymen poets: their moments of conflict, their intense erotic connection, their shared love of words, food, travel. Many of the poems directly address Arnold, and this overheard conversation is part of the intimate quality of the book. There is also a novelistic feel to the way the narrative is woven through the collection. This makes the book hard to put down, though the narrative is never delivered completely or chronologically.
But what really differentiates Love, An Index from other elegiac works is the eponymous long poem at its center, written in the form of an index. The index—a form that is more often dispassionate, arbitrary, and artificial—allows Lindenberg to explore love and grief on many levels simultaneously, and the heartbreak sneaks up on you and then overwhelms you. By choosing the index, Lindenberg seems to be rejecting the notion that an intuitive form exists to tell the story of this relationship, or to speak about love at all. Lindenberg wants to say it all. Or as Lindenberg puts it: ”... I want/ to gather everything into this poems now/ but can’t. All is gloss…”
In semiotics an indexical sign is one that points directly to what it refers to (smoke is an indexical sign of fire). I thought about that as I read and reread Lindenberg’s index. It occurred to me that these poems could be thought of as an indexical sign of the writer’s love and grief, the smoke rising from an intense relationship that ended tragically and too soon. In pointing to the act of trying to gather everything, Lindenberg is able to point more emphatically at what happened and what was lost.
Elizabeth Clark Wessel How did you become interested in the index as a form? Do you know of any other poets who have used the index in this way before? Can you tell me about the process of writing/compiling it?
Rebecca Lindenberg The index suggested itself as a solution to a series of problems. Perhaps the most important is this: I wanted to tell a sustained story, but I did not want to tell it in a conventional narrative form. I am very wary of anything that appears too tidily as a “whole” story. Leaving aside that it’s limited by my own unfortunate subjectivity, my memory is full of gaps and doubts, and I wanted the story to reflect those things. I’m also very ambivalent about the way conventional narratives organize time into a kind of hierarchy of causes and effects, because in fact I think most incidents in a life or a relationship exist in such a complex network of influences, something three-dimensional would be more apt. (I actually experimented with that, too, but I did not have a big enough apartment, or enough tape). Which leads to another problem I had to solve—the unwieldiness of it all. I don’t think the role of the writer is to take the unwieldy and learn to wield it; I think the role of the writer is to exist as candidly and as hopefully (and strivingly) as possible among your own understanding.