is to explain why this site is called shift+7, I suppose. Shift+7, on your keyboard, produces a symbol: the ampersand. I love the shape: its form, its economy, its Latinate origins, and the way that sometimes I feel the need to use it—based on the flow of a sentence and the way I’d like that sentence to appear on a page—and sometimes I don’t. I love the way it’s designed to both connect two things, but also to connote an endlessness of connection—it couples, and it also suggests that there is always more & more & more &…
I mostly use it in the writing of poems—something I’ve done since undergrad workshops, when I was typing up my work on an electric typewriter. Back then, a few people in my classes found it to be pretentious, for some reason. But everything in undergrad is pretentious, especially a lot of undergrad poetry, so it didn’t really bother me.
Then one day, as the story goes, Jorie Graham was teaching T.S. Eliot in one of our MFA craft seminars. Specifically, Eliot’s notion that all art comes from a combination of memory & desire (see what I did there?). A simple idea, maybe even obvious, but I was very young, and it struck me as important and true and a description of something I felt very keenly in my own work.
It also made me recall a moment in high school—the moment when poetry became important to me: my ninth-grade English teacher played us a record (yes, a 33rpm) of T.S. Eliot reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and it seriously sounded like the best ghost story ever told. Those women & their Michelangelic opinions.
Not too many weeks after that Graham seminar, over the summer of 1996, I got my third tattoo:
In the opening lines of The Waste Land, Eliot writes, of course: “April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”
To me, the ampersand on my neck represents that and between “memory and desire”—It’s still my favorite of my tattoos to this day, & probably always will be, no matter what more ink there is to be had for me.
And there will be more ink. More soon.