Tuesday, November 12, 2002
Thinking more about the problem of how one reads truly new poetry, writing by people whose work one doesn’t know. Let’s try another example.
Underneath the stack of Mirage #4 / Period(ical)s – that’s a
tough one to pluralize – from which I
picked yesterday’s example, has been sitting the first-ever issue of Kiosk, published by three people I’ve
never heard of before who would appear to be students at SUNY Buffalo. It’s a
gorgeously done publication – visually the best first issue of anything hard
copy that I’ve seen since The Germ.
The table of contents lists many writers whose I work I follow: Alice Notley,
Kristen Gallagher, Fiona Templeton, Leslie Scalapino, Patrick Durgin, Catherine
Wagner, Michael Magee, Martin Corless-Smith, Jerome
Rothenberg, Gregg Biglieri,
One name that is new to me
To the look at the first page, with three one-paragraph prose sections separated by a simple left-margin dash, my immediate instinct tells me that this will be a series of interrelated short prose poems. The first one strikes me as intense & problematic:
For marking museums. Birds, mid-flight, portrayed in glass. A stuffing that was wasted. A way to enter and exit. Roll film the way you found it. In a dark dark canister – traveling through the dead throat. To an aorta: blurt. Then the other side: neutral children. Neutral, but built.
The first four sentences are truncated – all resonate with verbs (marking, portrayed, was wasted, to enter & exit) shifted away from the normal predicate function, which in turn is left vacant. These sentences carry the sound of captions or of definitions taken from a curious dictionary. The sense is deliberately static, the lone visual image self-consciously kitsch. Movement as such starts with the command of the fifth sentence, creating an almost tectonic shift in the language. Initially, the sixth sentence can be interpreted as “following” the fifth: film rolls are kept in such canisters. The very possibility of meaning spreading outward beyond the punctuated wall between sentences here is palpably felt in the reading. But the latter half of the sentence, following the dash, seems spliced from another linguistic source, although it also can be interpreted as leading the next sentence.** In the process, we shift image schemes away from film rolls & toward the esophagus. This ends almost comically after the colon with the lone syllable declaration: blurt. As such, a single word utterance, blurt could be a command, but, even more prominently, it stands for the unique sonic bubble it is, bounded on either end by a hard consonant, next to which lies a liquid surrounding that lone central vowel. It’s really a beautiful word & how often do we get to look & listen to it like this?
The poem moves again after
that hard stop, the next word Then literally
marking sequence. Like so much else in this short piece, “the other side”
proposes a referent for which it offers no evidence. This is the third sentence
in a row to have some kind of hinge marked by punctuation, in this instance
leading to “neutral children.” This sentence harks back to the first &
third as one that could have easily occurred in Stein’s Tender Buttons. Given that three sentences represents one-third of
the total paragraph, this can’t be accidental & it raises the parallel
between Stein’s portraits of objects and the title of
Reading through this 49-word paragraph, all these thoughts flicker rapidly through my head during the 25 seconds or so it takes me to read it – it takes far longer to jot them down here. It wasn’t, in fact, until that eighth sentence that the shadow of Stein popped up for me – “neutral children” just sounds like her. To another reader, her presence might have been evident from the very first.
At this point in the
reading, two somewhat contradictory ideas are floating about in my head. One is
to recognize how carefully crafted this is.
It is, however, a perfectly good strategy for any young poet trying to take on whatever might be going on in the work of the source writer. Robert Duncan certainly had his Stein imitations, for example, although they were not works he sought to save as part of his mature oeuvre.
The next two sections of “towards 24 Stills” proceed much as did
the first one, but when the reader turns the page, something akin to a new
world appears: six sections come into view, not one of which is in prose.
Unless the towards aspect of the
title is, in fact, an
There are images – conceptual schemas, really – that continue throughout these pieces: around film as projection of imagery, as something driven on a track, as a mode of marking. Theater, television & video are all introduced. It’s not that the text moves from non-referential toward something akin to figuration, but rather that there are veins throughout the work that rein in the range of possible meanings, rather like a collage that takes all of its imagery from a related set of journals.
Some of the sections work very well:
a stake, drives a wedge
A wedge, a stake
What it means to produce
A train that will show
The spectators themselves
And able to critique
But others seem narrow, suggesting that their justification as writing depends on their place within the total project, rather than directly on what is at hand:
infancy in his robes
Patches tense garment
My ghost My ghost
Overall, I come away from
Deming had some advantages –
the presentation of multiple works, for instance – that
The next time I see work by
** With the
reiterated dark in the previous sentence,
it’s plausible that
*** But how
happy is it? One of the things that makes this
+ This is
by no means a problem restricted to