Saturday, February 15, 2003

 

What does Peter Coyote have in common with Marvin Bell? The same thing that Clayton Eshleman has in common with Anselm Berrigan, Bill Berkson with Maxine Kumin, Ursala LeGuin with Julia Vinograd, and Stanley Kunitz with August Highland. All have participated in Sam Hamill’s still-growing poets protest against the war.

 

As hokey as the official chapbook of Poets Against the War might be, the website’s database of more than 5,000 poets is a remarkable collection of the diversity of American writing, an amazing statement in opposition to a war in which the shooting has not yet begun. While The New Criterion’s Roger Kimball might not recognize these names, here (based on the most perfunctory scroll through the website’s index) are a few that might be familiar to you:

 

Addonizio, Kim

Alarcón, Francisco X.

AlcalayAmmiel

Alexander, Charles

Alison, Dorothy

Aplon, Roger

Balaban, John

BallardiniAnny

Barks, Coleman

Barnstone, Willis

Baron, Todd

Bass, Ellen

Beban, Richard

Behrle, Jim

Bell, Marvin

Bennett, John

Bentley, Scott

Berkson, Bill

Berrigan, Anselm

Berry, Jake

Bertolino, James

Bialy, Harvey

Blumenthal, Michael

Bly, Robert

Bowering, George

Brandi, John

Braun, Henry

Breit, Luke

Chernoff, Maxine

Cisneros, Sandra

Clausen, Jan

Cohen, Ira

Cole, Henri

Conrad, C. A.

Corbett, William

Corey, Joshua

Corn, Alfred

Coyote, Peter

Creeley, Robert

Dacey, Philip

Dennis Browne, Michael

Doty, Mark

Dove, Rita

Ehret, Terry

Ehrhart, W.D.

Ellingham, Lewis

Eshleman, Clayton

Finch, Annie Ridley Crane

Foley, Jack

Forti, Simone

Fried, Daisy

Frym, Gloria

Fyman, Cliff

Gallaher, John

Gavronsky, Serge

Gibbons, Reginald

Gilbert, Sandra M.

Gioseffi, Daniela

Gizzi, Peter

Goedicke, Patricia

Gontarek, Leonard

Gordon, Kirpal

Griffin, Susan

Hacker, Marilyn

Hahne, Marj

Hamill, Sam

Harjo, Joy

Harrison, Bob

Hazo, Samuel

Healy, Eloise Klein

Herron, Patrick

Highland, August

Hine, Charles

Hirschman, Jack

Hogue, Cynthia

Hollo, Anselm

Holman, Bob

Hoover, Paul

Howe, Fanny

Howe, Marie

Hudspith, Vicki

Jaffe, Lawrence

Jaffe, Maggie

Johnson, Halvard

Jones, Hettie

Joron, Andrew

Kalleberg, Garrett

Katz, Eliot

Kaufman, Shirley

Kelly, Dennis

King, Basil

Kingston, Maxine Hong

Kinnell, Galway

Kizer, Carolyn

Knott, Bill

Kumin, Maxine

Kunitz, Stanley

Kushner, Dale

Lally, Michael

Le Guin, Ursula K.

Lenhart, Gary

Loden, Rachel

Lourie, Dick

Luschei, Glenna

MacAdams, Lewis

Machlin, Dan

Magee, Michael

majordevorah

Marcus, Morton

Matson, Clive

McVay, Gwyn

Meltzer, David

Menefee, Sarah

Merwin, W.S.

Metzger, Deena

Miller, Jane

Mohammad, K. Silem

Montag, Tom

Moore, Daniel Abdal-Hayy

Moramarco, Fred

Moure, Erin

Muske-Dukes, Carol

Myles, Eileen

Napora, Joe

Nelson, Marilyn

Newth, Rebecca

Niatum, Duane

Olson, John

Orr, Gregory

Ortiz, Simon

Orvino, Jennie

Ossman, David

Ostriker, Alicia

Padgett, Ron

Palmer, Michael

Piombino, Nick

PollittKatha

Randall, Belle

Randall, Margaret

Raphael, Dan

Ray, David

Retallack, Joan

Reyes, Carlos

Rich, Adrienne

Rodney, Janet

Rogow, Zack

Ronk, Martha

Root, William Pitt

Rothenberg, Jerome

Rothschild, Douglas

Rumaker, Michael

Saner, Reg

Schulman, Grace

Scott, Peter Dale

Seidman, Hugh

Skratz, G. P.

Snodgrass, W. D.

Spivak, Kathleen

Stern, Gerald

Stewart, Susan

Strongin, Lynn

Stroud, Joseph

Swensen, Cole

Swenson, Karen

Sze, Arthur

Tabios, Eileen

Tall, Deborah

Tarn, Nathaniel

Tepper, Craig

Thomas, Heather

Torres, Edwin

Tysh, Chris

Vangelisti, Paul

Vincent, Stephen

Vinograd, Julia

Waldman, Anne

Weigl, Bruce

Whitney, J.D.

Willard, Nancy

Wilner, Eleanor

Yourcenar, Joy

Zamora, Daisy

Zinnes, Harriet

 

Not all of these links lead to poems – several are statements of conscience. And I’m sure that as my eyes literally glazed over the table of contents, I missed a lot of other obvious “name brand” poets. The list above represents less than four percent of what can be found at the website and I heartily recommend scrolling through & reading widely. One way to start is to read everything from your neck of the woods. Collectively, it has that mind-numbing, awe-inspiring overwhelming quality I will always associate with the AIDS Quilt.

 

Given the balkanization of American letters & Sam Hamill’s own less-than-innocent role in same – the site’s chapbook itself underscores the problem perfectly – I think it takes an enormous amount of goodwill & sense of urgency to send a poem or statement to this project. That so many American (& a few Canadian) poets have done so is a testament to the lateness of the hour & the importance of the idea. If/when this war begins, these writers are on record that George W’s assault on the people of Iraq is not being conducted in our name.



Friday, February 14, 2003

 

“As Close to a Love Poem”

 

for Krishna

 

 

Friends ask us why

we decided to get married,

friendly puzzlement

reflecting true affection.

As close to a love poem

as I'll ever get.

Your daddy sits on our sofa,

blue checked golf pants

and orange sweater, rereading

Ice Station Zebra. Mom's

white blouse

on a hanger in the sun

from the padlock's clasp

to the shed door.

I wake by water's edge

           Willingly I'll say

there's been a sweet marriage,

seabirds loud with dawn

in the harbor. Last night's

boneless breast of roast duck

topped with apple,

strong sweet aftertaste

lingers on. I won't forget your eyes,

the way they saw, tears

streaming, as you recited

words of Robert Duncan

and I my Zukofsky, and I

   would fill your arms

as if with flowers

    with my forever being there.

 

from What



Thursday, February 13, 2003

 

“Job share archivists” Susan M. Schultz & Pam Brown have augmented the Department of Dislocated Memory with a new installment of their collaboration ”Amnesiac recoveries.” It’s a project that raises all kinds of interesting questions.

 

I have never seen a history of poetic collaboration. A search in Google for all sites that use both “poetry” & “collaboration” yields 199,000 sites. A search for the exact phrase “history of poetic collaboration” yields none – or will until the Google crawler finds today’s blog. My sense – and it may be quite incomplete – is that poetic collaboration arises truly with the surrealists.* It enters the U.S. largely through the writing of the one group most heavily influenced by surrealism: the New York School. You will not find any collaborations in the Allen anthology. Indeed, the only ones you can actually spot** even in In the American Tree are in the section of critical statements, first a collaborative manifesto for the French journal Change & later the famous list of experiments that Bernadette Mayer & several groups of students at her Poetry Project workshops created. But if you look to Tom Clark’s anthology All Stars (Grossman Publishers/ Goliard – Santa Fe, 1972), a combination of NY School & beat writers that reflected Clark’s view from the Bolinas mesa, Ron Padgett’s selection consists of 17 collaborations – with Dick Gallup, Ted Berrigan, Tessie Mitchell, Michael Brownstein, Anne Waldman, Pat Padgett, Bill Berkson, Larry Fagin, Jimmy Schuyler & of course Tom Clark.

 

The absence of collaboration among Beats & Projectivists***, and for the most part from the San Francisco Renaissance+, is worth noting. It suggests, I think, a stance toward the author & literal authority that is substantially different from that of other communities of writing. Allen Ginsberg may well have been the Kral Majales or King of the May in 1965 Prague, but he also appears to have been a meticulous & careful warden of his own literary production. At the same time, Ginsberg took no credit for the editing job that literally transformed the pages on William Burroughs’ floor into Naked Lunch – a stance that parallels Ezra Pound’s similar editing of The Waste Land.

 

But the New York School had no such hang-ups with sharing credit. As with Surrealism, boundaries existed only to be transgressed, albeit with more of a smile & wink than the Europeans generally brought to the process. Boundaries are precisely what are at stake in “Amnesiac recoveries.” Here, for example, is “Shut-Lip”:

The investment banker sewed his lips shut. He'd arrived in a leaky ship, having paid dues to the dark haired man who answered to no name he could pronounce. Pronunciation is over-rated, he muttered to himself as he eased into the hold, arms bound in fetal position. His middle passage was punctuated (never leave metaphors of language behind, he added, pensively) by hunger pangs. No-name man told him nothing of the end, though his origin had been clear (he remembered, at least, his hard-earned MBA). He wanted to escape big words, like globalization, like fraud. Crusoe's accountant had nothing on his, member of the magic club in high school, artist of the extraordinary bottomless line.

In the end, it was hard to collect his story, through teeth clenched like broken-jawed Ali's. One had to assume consonants, or were they vowels, emerging as from some Afghan cave into the abortive syntax of a bombing run. What we heard had something to do with sea, and ground, and sickness. The south sea island that welcomed him (sic) has only years left before the flood (lawsuits are pending). On its coral, the banker sits, quiet as monk, though not so tranquil. He knows his days are numbered, so he counts them in his throat. If he were a poet, one might say he'd found his voice.

memoricide -
           bombing the library.
collective memory,
          the treasures of manuscript,
    the texts                 history, natural sciences,
      philosophy, poetry, mathematics
anthologies, dictionaries, treatises on everything,
            his story,
                                collected,
the bombing filmed

in the peace zone,
   Coca- Cola
       phones the film collector
seeking footage
                   of "real UFOs"

There is a political tone here that one hardly ever sees even with Gen XXXVII of the NY School, and it’s stronger even in several of the other pieces, which generally circle around the topics of oil, corporate corruption & U.S. imperialism in the Middle East, always impacted by questions of memory – & of why memory fails to beget a seemingly appropriate political response. Of course, neither Brown nor Schultz can by any remote stretch of the imagination be characterized as part of the old St. Marks scene – Schultz is as far removed from there as one can be physically & still reside within the United States, Hawai’i, while Brown is a well-known Australian poet. 

Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of this as a collaboration is how it challenges “the political.” Typically & traditionally, one key to the political has been what might be thought of as “angle of positionality,” which usually gets reduced to an idea of stance. This is visible at the surface in identarian texts of all manner: the poet writes from his or her historical/ethnic/social/gendered position & articulation of that position is often what the resulting text is about.  But Schultz & Brown come from different nations with different roles in the oil = global domination scenario. Schultz may be marginalized in her role as poet within the hegemon, but within it she most certainly & visibly is. Brown is at least doubly marginalized, living in a country that the U.S. has been known to treat as a branch office. There are of course further complications: Schultz is a haole, an Anglo outsider functioning in a role as authority by virtue of the teaching profession. The relationship of Hawai’i to the mainland is exceptionally problematic & a separatist movement continues to percolate there. Australia’s history vis-à-vis an imperial center & its aboriginal population is no less convoluted. Both of these writers are perpetually aware of these conditions.

Part of what makes “Amnesiac recoveries” so interesting is that it’s not possible to tell who in the collaboration is writing at any given moment, something that is so discernible, say, in a work like Sight that its authors, Lyn Hejinian & Leslie Scalapino, two fabulous poets who grew up in the same town in the same country within a couple of years of one another & whose fathers both taught at the same school, actually initial their individual passages.

But if we cannot tell who is speaking, or at least writing, in ”Amnesiac recoveries,” how does the reader then position these texts with regards to the issues of globalization that are raised? This is what strikes me as so remarkable:  Schultz & Brown have arrived at what I can only call a transnational voice, a position that steps quite clearly outside of the role of states precisely as it address the problem of the rogue hegemon. If there is a position of world citizen from which one might be able to write, this is it.

Brown & Schultz do this with wit, sharpness & élan. The entire project – I have no idea if the two sections that are up are all of the collaboration or only just the first portion of it – is gutsy & fun while being serious in the face of some extraordinary challenges.++ In connecting the dots north-south across the equator between their two homes, these poets are erasing lines that we often forget are “always already” there. & it’s fascinating to see what now shows through.

 

 

 

* Some writers characterize the relationship between William Wordsworth & Samuel Taylor Coleridge, especially during the Lyrical Ballads period, as a collaboration. An argument can certainly be made for that, even though they didn’t publish poems as composed by both.

 

** I believe that the phrase that is used as the epigraph to the West section of the book, “Instead of ant wort I saw brat guts,” was itself composed during a collaboration.

 

*** Thus when Daphne Marlatt works collaboratively, as in the book Double Negative with Betsy Warland, it’s because she’s moved away from the Projectivism of her youth toward a political feminism.

 

+ The notable exception was The Carola Letters co-authored by Joanne Kyger & George Stanley. See Kevin Killian’s article on the row it caused in the SF scene. Killian raises the possibility that camp, the arch subgenre of gay culture, was a major thorn in the side of Robert Duncan. Camp as a discourse erases boundaries not unlike the ones that Schultz & Brown are tackling.

 

++ The web site captures this beautifully with a photograph of the two poets in Hawai’i staring at the apotheosis of the problem, a stretch limo in a setting in which no limousine should ever appear.



Wednesday, February 12, 2003

 

One of the great lessons of the Vietnam War is that a nation of people opposed to a foreign war can actually constrain & eventually halt that conflict. Unfortunately, one of the other lessons of that war is that this process takes time. Between the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incident on 4 August 1964 and the day when the last Huey pulled the final refugees off of the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon in April, 1975, eleven years, over 50,000 American & millions of Vietnamese lives were wasted. The current regime in Washington doesn’t know much about history books, but it does know that a “surgical strike” campaign, a war that can be measured in months or even weeks, is politically feasible.

 

Today was the day that Laura Bush originally set aside to invite a few poets to the White House to discuss Whitman, Hughes & Dickinson under the banner of ”Poetry and The American Voice.” This event won’t happen because one of the invited poets, Sam Hamill, turned out to be a conservative only in his aesthetics. Hamill, as concerned as any American about the impending disaster, sent out an email to some friends:

 

I am asking every poet to speak up for the conscience of our country and lend his or her name to our petition against this war, and to make February 12 a day of Poetry Against the War. We will compile an anthology of protest to be presented to the White House on that afternoon.

 

That email spread like a computer virus, replicating over & over again until virtually every poet in the country must have received it at least once. I know that I stopped counting the copies I received when it got into double digits.

 

Somewhere along the way, somebody – it would interesting to know just who – thought to let Ms. Bush know of this impending anthology & the event was cancelled, generating several articles in the media. As it turned out, the poet laureates of both Canada and the United States weighed in against the war. Todd Swift’s ad-hoc antiwar anthologies got some media attention that they almost certainly would not otherwise have received. Editorial writers generally took the line that “poets will be poets,” which, condescending as it certainly is, at least acknowledges the historic opposition to war & brutality that many – but by no means all – poets have shown over the years. Even less surprisingly, writers who function professionally as right wing commentators, such as Roger Kimball & J. Bottum, both invited to the cancelled soiree, weighed in to scold their peers for a lack of manners, a curious way to balance the impolite bombing of the citizens of Iraq whose only crime is to have failed to oust a brutal & murderous dictator.

 

Since then, there have been plenty of opportunities for second-guessing. Hamill’s website has reminded everyone of what they knew all along – he’s really a conservative as a poet, even if he does oppose the war. His “chapbook” in fact reflects an establishmentarian poetics that wants more than anything to retain its role as just that. Others have suggested that attending the event & making a scene there might have generated even more media attention to the rapid arrival of a wide-spread & popular opposition to Bush’s war. I’m a skeptic on that one myself. I think that Hamill’s email took on a life of its own precisely because there is such widespread opposition.

 

But what concerns me is not the usual – & ultimately petty – divisions between traditions of poetry. I am experiencing emotions that I suspect many Germans must have felt in the late 1930s: my government is about to rain death onto the world in great quantity. The legitimate safety of the nation in which I live, one ostensible reason for this, can only be damaged by any invasion of Iraq. The other reasons for an invasion – ranging from the importance of upholding UN resolutions to Iraqi connections to al Qaeda – all fall into the categories of dubious to laughable. The history of the Soviet Union has demonstrated that containment works against far stronger foes than Saddam Hussein.

 

Which leaves only one plausible rationale for sending troops into Iraq: the liberation of the Iraqi people. I’m certainly sympathetic to that argument & can understand why left intellectuals from Ellen Willis to Salman Rushdie could be persuaded of the need for force to oust a genuinely barbaric dictator. But I have two problems with this argument itself – first is a rather long list of other nations that would, by logic, then force us to engage. Hussein may be the worst of a bad lot, but he is hardly alone. The second is that, from an Iraqi perspective, the last nation on earth I would to become an involuntary protectorate of would be the United States.

 

Far from “helping to spread democracy” to other Middle-Eastern states, the Bush strategy is a recipe for long-term destabilization of an entire region, stretching from sub-Saharan Africa and extending to the western provinces of China & the Philippine  archipelago. And, as should be apparent to anyone in the post-September 11th world, destabilization abroad can have profound consequences at home as well. Any attempt to stretch our military dominance over such a vast terrain – one that includes or touches at least four nuclear states – would require a transformation of the American economy toward a fortress America prepared for permanent conflict. It is no accident that no nation in history has been able to sustain an empire – the costs far outweigh any riches reaped.

 

What can be done to halt this disaster before it occurs? Short of a massive general strike in the United States, virtually nothing. The present regime has already demonstrated that it will not listen to the majority – that isn’t how it got into office, nor an impulse it has had even for one day since taking power. Further, it has subsequently consolidated power in all three branches of federal government.

 

Poets need to continue to speak out, to demonstrate to the world the absolute lack of consensus the actions of this regime have, to point to the hypocrisies & to call attention to all of the various new threats on democracy and justice that emanate from the axis of evil situated between Crawford, Texas, and the White House. But nobody, poets most of all, should be deluded into thinking that this by itself constitutes effective action.

 

The problem that poets have is one that we share with all progressives – the forces who promote this conflict have dramatically reorganized & transformed themselves since the 1960s. Progressives continue to use the same tools that took so very long to work four decades ago that millions died needlessly. Unless & until we can transform that imbalance, more to the American Voice than just poetry will continue to go unheard.



Tuesday, February 11, 2003

 

I received multiple emails concerning my recent blog on the work of Rachel Blau DuPlessis and the issue of the subconscious, one of which wanted to know how I could insist that

 

There is never a word nor syllable nor the slightest scratch upon the paper in any of Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ Drafts that has not been thoroughly vetted through the mind & imagination of the poet

 

if in fact her work invokes the unconscious.* DuPlessis, who has very obviously thought these issues through with extraordinary care, had reactions that are worth printing in full. I find myself agreeing with most (not all) of her observations below:

 

Dear Ron –

 

Needless to say the baby narcissist in me (something the size of a barn) has been delighted to see your repeated interesting mentions of Drafts, the latest on the issue of subconscious. My thoughts on this are all one sentence before getting inchoate.

 

a) I think you are a little unfair to your "cohort"/generation. Bob P[erelman]. wittily strikes out with awareness of ps-a thought. Barry [Watten]'s CRITICISM is articulate to a fault about the point where politics meets ps-a theory and works that spot brilliantly. Lyn [Hejinian]'s My Life is so against "depth-psychology" that it is almost a hidden topos.

 

b) me: I always thought with a kind of modernist utopian flair that feminism would be the/ would make the necessary synthesis of marxism (social-justice thought is how I translate that) and psychoanalysis. At least that's the way we were thinking then. I think I am still informed by a version of this hope –

whatever it means – which I think is an awareness of how ideology is inserted in us (RSAs etc) so that transformational change could occur to create a better, more just society in distribution of resources and in social power for positive ends. Which would not be the end of ideology, of course, just of a bad ideology. Forgive brutally low-level word "bad," please. I didn't want to use the word repressive as I believe that repression and sublimation are just dandy, thank you. Anyway, It may be why ps-a is not so foreign to me. There were many many debates of the use and function of Freud and Freudianism in feminism, and then also there was HD as a poet who used ps-a.

 

c) H.D. and others like Duncan interested in word associations as signifying chains, palimpsests, underneaths that speak. This is where I come from, or what part of HD I am fascinated by. You made an interesting slip, in fact, when you spoke about Ashcroft in your blog, posting one of the few unclear, garbled sentences I have ever seen you write.** Meditating the force of that kind of error (an error that had you saying "when when" 2 times) is something HD and Duncan do a lot. The information sent by words into consciousness by unconscious. What does yours mean – that's for you to say, but to me it spoke from political rage and impatience. (a correct rage and impatience) You also use puns as condensed knowledge, but keep them located and contained, don't let them spill out too much (so far as I can see), except by repetition. Cf. other types of messages that ps-a explores: Messages sent somatically in the body ("pain in the neck" "pain in my butt"). Messages sent in dreams. Maybe a better word is information and combinations of information. The term "Messages" is already tainted by what I claim to be against, a kind of theodocial thinking. Anyway these un-c informations are elements endlessly to ruminate in some people's poetryDuncan, Blaser. (Blaser puts all the info on the same levela wonderful horizontality; Duncan still believes in DEPTH with capitals.) HOWEVER, The claim that there is deep universal knowledge to be found in ancient religion and in words (comically of whatever ancient texts survived or were made canonical) Can Be a tremendous intellectual problem to some, and I think this marks the issues that LP (langpo folk) might resist in resisting thinking of the unconscious. It is really not anti ps-a, but anti-"Jungian" one might say. "Ancient Wisdom" thinking (running with wolves kind of stuff) is a kind of thought inadequately situational, inadequately skeptical, not understanding the various forces of history like fights between groups that deep-six certain texts, and not understanding the force of accident, chance, time. That is, considering the unconscious as a source of wisdom informed by (or throwing up for our education) ancient archetypes etc etc is very animating, amusing, enriching, etc UNTIL it hits something like the Poundean limitfrom Kulchur"We think because we do not know" (portentious drum rolls around KNOW), or what HD said in Trilogy, in a rather Xtian moment: "In resurrection, there is confusion/ if we start to argue..." (116). So no discussion, just believe and affirm. This kind of unskeptical, neo-archetypalism is a great problem for me intellectually and poetically. When thinking about the un-c goes there, I usually resist. I am secular and a skeptic; I am more or less a materialist, or at least, to quote someone named Madonna, believe I live in the material world even if I am a spiritual "girl"

 

d) However, one of the most interesting contemporary uses of the religious and mythic and political information that might come through the meditation of dreams is Alice Notley's Descent of Alette, a major long poem. Another (and of course far more Jungian etc) is the work in general of Clayton Eshleman. I hope in listing these first responses, I did not misread you or mis-remember what you said. As for Drafts, it is true that I try really hard to have no mark unaccounted forto say it flatly, I try to know why everything gets down on the page. This may be deluded (esp in light of ps-a logic, where one does not ever fully know one's motives!) but it is the paradox of art.

 

warmly, Rachel

 

In responding to Rachel, asking if I could use her email here, I also mentioned that Rae Armantrout struck me as the writer of my cohort who most completely made use of psychology. I then received an additional email, as follows:

 

ActuallyI'd thought of Rae too, but it was hard for me to put how she does what she does into words, so I didn't, lazily. I think she gets a sense of the waywardness and odd glissades of association that run up and down (I mean round and round) the scale from the social to the innerthe unconscious, because all, in her world, is quirky. Her ways of putting work together draws on a logic of the unconc. leaps. BUT/AND it wasn't a question of your editing OUT what you said about Ashcroft, but about seeing it as a place of wound, hurt, loss by virtue of the typo. I mean this was an example of The unconsc. speaking. In that case, not to make a bad pun, the "political unconscious." As for my "slips" and lapsus linguaetry (what I admitted once in an essay)my constantly typing "Canots" for "Cantos" while I was writing a diss. on Pound (and Williams). I guess in that case "Drafts" now answers "Can, too." I don't have a lot of objection to a raw piece of response of mine being absorbed bloggishly, as long as its provisional-ness is noted; maybe this here second-thought, treppworter*** thing could be included as well. BUT FINALLY, I don't yet know whether we have a sense of what "getting psychology in" or working thru the unconscious is, exactly, in poetry; it seems more mysterious than we've made it so far, more evocative. It has implications for form, for imagery, for the structure of meaning, intention, and understanding presented in a work. (Here I think of Dante.) As if one wanted the poem to explore the deeper rhythms and allegories of knowing that our sense of the Unconc. offers.(Here I think of some Ashbery.) And in terms of a double line of word associations, a parallel world, there's always Charles' With Strings. This (implications for form, imagery, narrative, allegory) is why I think The Descent of Alette is a terrific and moving work. It occurred to me to note an essay of Alice Notley's, in addition to Alette the "What Can Be Learned From Dreams?" which appeared in Scarlet in 1991 and argues eloquently for the information that the unconscious can offerthis being (in part) a very present, palpable sense of temporality, an enriched narrative possibility, strange imagery and event in kinds of disproportionate relationships to the expected, andthis is key for Notley"moral knowledge"all this can come from dreams. Of courseand you know this, Alice would be writing in part from an explicitly anti-LP position. So edit this in too, our bit of exchange.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Perhaps I should have said that DuPlessis “invokes & addresses” the unconscious. I was not, I hope, suggesting that her work was written unconsciously!

 

** The Potemkin Village of my syntax has subsequently been realigned. DuPlessis is absolutely correct in her presumption that thinking about Ashcroft drives me into fits of sputtering rage. – RS

 

*** Yiddish for "stairwords" – the words you wish you'd said at the party, but only think of what you could have said on the stairs, going home.



Monday, February 10, 2003

 

I’m totally jealous. Kevin Davies wrote “Lateral Argument” and I didn’t.

 

“Lateral Argument” is an as yet unpublished poem that is circulating via PDF file, 20 pages of shiveringly brilliant writing. My first thought as I read through this poem, composed over last summer, was: well, what if John Ashbery’s Flow Chart – my favorite work of his – did have a beginning, middle & end – is this what it would look like? Then I thought: well, what if Flow Chart had a social imagination, a politics? Or at least one that was coherent? 

 

These thoughts reminded me of a comment Davies himself made in a footnote, one of four, to a letter this blog ran on November 1. In the body of the letter, Davies argued that, contra Louis Cabri – a poet with whose writing Davies shares more than a passing affinity – “The first two generations of the New York School . . . have had significant and widespread effects on vanguard Canadian poetry of the past forty years.” In the footnote, he throws this argument into a more personal context:

 

In my own case, Berrigan was crucial to my education. The first thing of his I read, in the year after high school (while working desultorily at the local mill), was "Tambourine Life," in an anthology at the local community-college library. This event was, I think, similar to what Ron describes when he first encountered The Desert Music: the sense that there was a writing practice that could account for the vagaries and particulars of the life I was living, one that was not tied to the prosody of either the Romantics I adored or the academics I abhorred.

 

In “Lateral Argument,” Davies puts up, giving substance to the vision sketched out above:

 

Not all the fruit trees hate you –

 

just this one.

Freud once attempted to purchase Mexico.

Darwin feared meteors and their possible connection to lichen.

Mathew Arnold hated ducks, just hated ’em.

Martin Frobisher cooked and ate an entire cabin boy.

Jack Spicer invented the clap-on clap-off lamp.

Fatty Arbuckle faked his own death and ended up running a go-cart track in Alabama.

Goya lost his nose

 

in a practical joke gone very, very wrong.

Backing slowly away from the bear, not looking

in its eyes. Pretending to be asleep.

Ignoring the tornado. Refusing to acknowledge

the legitimacy of the mudslide.

Not flinching – holding steady – when the toaster

falls into the bath. Glancing back, turning to salt, and not

caring. Driving blindfolded on acid in the 70s.

Arguing for a lower grade. Pulling the thigh

hairs of the opposing power forward.

 

The title of “Lateral Argument,” it seems to me, is very literal (lateral). The poem is very much built around the stanza as its primary unit, often changing shape as the text moves from one to the next. At the same time, the stanzas themselves are destabilized by a process of “carry over,” the last line/thought of the previous one bleeding into the stanza following. The device starts at the beginning, with an ambiguous refusal to demarcate between epigraph and the body of the poem itself:

 

“Persons exist

as practical ways of speaking about

 

bundles.”

– Paul Williams.

They awoke in a bookless world studded with lean-

to performance artists interacting with electricity.

This must be the place. Evicted from elsewhere, here at last

not rest but an apprenticeship in container

technology. A kind of music that, though apparently stopping,

starting, stopping, more specifically never ends, thus

displaying as virtue its greatest flaw. Successfully,

irritatingly. Who here has access to liquor?

 

Several of these carry-over lines break in ways that seem unpredictable & delicious: “The image problem of vipers//is their greatest asset.”

 

If there is a standard or baseline stanzaic form here, it’s one that doesn’t really show up until the fourth page & doesn’t fully take over until the 14th, where (as in the last part of the first quote above) almost every second line is indented. Overall, this gives the poem a sense of homing in, starting out with the broadest range of possible futures, gradually arriving at a mode as though it were the dénouement.

 

Davies has been an active participant in the New York poetry scene for so long that it takes some effort for me to think of him as Canadian, although he has always maintained an active relationship with the poetry of his homeland. “Lateral Argument” would be a wonderful poem wherever it was written.



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