Wednesday, November 16, 2005

 

In 1981, Steve Benson participated in a series of performances that included – there was more going on than just this – verbal improvisations while listening over headsets (and thus hidden to the audience) to excerpts from Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony & Berg’s Chamber Concerto. I hadn’t thought about these in awhile – I had loved them at the time & they’d certainly helped to cement Benson’s well-earned reputation as one of the bravest & boldest writers of my generation – when I received a volume in the mail, Mark Lamoureux’ Film Poems, from Katalanché Press. The preface to the volume reads as follows:

These poems were written in the darkened theater as the films themselves took place on the screen. I had not previously viewed any of the films in question. Thus, the poems are an attempt to mimetically simulate the experience of viewing the films: as the film unfolds for the first time, so does the poem – consequently each poem’s destination is uncertain. Like film, the poems are intended as an homage to light & time.

That is an inherently interesting project, although I would disagree with Lamoureux about what, literally, he is doing. These texts, mostly short, may for him mimetically simulate the experience of viewing the films – for the rest of us, whether or not we’ve seen the films (mostly art film classics by such directors Bruce Baille, Stan Vanderbeek & Stan Brakhage), what we have here are machines made of words, that must stand on their own as poems if they are to stand at all. Fortunately for us all, they stand up rather well. Here are two works predicated upon films by Vanderbeek. The first is “Skullduggery”:

Jitterbug chiaroscuro

the kids are

allright engine

                            skull on


skull underneath the

skin

                            sea        of

ethereal fire

                            Backwards

                            bird,

flare painted

                            masks of

fight war surrealism

how then tulip in
                            cloud fetish

The second poem is after Vanderbeek’s “Science Friction”:

Gilded

phalloi                 ascending

              space

              eyes
Eiffel                  fire

More interesting, I think, than whether or not these poems can be said to adequately represent their source films (any more than Benson’s Berg represented Berg) is whether or not they work as poems given their structure as palimpsests, the riskiest of all poetic genres. In both of these instances, they do, suggesting that Lamoureux was focusing at least as much on the poem as he was on the film involved. The reason that I think that palimpsests – poems that appear to consist of snatches of relatively unrelated lines or phrases spatially scattered across the page – are risky is that when they don’t hang together, they seriously don’t hang together. Reading a text like Clark Coolidge’s Space is a textbook in how to make it work, but it’s still something one sees failing on the page today something like 80 percent of the time. Lamoureux is in the other 20.

How he accomplishes this is pretty straightforward – a number of the works in Film Poems are quite short, on the scale of “Science Friction,” which enables Lamoureux to treat individual words & phrases almost sculpturally. He has individual phrases run across multiple lines on occasion – the kids are / allright – which dislodges the line = phrase logic that can make palimpsests feel quite static. He makes a great use of sound. And, most important of all, the frames of the terms used – this is possibly one consequence of using films as his writing trigger – tend to gel quite nicely. Consider the balance of sound & sense in the passage from phalloi through fire in “Science Friction.”

Elsewhere, Lamoureux has shown himself to be concerned & adept with issues of rhetoric that don’t usually turn up in palimpsests. In fact, tho, I think it’s one of the abiding deep issues of this beautifully produced all-too-slender volume. Indeed, he seems fascinated at the possibility of discovering one within this “suture culture,” which in practice means that these works are indeed word scatter-grams just like all other palimpsests even as they are studded with fabulous gems throughout. Perhaps the most successful poem is one based on Irina Evteeva’s “Clown”:

Moon noose

flatfoot raven

cosmos            comrade

                     a fly buzzed

bison speech               history errant

                     fish mouth chrysalis

Herculean       shoals

brown            prow            spectre

                                      figurehead
                                      cherish
boats            such            angels

                                     or

                                     cupid
                                     clock

           locomotive snow

                                loss parade

sea             self            rain

Only 100 copies of Film Poems were printed, with a corrugated cardboard cover & transparent rose end-papers. At $6, this edition should go out of print all too quickly. Hopefully this series will turn up as a section in a far larger volume sometime soon.





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