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”:
the kids are
skull underneath the
fight war surrealism
how then tulip in
The second poem is after Vanderbeek’s “Science Friction”:
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.
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”:
a fly buzzed
bison speech history errant
fish mouth chrysalis
brown prow spectre
boats such angels
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.