Tuesday, September 05, 2006

 

Of the 30 books I took with me to the shore last week – not that I ever once got out onto the sand, let alone into the surf – none proved more startling, more unexpected (by me, anyway) than Laura Elricks’s Fantasies in Permeable Structures, from Factory School, part of William Marsh’s mostly superb Heretical Texts series. Perhaps this is because I knew her work less well than I did many of the other authors whose book I brought – Waldrop, Coolidge, DuPlessis, Brossard, Kerouac, Gizzi, Howe, Ward – but it also certainly is due to the power of Elrick’s ear, which is inescapable:

That far the science takes us.  Then, passions
cloaked dispassionately as fact in hallowed
states that bloat the few we feign elect.
By sense described or indescribable
By motives jealous or afeared in fact intent
upon stability.
 Upon security.  Even wildness
feeds the stabling grace.  Distortion.   Saving
us to slink away from what we fear:
our fears we cannot.   Few can brave that light
few unbroken before the awful power of
our labor.   As on that day some friends came
upon us, graciously, even in their
motived kindness.   Though some will scoff
Shy away from that which forms and that
is not principles, but radical, what’s based on
virtuous neutrality.   Yet by others

friendship raised falsely to pious heights
in their annals, already dead.  Smiles
in bodies enshrining sober system Static
boyish institution in gauzes of care.

Bump up, my love, is what we cherish close.
Bump up’s the trait of fierce kind argued
but changeable (not as alchemical essence)
but in relation to the world’s moving
junctures lived.   This immediate
abstraction.
  No beneficent nature
here but needy storms of action and
complacency Blue with envy Green
with shame Gray-with-Gray embrangled
hues speaking through us on to whole bodies
expendable bodies, exchanged deployed
and all exterior in motives of their      own

There are moments in this text that are simply knock-down powerful, from that second sentence to the flood of iambs to the word embrangled. Throughout there is the compression of language one associates with the best of poetry, from Zukofsky to Shakespeare to Olson to Jarnot & Moxley. I find it impossible to read this poem silently, true also for the 31 other pieces in this slim, gorgeous book.

There’s one trick here, tho, an element of page design that may or may not be occluding an aspect of the text. Each of these poems appears over two pages (verso & recto, so that you can never actually see the whole poem at once), broken thus into two 16-line stanzas. Elrick however describes her text differently in a brief prefatory note:

Written in 32 sections of 32 lines (throughout my 32nd years), I have begun to sense that each “fantasy” acts as a conceptual anagram of the selves through which the plotted language of institutions permeates.

So possibly each section is a single unbroken stanza (thus perhaps closer in affect to Moxley than this Hejinianesque structure might imply). Either way, this is tremendous writing & makes me want to blather on with a big heap o’ superlatives. But instead, I’ll just offer this: you need to read this book. Aloud.

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