Monday, November 03, 2003

One of the curiosities of Culture, Daniel Davidson’s collection of poetry that – save for one major collaboration with Tom Mandel – constitutes not only his “seven-book magnum opus” but virtually the entire body of work of this poet who, facing a future of declining health, increasing pain & reliance on government welfare, took his life at the age of 44 seven years ago, is that the book, as published by Krupskaya, contains only four of the books: “Product,” “Bureaucrat, my love,” “Image” & “Anomie.” The three other works that complete this oeuvre, “An Account,” “Transit” & “Desire,” can be found in a PDF file available for free from the Krupskaya website (or simply right-click here & do a “save as” to your own hard drive).


I have always presumed that the reason the Krupskaya Culture fails to include the three works is that they would add 61 pages to what is already a 126-page text, placing the book outside the range of what, both formally & financially, the Krupskaya collective could afford. But I realize, in reading (mostly rereading) Davidson, both in print & online, is that I don’t know – because neither the book nor the site make clear – where in the sequence of Culture these works fall. Are they the final three poems? Or not? The question of position & before-&-after has considerable consequence. We have all seen how Mr. Pound once made Mr. Eliot seem quite a bit smarter & sharper than he proved to be, & thus I have a nagging feeling that – as beautiful as the Krupskaya Culture is – the book really is a stopgap measure, to give us some sense as to what is there (& what we have lost) before “the real” compleat edition arrives at some future, unspecified moment.


The three poems that are not included in the print version don’t necessarily strike me as being in any self-evident way “lesser” than the four in the book itself. Here, for a taste, is one section of “Transit”:








relies and remains, the

fabric of discussion, journey of the

whole name, if all that entering into

hopes to be. All are distinguishing some,


and they, quantified the touch of profession

bring machines, then disgorge into

crowd. Ravenous. Return into one,

one into another, then return of the

entry of one. Without convergence the personal


conglomerate slits, looks out, enters

motions the individual, transfers

the physical, then locution, rhetoric

the place where work, the home, and following

the dismemberment, any memory that sells.


Dissolve into place, then into stream,

forgotten ahead, lunge to surround.


What is

the name? Nothing, surrounded by move.


The poet whom Davidson has most reminded me of, over the years, has been Barrett Watten, whose work Davidson obviously read closely – and I suspect with some sense of competition. The shifts between lines, use of categorical nouns, the fondness for one as a neutral pronoun – a term identifying position within a discourse while withholding all else – all feel to me as though I were reading Watten through some kind of half-opaque filter. “Transit” actually strikes me as being less apparent in this regard than do either “Product” or “Image.”


In fact, one of the interesting shifts that my reading takes when I look at what’s on the web in addition to what’s in the book, is that two of the three works in the PDF seem to me to be moving in other directions, not necessarily with less of a sense of being honed in on the writing of one or two poets, but at least different poets.


This isn’t necessarily a criticism of Davidson – I happen to share his fascination with Watten’s work & one could, I suspect, make the very same claims about some of my poetry as well. Yet Davidson’s degree of influence underscores what I think is one of the real limitations of this extraordinary talent – Culture is a very “young” book, younger in some ways than Davidson’s years writing it might suggest (he began it at 37 and worked for six years on these pieces). Prior to embarking on Culture, Davidson hadn’t been a part of the poetry scene in any visible fashion, but, according to old friend & now literary executor Gary Sullivan, had been active instead in San Francisco’s punk music scene.


The result is that I read this book – the physical book – with both great interest & frustration. Not so much frustration that all seven works aren’t included this time around, or even that nobody thought to indicate the final order, but rather that Davidson didn’t give himself the opportunity to set forth on the next journey in his poetic career. What I read here is the foreshadowing of a great poet who never got to get to wherever this work might have gone. Damn.