Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sometimes the best things come in small, even mysterious packages. The envelope at first looked like a Christmas card. That’s what my wife and I both thought it was. Instead of a return address, tho, there is only the word, printed on the envelope, all in bold caps: VIGILANCE. The cancellation over the stamp read Los Angeles, from where presumably the envelope was sent. On the front, this little hand-sewn book reads Rob Halpern Disaster Suite. On the back is the word “AÏTHAWAYAN,” a term that shows up on Google exactly zero times (this will be its first appearance on the web), over what appears to be a logo for something like a secret society, beneath which is the phrase “VIGILANCE SOCIETY” over type in at least three different scripts, none from languages I read, and, at the very bottom, “1917.”

What I know about Rob Halpern is roughly zero. He had a book published by Krupskaya a couple of years ago which received this review in Jacket, but is still sitting, with several hundred other volumes, in my “to be read” bookcase upstairs. He read at some point at Moe’s, where the fuzzy photo above was shot. The confluence of Moe’s, Krupskaya and blurbs for Rumored Place from Bob Glück, Camille Roy & Taylor Brady suggests that he lives somewhere in the Bay Area. A quick check of Google Desktop and I find that he & I are both on the same mailing list for a reading series in Baltimore. From his email address, I deduce that he most likely writes on a Mac, the PC for technophobes. kari edwards ran this excerpt from Music for Porn in Galatea Resurrects, the largest sample of his writing I can find online. And Noah Eli Gordon, Catherine Taylor & Stephen Cope all listed Rumored Place in Steve Evan’s Attention Span 2006. Only seven books were mentioned more times.

I can see why. This is a gorgeous little work, hand-sewn on lush paper, the cover with a deckled edge at the bottom, as perfect a volume as you can imagine given that the text inside, from cover to cover, is just 38 lines long. I could, were I the perverse type, print the entire book right here. But I’ll restrain myself – I want you to have to figure out where to get this book & then to do so. But here is a single page’s worth – two of the work’s 12 tercets, plus one of its two single lines that I think of as floaters. At the head of the page is a large period, a section divider as I read it. And there is one at the head of the following page as well.

Then his voice just petered-out becoming
Strands of pale blue smoke he was gaunt
As an old crane and just as wild as what

I’d be anything to wind you back around
Reacquaint ourselves with lost sensation
Invent a world to save us from the world

Just feel this –––– damaged roadside fridge

The line is clearly neither New American in the “imitates the breathing patterns of spoken English” sense nor the deadened drumbeat of traditional meter. Earlier we have seen “tho” and, in italics, “phynance,” suggesting an almost Poundian sensibility at play. But the way statements begin he was gaunt midline suggests a very different ear at work altogether.

I would hesitate to say that there is imagery at work, at least no more than is visible in the lines above, tho what there is of it calls to mind, more than once, the devastating hurricanes of ’05 (there are two visual analogs to the word crane above, both of which apply here). The sense of being constructed, almost hammered together, is reinforced by using the four-en-dash system here. The one in the section above is the eighth in the book.

What makes all this work, of course, is how the section builds up to the concreteness of its final phrase, one of those absolute moments of identification where you know exactly what the author is implying by this image, tho never before have you ever read these words precisely together before: damaged roadside fridge. Tho Halpern’s aesthetic feels quite different, if I can venture so broad a judgment based on less than 40 lines, his sense of concision here reminds me of the best of Joseph Massey & Graham Foust, our contemporary masters of minimalism. There is no waste anywhere.

This makes for a powerful little book, every bit as sad & sardonic as its epigram:

No ‘force of nature’ did this.
Unauthorized report

I want to argue that Disaster Suite is a must-have publication. But unless author or publisher send me contact data¹, the gulf between must-have and have may just remain absolute.


¹ I won’t use his email address from that list without Halpern’s okay.