Thursday, April 12, 2007

I know Ken Rumble originally from his participation in the Lucifer Poetics group of North Carolina, very possibly the liveliest poetry community not integrally a part of a major metro in the U.S. The director of the Desert City Poetry series – the title refers to the series’ origin in Winston-Salem & the role of the desert in the advertising for that mini-metro’s most famous product, Camel cigarettes – has been one of the prime movers in making that scene what it is today. So I was surprised to discover that not only was he born in Washington, D.C. & raised nearby in Chevy Chase, Maryland, but that his first book, Key Bridge, just published by Carolina Wren Press, is in some way an homage of sorts to that other resident both of D.C. (as an employee of the OSS, that WW2 pre-CIA) & North Carolina (first as teacher, then rector at Black Mountain College), the poet who first put place into displacement, Charles Olson.

The Key in Key Bridge is Francis Scott & the structure in question is the Route 29 crossing of the Potomac from Washington into Rosslyn, Virginia. Key’s home once was near the northern edge of the D.C. end of the bridge in Georgetown. It’s not that Key Bridge is “about” the bridge itself, per se, tho it does figure in, more in the sense of being a major character, an organizing principle. Rather, Key Bridge understands both the words of its title as terms rich with metaphoric potential. Rather, not unlike much of Olson’s work, this book – I’m tempted to write this poem – is about many different things, including the poet’s youth (or, as Wordsworth had it, the growth of a poet’s mind), the city of D.C. qua city, one of the most unique – not always in good ways – in the USA, including aspects of the experience that are otherwise inescapable, race foremost among them.

I said “tempted to write this poem” because in many ways Key Bridge feels like exactly that, a project that is so tightly knit together that to call it a collection seems obviously inaccurate. For one thing, most of the poems – or sections – here don’t have titles but simply dates, presumably of composition, where one would expect to find “the poem’s name.” Yet it’s not strictly chronological: you find, say, 4.december.2002 between 26.february and 5.march. The table of contents isn’t any help here, because in one sense there isn’t one, but rather a work entitled “A Way In” that looks like a table of contents & appears where one would expect to find it. It even goes up as far as page 71, just like the book itself, but rather than listing titles & page numbers, it offers lines taken from the page – not the first lines of individual sections either – and page numbers. Further, no page has more than one such (26 in all are listed), tho many pages have more than work or section. Thus, in what may be the most Steinian section, “18.march.2001”

the bridge bridged the bridgeable river,
bridgely bridging the bridged

is. It is.
The bridge exists, is exits,
exists/is, is ex-
the bridge occupies,
colonizes, engages, conquers, invades, seizes,
maintains, captures, pervades, takes over, storms,
grasps, extends, is

time & space –
indivisible time, space & form: the bridge:
the fluid form of intangibilities. The
bridge is.
Bridge be.
Bridge be bridging.

– it is the last line that shows up on this non-table of contents.

Many of the poems or sections are short here also, very much in the same way as some of Olson’s later Maximus Poems. Thus “15.february.2002”:

            — we missed each other in inches

Or, further down the same page,


subject’s abuse

Or, many pages earlier, “4.june.2000” in its entirety:

An other, an out there, away

very much recalling the final line of Maximus.

So many of the surface features of an Olsonian poetics are here – the short poems with oblique points, incomplete elements of bracketing, use of ampersands – that the differences are striking. First, Rumble, who was born a few years after Olson’s death, avoids, with a couple of notable exceptions, the Poundian use of abbreviations that Olson (& Duncan, Blackburn & a host of other Projectivists, even including Creeley on occasion early on) adopted. More importantly, tho, the Olson Rumble’s interested in is not the singer of outsized asthmatic song, Olson’s particular brand of melopoeia, but rather Olson the cognitive poet, the lover of complexity, the poet who never underestimates the intelligence of his audience.

This is especially palpable in the longer pieces, such as these two which appear back to back just past the mid-point of the book:

2. September.2001

Why do you think you & other African American tenors have had a hard time breaking into the opera world?
Because the tenors get the girl.

monochrome, monoculture, monotone,
mononucleosis, mano y mano y no hermana o hermano

Ahh, my city, today I missed you
where I would”ve gone?
you’re a nest to me always next to me
a palm a mind a diamond – I’d walk
the streets I drive the desk down
like in the movie I don’t remember the name of.
Even your rats tumbling over each other along
the footpath along
Potomac a long
a way.

Don’t be delicate.
Use a whip,
a note, a rhythm, or not

The poem addresses the city directly, something relatively few poets can do without sounding too self-conscious, as well as uses three variations of the list (one of them partly in Spanish) to demonstrate its multi-pronged point.


Pierre L’Enfant & Ben Banneker
walked the Aves the Blvds the Sts the Rds & Circles
they drew the lives they made

saw or dreamed lives
walked & saw fountains in circles angles edges interstices

North/south the numbers go:
16th, 14th, 12th, 19th
east/west the letters:
N, P, F, S, M, U
then two-syllable names alphabetically:
Fuller, Girard, Irving, Quincy

then three syllables:
Allison, Delafield, Jonquil, Rittenhouse – all by alphabet
up to the north tip
            (spent rage for order
until the pattern is left in a tangle
of Redwood Spruce Sycamore Tulip & Tamarack
            (before that: Arcadia

the Capitol building
the center the Cyclop’s eye
my dear dear little monster:
this balance this grid slashed
NE/SE with state names, this monster

dreamed into swamp land
L’Enfant & Banneker walked through
seeing city all around not

the web the veins the branches not
the swamp the fractured glass not
the palm lines not the spokes the city

the city, the city, seeing all
the city.

If you hear an echo here, not of Olson, but of Oppen’s Of Being Numerous, that’s probably not an accident. Overall – and this is very Olsonian – the intelligence of this book lies less in its individual sections (or poems), great as it often is there, & most powerfully of all in the relationship between poems, in the book as a whole. As complicated & accomplished as each section might be, each is primarily a facet, one aspect of a far more complex thing. It’s in this sense that Key Bridge is a far better poem than a bridge, within which you will find not one, but many keys to the way(s) we live now.