Monday, February 08, 2010
One of the most enjoyable books that I’ve read in the last year – last several years, really – is Marc Nasdor’s Sonnetailia, which Roof published all the way back in ought seven, a set of 64 intense, noisy, joyful (if deeply pessimistic) poems Nasdor calls Sonnetails because they’re essentially sonnets with a tail. Nasdor is somebody I would run into every once in awhile when I went to New York, but I didn’t have a sense of just how long he’d been a part of the scene until I ran across this image on the web of the 1984-85 staff of the St. Marks Poetry Project staff:
That’s Marc with a full head of hair on the far left. The rest of the folks in that image, going from left to right, are Charles Bernstein, Tim Dlugos, Alice Notley, Eileen Myles, Patricia Spear Jones & Dennis Cooper. The only person missing from that year’s crew in Christopher Cox’ photo is Chris Kraus. The photo reminds me of those old group shots that they take of championship baseball teams. Pretty much everyone in that 25-year-old photo has gone on to the Hall o’ Fame, even Tim Dlugos who was snatched from us in 1990 by AIDS. If you are a reader of any sort of post-avant poetry or prose, that’s an amazing collection of people to have been working at the Project at the same time. Everyone in that photograph went on to become household names. Everyone, that is, but Marc Nasdor.
Sonnetailia makes it clear – beyond clear – that he should be likewise. But how is it that he had to wait almost two dozen years beyond that photo to finally score with a first book? A note amongst the acknowledgments in the colophon gives a hint: “This books owes thanks to many for its existence, notably Anne Tardos and the late Jackson Mac Low for lovingly pestering me during a 14-year period of inactivity.” I asked Marc about this 14-year gap & he gave me an exceptionally detailed answer that could pretty much be summed as “Life.”
Except that to call Sonnetailia his first book demonstrates the arbitrariness of publishing, since in 1988 Nasdor published a virtually parallel project, Treni in Partenza (which I would translate as Departing Trains) in Temblor 7. Like Sonnetailia, Treni consists of four 16-work cycles, each piece composed in turn of 16 lines, the fifteenth or sixteenth of which “steps” or is otherwise broken upon the page. Each project is exactly 1,024 lines long. Here are four sections from the second suite in Sonnetailia, “Grown Men Evaporating,” as they first appeared in Brooklyn Rail in March 2007:
Between the journal and the book, however, each piece has acquired a title –
2/3: “Deicide under the misteltoe”
2/7 : “Imaginary uprising of the adjuncts”
2/5: “Assheads in humvees”
2/10: “Son of potty politics”
I’ve replicated the titles exactly here, i.e. that first word in 2/3 is not “Decide.” Each piece in the book now also starts off with a capital letter & concludes with a period, which, like the use of titles, emphasizes the stand-alone presentness of individual works. Individual pieces have taken on a lot of more standard punctuation. For example, 2/5 now begins What a whaste! The ensuing comma has disappeared and “The” has acquired a capital. In 2/10, there is a period after “wanna-bes” in line 4, thus also a capital “W.” In line 5, the comma after consensus has been replaced by a question mark, thus a capital “F” for “Faulty,” the comma in line 6 has morphed into a colon, there is a period after “session” in line 11 & after “happens” in line 13, with caps following. “Hell” has acquired a capital as well.
Given that the punctuation strategy in Brooklyn Rail (and in these five pieces from the first suite in Jacket 33) replicates exactly the model used over 20 years ago in Treni, it’s interesting to see the transformation here from journal to book (in what must in fact have been no more than a few months). My own sense is that a more standardized punctuation gives the pieces a push-pull rhythm they did not have before. That’s not a right/wrong or better/worse distinction, but it does transform the music.
Nasdor is a poet of compactness, compressed excess, & to my own eye these pieces work best the more crowded they feel, which in general is quite a bit. The detail from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights very much captures the spirit of the venture. If anything, standardizing the punctuation accentuates the internal pressure points. Overall, Nasdor comes across not unlike a much sunnier version, say, of Bruce Andrews, another New York poet both given to layering & quotation, and, like Nasdor, actively involved in the music scene of the city. Where Bruce has principally been involved in the improvisatory music scene (most often in his role as the music director of Sally Silvers’ dance projects), Nasdor is best known for his own role as DJ Poodlecannon, purveyor of world dance music, of late most often at the Mehanata Bulgarian Bar on Ludlow Street. Poodlecannon’s MySpace page will not only give you a sense of the Marc Nasdor post-hair look, but has a playlist to which it is impossible not to dance.
So my question is this: Is Sonnetailia going to be one of those one-brilliant-book-makes-a-career moves, or is Nasdor finally emerging as the big time talent I suspect he has always been? Awhile back, Steve Fama & I were listing off the number of significant poets who didn’t publish a first real book of poems until they were on the high side of 40, starting with one Charles Olson (if not, say, Emily Dickinson). It would be great to discover that there are hundreds, even thousands, of unpublished pages, but my guess is that there isn’t. However, there is no reason at all that Sonnetailia can’t just be the first in a string of great books, and I hope to read every one.
Labels: Marc Nasdor