Thursday, December 15, 2005

It's been a good brisk week of dissertation work. I hope it won't attract the notice of vindictive gods when I say I hope to be halfway through the Zuk chapter by the end of the month, and finished with a draft by the time classes resume.

This evening at the Bookery between customers I've been enjoying the hell out of Michael Coffey's cmyk, whose title (it stands for the basic colors used in offset printing: Cyan Magenta Yellow blacK) pretty much explains the book's logic: substitution, recombination, reshading, rereading. There's a tour-de-force series, "Imagism," in which the verso page features Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" transliterated into binary code (the poem eventually materializes over 40 pages) and the recto features, as Coffey helpfully tells us in a note, "21 sonnets made of snippets of sonnets by Shakespeare, Ted Berrigan, Bruce Andrews, and Jackson Mac Low, along with quotes from Andy Goldsworthy's Time, The Mitchell Beazley Pocket Guide to Trees, The Book of the Book, edited by Steven Clay and Jerome Rothenberg, and some of my own scattered notebook entries." These are thoroughly remarkable; the interlocking ghosts of the source texts are like the webbing that contains something porous and fungible, like snow or tree branches:
Either the sky swings or we do.
Incapable of more, replete with you,
inspiratory oneness may re-insert wailing, yes.
David Wojnarowicz talking on TV,
and my great mind most kingly drinks it up:
Alterable moonlight! Fencible warden!
Able-bodied Laburnum!
He took his skin off.
Love is a babe: then might I not say so.
Lost item an awl; therein
military hymns are normal, saving soak.
I chose forgetting. I forget the noun
olvido. Weeds flourish among weeds,
flowers with flowers gather.
That series is the heart of the book alongside two diaristic sequences. "Holiday a la Carte" begins, somewhat disconcertingly, as simply a day-by-day accounting of what Coffey ate and drank while on vacation—but gradually the catalog of consumption expands to include "one / adverb of resignation — / or is it concession? — / nevertheless"; artworks; the not-quite consumed tools of art-making in the form of a "La petite peinture" box; and tourist sights, including a 13th-century castle built by the Cathars, which is probably key to the consumer-tourist poetics being practiced:
believed that God reigned over the spiritual world
of beauty and light
and that Satan ruled the world
of things, and that it was by some
satanic ruse that man was trapped
in materiality. This idea
for the Cathars
had a fateful implication: that Christ,
word made flesh,
was not divine.
Pope Innocent III preached the first
crusade, Gregory IX
mopped up. Could no one
see that spirit is revealed in things?
    For example,
Paul Cezanne is on the
100 franc note.
The poem registers its consciousness of the consuming self without shying away from the sheer pleasure of the catalogue of beautiful sights, good food and beer and wine—reading it has made me very hungry. (Though there comes a moment where, having lost control of his name by turning it into an adverb, Coffey writes, "Skipping dinner ce soir." I [don't] eat, therefore I am [not]?) Something very Catholic at work here—elsewhere Coffey speaks of missing Mass—that acceptance of the bodily that is one of the most attractive dimensions of that religion, at least as some have practiced it. Ultimately I find—how could I not?—a pastoral consciousness at work: "'These are the wines of Langue d'Oc,' says Robert. / 'Our job is to stay out / of the way.'" But the dates build toward the ominousmidway through the poem we learn that the otherwise anonymous end-of-August of Coffey's poem is August 2001. A terrible puncture is on the way, the inevitable subtext (if you can call what won't stay down sub) of the second diary-sequence, a year in the poet's life: "Datebook 2002." It has the rare quality, for a journal, of actually conveying the affect of the time—of transferring that mixed energy of horror and sorrow and blankness and euphoria, over to the reader, instead of merely recording it. Art, plays, sex, the weather, and in between the attempts to find words—to process the words of the witnesses (a description of the play that Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray did in which the one played a reporter and the other a Brooklyn fire captain; a chopped-up monologue from an assistant fire commissioner) and the resistance—intensely moral—to rebuilding too quickly, too glibly: "I propose instead / that we stay our hand // that another generation rebuild the site / it should remain empty for mine — perhaps acres of wild grasses, no / more." It's a lovely, painful, moving book, synthesizing for me some of the best of the New York School's lust for life and Language poetry's care for construction and the political valences of syntax. It's going on my Best of 2005 list, or would if I had one. Maybe one book is enough.

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