The speaker in Greenfield’s book is a Whitman drained of optimism and thus all the more absorptive and spongelike; caught in a Beckettian updraft, he can't go on and does. Unable to disidentify with his own imperial self ("Self-hatred eventually coils upon itself" ["Rezone," 55], the speaker of these poems (many of them named for high-tech weapons systems: Maverick, Bastion, Hellfire) nevertheless, through a kind of caustic irony, attempts to dissolve the boundaries between himself (on "the outskirts," from "the fringe month") and the remote possibility of a reader.
One of my students reading the book yesterday reminded me of Greenfield's poem "Avenger," published in the first issue of the late lamented journal Soft Targets; a poem written for Tracer that does not appear in the published book. To my eyes the poem represents a transition or hinge between the romantic-in-spite-of-itself Carnage in the Lovetrees and the bleaker, more astringent Tracer. "Avenger" (another weapons system, I imagine) locates the "I" on an actual or apparent battlefield, whereas the violence haunting Tracer is all at a far distance, thus depriving its speaker (hereafter, "the Tracer") of even the ghost of heroism that, say, Whitman accrued to himself by nursing wounded Civil War soldiers. The "Avenger" stages a scene of complicity with imperial violence that, in context, reminds me of the feckless torturer-poet of Kent Johnson's poem "Get the Hood Back On".
In a move that Johnson might or might not approve of, the Tracer stands removed from overtly political gestureshe is neither righteous nor does he offer mea culpas. It's poetry itselfnot the American poetry scenethat he wants to test for its capacity to be human, in spite of the incredible odds against it. That test of poetry, and of the romantic stance that Greenfield can't help but identify with poetry, is crystallized in the poem "Weapon Alpha," an ironic restaging of Wordsworth's famous "Boy of Winander":
In Wordsworth's poem, later incorporated into The Prelude, the doomed Boy shouts and hears nature respond, his sense of self magnified by its resonance with the voice of naturethough the poem suggests that what he hears, what most moves him, "Listening, [into] a gentle shock of mild surprise" is not "the voice / Of mountain-torrents" but "echoes loud / Redoubled and redoubled." For the Tracer, the voice is "Weapon Alpha" in the war for the self's dominion, and as such must be put into question or suspended so as to make listening to the Other (surely the diminished Nature of his world and ours, but also the political Other, racial and national Others, as well of course of the unconscious Other that je is). If there's any salvation for the Tracer it's in the otherness of poetry itself, and the possibility that the situation of the (Romantic) poemthe voice crying in the wilderness, hoping to absorb its manais not a place but an event.I wanted to talk
Give it up, the voice said
was the brief mediation between the self and the absorbing blank cliffs
there would be no talking, only listening to whomever this other
that is the voice is
This was not a place; this was an event:
I was measured by it
little remained or time, but there was none other
to gauge besides me, remanded into what should be
forgotten (the stones would never remember)
I wanted to be not me
and there was no other there
without me, though I insisted in the falsity
no other was thereonly the dispersal of
my own self
un-wildering where I went
Which word I can't help but read in its Badiouan sense, as that which inaugurates subjectivity in the realms of politics, science, love, or art, through the new subject's fidelity to it. In poetry, as Badiou's inaesthetics puts it, such fidelity is achieved either through Rimbaudian multiplication (so that the false authenticity of the self in effect cancels itself out to become the void-space from which a responsible subject might be born) or Mallarmean subtraction (there is no self and no world either, only words that are the antithesis of "voice," presenting the void directly). Tracer, then, represents a surprising shift toward Mallarme for this poet, who has written a book that articulates a rare American negativity, out of which something beyond the deadly equation ("Already I am we," ["Speaking For," 13]) of the reflexive self might emerge.