Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Way back in 1991, when "independent film" was becoming a phrase on everyone's lips, there was a little movie starring Crispin Glover called Little Noises. Glover played a would-be writer unable to finish even a single page of his novel (something to do with arctic adventure, as I recall) who ends up stealing the poems of a deaf-mute in order to impress his literary agent, played by Rik Mayall (of The Young Ones). Mayall, who had always viewed Glover as a poser (and rightly so) is amazed, gazing across his desk at squirmy Crispin: "They're such strange, beautiful poems." Glover becomes an overnight sensation (a turn no less improbable than Simon Grim's Nobel in Henry Fool) while the saintly mute poet vanishes into alcoholism, refusing Glover's guilty attempts to make up for his theft. I've always thought of Mayall's as the ideal aesthetic reaction to the poetry I most want to write, but the man who's pulled it off is HCE's Lance Phillips with his remarkable Corpus Socius. Christopher Davis' blurb puts Lance's work in the tradition of poetry's Via Negativa, and there is something Celanian about the project. But what grabs me as a reader is the energy wrung from contorted, nearly verbless, and neologism-crammed lines and stanzas:
The acts     I've immediate acts
Cloud full with hand then mouth's
a lightning of mercury     of hair's memorable lust
      —("Portion's sweetest root")

bunker larkspur
cart cart
Homoousia brighting ladder whole against the house

Axon sustaining plum-reflex its branch has embodied
      —("Orbis sensualim pictus")
The not-quite nothing of these lines and brief stanzas suspended in white space are like bird-tracks in snow; the bird seeks nothing less than God. (Ahsahta seems to have a predilection for poets whose poetry evokes theological investigation in either form or content has published so many poets—I'm thinking of Aaron McCullough and to a lesser degree Graham Foust. I suspect the influences of Michael Palmer and Donald Revell, among others.) I have inclinations that way myself, and some have taken Selah for a religious book. But I would hazard that theology isn't religion, much less belief—it's more like a technique not fully separated from clouds of numinousness. It's an uncomfortable position, as Phillips knows:
Secularist, am says head
says diagram from I
bulks poppy
      —("The how")
The physical, excessive "bulk" of the poppy (most Lawrentian of flowers) counterbalances the rational secularism of the "head" and "I" with a most bodily and sexual intuition of spirit. This is the core insight of the book, extended by the title into the knowledge that spirit is always an attribute of collectivity (as in "the spirit of the age," Pound's paideuma). And this secret knowledge of the body emerges bodily from the text, from the words forced just slightly enough out of whack to utterly change our focus:
Safed goldenrod:
safed field's
a telling    Whose
fifth remove: road
babe and hoof

Moth is such I'm brutalizing
      —("The human being")
Words drawn helplessly to God's light get brutalized by the poet to make us feel them shuddering between verb and noun. "Plain skin being motion" ("Oxyrhynchus"); "Bringing materiality, the taking wasp from his hand" ("Sign of accordance")—the flesh is an emblem and itself all at once. I need to spend more time with this book; I also want to continue to ponder the attraction of the theological to contemporary poets, especially confirmed secularists like myself. Whatever the appeal of Phillips' immanentism, though, I'm wholly taken with/by his language: "Outside from the word mastery being bluish wing" ("Physiocosmology").

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