Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I haven't been able to bring myself to watch any of the RNC. But judging from the Times' coverage, they pulled their compassionate bait-and-switch move last night and it worked—at least on the Times. Meanwhile protesters are turning unruly—or at least that's how it's being sold to the media. Everybody blind. Everybody blind.

A delightful pile of poetry books arrived at the Bookery yesterday and I couldn't resist snatching up three: Beth Anderson's Overboard, Marcella Durand's Western Capital Rhapsodies, and Andrew Joron's Fathom. Started reading the Anderson last night and also finished readng Macular Hole. Noticed immediately a prime difference between Anderson's and Wagner's styles is how Anderson thinks in sentences constructed with normal syntax, draped as it were across the line breaks; while Wagner is more jagged and fragmented, letting the line and the shifts of attention between lines do most of the semantic work independent of sentence structures (she also has a vocabulary at once "louder" [she says "fuck" a lot] and simpler than Anderson's). Although my word choices tend to be more baroque, I feel more affinity to the latter kind of writing (because why have line breaks if you're not going to make them work?) but I'm increasingly interested in the former, more subtle style. I think of The Sense Record, which has become a kind of bench- or high watermark for me in terms of a contemporary poetry that stimulates the highest pressure of thought/emotion per square inch, and I recognize that she too relies either on normative syntax or the clear transgression of that syntax; she's certainly not a poet of the fragment. The necessary difficulty in Moxley's or Anderson's work (by which I mean the disordering of the senses, or better the French sens, that takes place when new and highly contextual meanings are struggling to be born) emerges not the highly spatialized indeterminacy of the fragment, but from the temporal stretching of distance and relation that takes place in complex sentences between elements like the subject and the verb. Glancing randomly at the Moxely, I see these lines:
I feel I might shrivel for lack of her
but decide to leave off this illusion
for the ancient place of my origin.

"The Second Winter"
Here actually the short lines break up the sentence into units wherein the last word of each line discovers a different object for the "I": "her," "illusion," "origin." The three objects, though very differnt, are put on a plane of equivalence by the line breaks. By contrast, as prose ("I feel might shrivel for lack of her but decide to leave off this illusion for the ancient place of my origin.") the sentence is difficult to parse because we try to hierarchize its objects—as the final term, "origin" is probably the privileged one in this case. They're both "difficult" sentences, but the line breaks produce a more complex and multivalent reading. Anderson's sentences are simpler, more "New Sentencey" in the paratactical leaps made in the longer poems. Of what I've read so far, I respond most viscerally to the "Hearsay Sonnets" near the middle of the book (each of which is named, seemingly at random, after a town or city): although long-lined, the sonnet's little room acts as container within which the compressed linguistic particles bounce rapidly. The most ars poetica-like sonnet is "Cleveland," opening with "My feet hurt but not my sentences." But the poem I find most moving, and the one I want to quote in full, is called "Davis." It reminds me a little of Moxley too in that its subject is in part the difficulty of being an artist—which is to say, a fully alive human being:

On the next page is another artist, or sometimes the same brush
and palette losing ground to early work. A treacherous slope
defeats rage then succumbs to loyalty. Renouncing steps for dirt
we keep climbing. All great cities have bad nicknames and
their own flexible landing gear. This plant flowers red, as
it did last year and the year before, but has done so late
to coincide with gravity. Seems we grow only when
we get enough to eat. Storms without precedent have used up
a list of names meant to see the century out, and everything
everywhere is saturated and splintered. Don't reach out the window.
Ignore what I said earlier about grabbing the golden apple.
Try instead to make your way to the capital without the aid
of pesticides. Every weekend I leave early to test my brakes
against forces holding limestone up, my neck bent into my back.
I don't know where I find the most pathos at this moment: redness coinciding with gravity, "Seems we grow only when / we get enough to eat," or the sentence most applicable to our political moment, "Try instead to make your way to the capital without the aid / of pesticides." Or the fact that I almost typed "deletes rage" in the third line.

Incidentally, all this Lacan had me fixating on rather obviously Freudian elements in Anderson's poetry, elements I probably could find in any poetry. I'll spare you until I've assimilated or rejected that thinking a little more.

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