Monday, June 20, 2005

Given my documented obsession, you can imagine how delighted I was to discover this poem on the first page of The Tiny:
Mike Sikkema
In the Pastoral I am a Deep Red Rose

In the pastoral apple blossoms become tiny eyes
resting in the roadside among fiddlehead ferns. In
the pastoral there are coin-operated epiphanies and
free parking. In the pastoral I can actually feel the
world revolving around me. The pastoral is a garden
in the machine. Xenophobes with rifles and self-
starting campfires are welcome in the pastoral
though it may be their undoing. In the pastoral the
daisies are safe and feral. Pixies and billy goats play
chase in the pastoral and being unreal commit no
sins. In the pastoral there is always a subway handy.
What I especially like about this is how an overlay of irony that says, "Of course I don't expect you to take this pastoral rubbish seriously" is undercut by faith in the fantasy. Especially pertinent to my thesis are the lines, "Xenophobes with rifles and self- / starting campfires are welcome in the pastoral / though it may be their undoing," but the poem as a whole feels like my dissertation in miniature. Many other pleasures await a reader of The Tiny. Fellow Ithacan Karl Parker has contributed three poems, one of which offers what might be the magazine's motto: "A living windowframe, where the sky burns through." Mary Ann Samyn offers a little prose piece, "Two Bits of Tiny," on fragmentation and dolls, then follows it with remarkable spare lyrics whose titles signal mental adventure: "From a Purely Mechanical Standpoint," "Uses of the Imagination," "What Was Dredged Up," "What Happened Next." Hazel McClure's "Letters" and "Ghost Frames" give body to experience in unsettling ways: "The land and its sores / are monuments to abandonment." Noah Eli Gordon and Sara Veglahn team up for "Public Displayed," which as the title implies searches for some sort of meaningful public space as seen through various modes of transit: bicycle, train, car, trying to "count the layers of ethnicity in trainsetville." Mark Lamoureux steps up with "a matrix of bilious conjecture embedded" in two poems, one a contemporary urban hellscape ("Come On Chameleon"), the other a surrealist nod to Stevens, "Self Portrait as a Talking Snowman" with some choice oddments of vocabulary: "You falcons regardant,        you falcons recursant / everyone / wants the ratte of wings / for their birthday." Jim Berhle's back (is he in all three of these magazines? I believe he is) with "She Once Had Mad Ups": "I don't believe in angels because of *you* / who played a Ferengi on Voyager." (That reminds me: I may return to "Star Trek The Experience" when I hit Vegas this weekend!) Erica Kaufman uses short end-stopped fragments to balance tension between word and line, the subject of today's Silliman post. (Parenthetically speaking, I agree with Ron that neglect of these sorts of tension—between word and line, or between line and sentence—does lead to bad and boring formal verse today—but it takes real formal rigor to really tap into the energy of that tension, which someone like Milton has in spades.) I like the stop-start or push-pull energy of Kaufman's poems, which alternate between one- or two-word sentence fragments and slightly longer full sentences: "I prefer a little / granulation nowadays." Many more blggers make appearance: Maureen Thorson says, "I got a robt to love and nurture / It wasn't a calculated thing"; Daniel Nester doesn't seem to be actively blogging anymore but he has three poems, including one that taps Spinal Tap; Geof Huth has a little essay, "Why Visual Poetry," plus some samples of the form; Aaron McCollough has some gorgeous little poems "of" Jan Vandemeer; Shafer Hall seems to imagine the dark aftermath of a small-town scandal in "And Then the Whole Place Got Dark"; and former blogger, CARVE editor, and cursed elf (ask him, he'll tell you) Aaron Tieger offers suitably tiny invocations of infrathin moments: I like his "Autumn" a lot. There's lots of other good stuff by writers I'm as yet unfamiliar with that I'm looking forward to reading. It's been a very good week for magazines.

Robert Archambeau's Contingent Manifesto 1.0 is very worth reading, as is the Kristin Prevallet essay he references which I had something to say about almost exactly two years ago. My main reservation about what I'm happy to call contingent poetics is its diminished space for lyric: in the Altieri terms I referenced last week, a documentary poetics may give up too much ground to the "lucidity" side of the equation. At least within the text itself; one intriguing possibility would be that the qualities we associate with "lyricism" might be deferred into communities of readers—that is, if these texts actually in some way fostered collective consciousness then poetry's contact with the numinous and organic might reappear in the social. But that's asking an awful lot of mere words. I am also mindful of Henry Gould's Notes Toward & So On, which offers a lucid summary of twentieth-century American poetics and concludes urging a new emphasis on "the sensuous-intellective presence or 'weight' of an image-complex, or the overall symbolic resonance of the poem." Such a metaphysics of presence—by golly, Henry, are you calling us "back to the things themselves"?—is very appealing on the face of it, but to my mind retreats too far from the social, just as contingent poetics threatens to become nothing but the social. I'm also not necessarily keen on image-centered poetics: as that which translates best, imagery strikes me as tending to sustain a distance from the gears and thorns of the particular language that renders it. Maybe that's just idiosyncratic to my own sense of poetic development: when I began writing I was almost wholly concerned with generating images, but gradually came to feel that melo- and logopoeia were where the action is. Dual-vision or metaphor as Henry describes it (that which sees the objective actual and discovers a subjective meaning for it) is indeed a powerful tool, but it has to be wielded in service to something like that "post-postmodern" worldview he mentions—something yet to be discovered. Prevallet's idea of synchronicity strikes me as a more social version of Henry's double-vision, only operative in time as well as in space—and of course it's more than double, it's multiple. Is that enough to make a metaphysics? Maybe a little spot-welding will produce something useful: how about a contigent poetics of the image-complex, or at the very least a poetry of the document that also calls upon the subjectivity and affect of the writer for achieving its effects. I guess I'm looking to preserve a space for the pleasure principle: an investigative poetics that neglects pleasure might accumulate considerable moral force but risks becoming ascetic and depressing, like reading too much Chomsky. It would be helpful to have more examples of contingent poetry beyong Alcalay's from the warring factions (I always type that first as "form the warring factions," yikes); maybe John Matthias, who Archambeau mentions but whose work I'm unfamiliar with, would be helpful.

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