Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Peli Greitzer has started a blog; check it out if you're interested in hearing more about emerging Israeli poetry and at least one poet's reception of North American innovative writing and pop music.

A correspondent wonders what I see in Martha Ronk, and also remarks that he finds the U.S. post-avant scene "impressively heterosexual (or closeted)." That seems odd to me, especially given all the attention that I and others were giving to Christopher Nealon's "Camp Messianism" not so long ago. To my mind there's a distinctively queer element in lots of the most interesting "emerging" poets, even the nominally straight ones. It's true fewer of them are interested in writing from a self-consciously staged gay identity or writing poems with "gay content"; nor are they interested in the kind of shimmering semi-classical beauties I've noticed in some mainstream gay male poets (I'm thinking of Mark Doty, Reginald Shepherd's early work, and Carl Phillips). Queerness is more of a formal issue with post-avant poets, though as Nealon points out (and practices in his own poetry) they often strike campy poses and comment upon them, a la Rufus Wainwright.

As for Ronk, I think she's a master of the poetic sentence. The short poems in the eponymous first third of In a Landscap of Having to Repeat accumulate quiet, declarative sentences, each shifting and modifying the premises of the one that's preceded it, until by the end of the poem I have a subtle impression of what it's like to be inside a subjectivity I recognize as different from my own. In other words, she accomplishes the task of lyric perfectly. Take "The Stack of White Dishes":
It seems the stack of white dishes is enough.
Or ought to be and gathering force.
She's already tried to rearrange her set of beliefs and sexual preferences
and moral certitudes and is it that one gets tired
or the real world does its thing
or language just up and shoots off its mouth despite what one thinks.
And Debussy is near by and why not.
Helpless in the face of it all
all the things in the places they mean to be in even tomorrow
one might call it fog out there stacking itself against the trees.
That's actually not as typical as some of the other poems in that it functions more by line than by sentence (most of the poems in this section consist largely of one-line sentences). But I love how she presents a domestic fact (it's not quite an image, somehow) as an object around which subjectivity flows and breaks like water on a rock, a breaking that seem like a breaking away ("or the real world does its thing") but also inaugurates aesthetic possibilities ("And Debussy is near by and why not"). The poem ends with an ambiguous triumph of the mind, organizing the objects of the world that may in fact dictate that organization in spite of it, and resembling language by so doing. Just as in her poems sentences are put out there like chess pieces whose meaning and relation change subtly or drastically depending on the next move.

I actually prefer these short lyrics to the longer, seemingly more ambitious Eva Hesse poem that closes the section. But I do really like the long middle section of prose poems, "In the Vicinity," which deploy paratactic sentences in a styly familiar to me from the work of Elizabeth Willis or Lyn Hejinian to flirt with narrative (in this case often dream narrative, and a few poems take all their language from Freud) to explore that generally secondary notion of setting or scene or place as mood—but something stronger than mood, I want to use the German Stimmung—an entire psychic orientation that can prove determinate in surprising ways:

I know someone who says that expensive LA restaurants are filled with the homeless. On the other side of the copper screen the diners at their white tablecloths look as if they are in Casablanca. On my side is the bar which the present owner got from Yee Mee Lou's. I spent early years in this town, this stinking town as Chandler would say, drinking blue drinks at that bar; they gave off vapors like dry ice and hangovers. I sat for hours having conversations with a thin man I didn't meet for several years after the bar closed. We talked about trips we would take, porches we had sat on, books we meant to read. When he drew his long finger over a picture in one of the books, I knew I would never leave LA.
The speaker's mediated sense of reality damages her sense of temporality; she inhabits a continuous present we might call the LA mood, just as in other poems of "In the Vicinity" she occupies a childhood mood, a mall mood, a Venice mood, a home movie mood, even an e-mail mood.
How perfectly ordinary expresses an attitude.
About the edges of the books a sort of dampish curl.
Objects have no thoughts about anything else.
That's an emblematic moment from the final section of the book, "Quotidian," which seems mostly to track a relationship between a male other and the speaker, with sense impressions taking on new inflections with each repetition: the irritation, numbing, or erotics of a moth, a haircut, disrobing. I'm moved by it. It's not a flashy book, it's not trying to be "The Waste Land"; nor is her language especially musical, though it has an elegant spareness reminiscent of Michael Palmer's. It does do something I look for from poetry: it conveys the spark of experience, gets the energy all the way over from poet to me. It's the bread and butter of poetry.

That said, I do still prickle with excitement when I encounter the foie gras of poetry, the sublime reflection on possibilities of consciousness in language—something I very much get from the new Lisa Robertson chapbook, Rousseau's Boat, that was waiting for me in the mailbox when I got back from DC. More about that later when I've had time to read it—and time to get some actual work done.

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