Friday, October 27, 2006

Had an interesting conversation with one of my advisors, Jonathan Monroe, yesterday—about the Zukofsky chapter but more generally about the sometimes incommensurate demands of poetry and scholarship (or to put it a bit more finely, criticism). He reminded me that serious criticism of contemporary poetry, especially by poets, is quite rare, unless you are critiquing a poet from a different aesthetico-political "camp." Even dead poets are not exempt: Zukofsky, for instance, has been vigorously embraced by the Language poets and most of their writing about his work praises it or actively seeks to elevate and canonize it. On the other side you have more conservative poet-critics who simply dismiss Zukofsky as eccentric and irrelevant. There's very little genuinely dialectical criticism of his or any other experimental poet's work: criticism which accepts as given that a particular poet is important and worth critiquing, but which then goes on to discover ambiguities and contradictions in that work and in that work's reception. (One major exception that comes to mind is the work of our leading Zukofsky critic, Mark Scroggins, whose rigorous scholarship is backed up by a healthy, though never cynical, skepticism.)

Part of the problem is simple human craving for approval: we do not want to alienate other members of the community we see as ours. But there's another rift between poetry/poetics and criticism: as a poet, I am primarily interested in what enables my own work and the work of other poets I care about. When I read a poet like Zukofsky, I am looking for news I can use: techniques and themes and turns of phrase that Zukofsky made more possible. For me, one of poetry's primary functions is the generation of more poetry—reading is writing, or wreading in Jed Rasula's phrase. That's a fundamentally different attitude than that assumed by the critic, who reads in a more specifically interrogatory mode, and with a more or less specific ideological axe to grind. It's the old battle of Beauty vs. Truth, really. And the question for a poet-critic like myself has to be not, Whose side are you on?, but: How are these different modes of reading implicated in each other for me? Why am I hyphenated? How can this tension be productive for both kinds of work, both modes of questioning? Mark, you're a poet-critic. Care to address this question from your perspective?

Much to ponder. In the meantime, I'm on the road again: to western Massachusetts for the wedding of our friends Jen and Bronson at Gedney Farm. See you when I get back.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I have become an academic job applicant cliche: obsessing over paper quality, staples vs. no staples, tearing apart and rebuilding my c.v. over and over. It's not pretty. By the time you actually get around to applying for an academic position, most of the real work is behind you: you have to stand or fall on how you've spent your time as a grad student. What I, and hundreds of other people, are doing now is akin to the twisting and contorting of one's body after the bowling ball has already been thrown, in a futile and entirely magical attempt to further shape its destiny. It's not exactly ergonomic or sensible behavior and I should cut it out. I will cut it out. Next week, maybe, after the applications have been sent.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Grieved to learn, via Jasper, of the death by cancer of Deborah Tall, who held what was perhaps her last reading at Bookery II the day of my wedding, September 17 (for obvious reasons I did not attend). She was a beloved figure here in Ithaca, particularly of young writers and poets, and she will be missed.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I am moved and enthralled to discover, via Nada, that Richard Foreman of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater has started keeping a blog, named for his upcoming show Wake Up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead! Like Nada, I find his statements about theater applicable to poetics. I am especially interested, in the context of my dissertation and thinking about the poetics of fragmentation in general, in his desire to avoid the completeness that generally comes with theatrical or cinematic representation: the Gesamtkunstwerk that's pretty easy to associate with fascism, though not necessarily political fascism. (On the other hand, that seems exactly what Pound was after with the Cantos—but lacking the collaboration of history they devolved into something more useful and more interesting.) As Foreman writes, "Why can I return to a painting, a poem, aphorisms, music—? Yet to see a play or film more than once is usually unbearably boring? Because these other forms elude one by leaving out at least one level of perceptual experience." Of course this makes "a poem" a sort of undefined baseline, when in fact there are poems and poems. Those I tend to think of as being more aesthetically conservative do seem intent on presenting a kind of miniature totality of expression: here is me, here is something authentic, here is a piece of my beautiful soul. Sometimes I think poems that do not actually belong to this category are misread as such: in fact, maybe Foreman is right about the nature of language as a means of representation, and it's the reader who brings totality to the work. In that case the question is how ready-made a given reader's responses are (and thus more or less able to respond to a work that doesn't belong to some genre the reader's already familiar with).

Anyway, Foreman's method for avoiding completion in theater is worth reading about: he cites Stein, who saw her plays as "landscapes" for consciousness to wander across, and seeks to achieve a similar affect through his juxtaposition of stage and film:
No—-we seek a form that forces the perceiving mind to “jump” like a spark from one level of “potential content” (film) to another (on-stage performance)—-which means that normal “tracking consciousness” is bypassed while the new field created between spectator and the “in between” space manifest on-stage in a field of total alertness --without a subject! (The minute you have a subject, you have a prison created by that subject—and the deep content of this art is freedom)
In his first entry, Foreman elaborates on the nature of that "freedom":
What I do in my theater is simply to layer different self contained ‘realms of being’ (image, sound, idea, or movement) over one another in ways that allow such overlapping layers to bleed through each other and create thereby, maps of new mental territory in which heightened sensibility re-energizes the internal mechanism we all share in common.
Inspiring stuff. For some reason it has me thinking about the Adorno project currently being engaged in by Robert (love that photo of Adorno on the beach with headphones on—sounds like a sequel to Einstein on the Beach, don't it?), Mark, and Dave Park are currently embarked on. I'm fascinated by this because Adorno is probably the single most important theorist to my dissertation: the idea for the "negative pastoral" that I see avant-pastoralists like Zukofsky and Ronald Johnson practicing was inspired by the tantalizing hints Adorno drops in Aesthetic Theory and elsewhere about the nexus of the modern artwork (critical and negative) with utopian representation (almost always a false image of reconciliation between human beings and nature). How does Foreman enter into it? Because of that phrase "maps of new mental territory," which for Foreman seems more psychoanalytic than Marxist-utopian (I'm thinking of Frederic Jameson's "cognitive mapping"), and that interests me because sometimes negative pastoral as I've sketched it can seem a little abstract and dry, without the excitement of libidinal charge that Foreman's artwork, unashamedly pursuinng in full cry the riches of the (dead?) unconscious, wants to carry. In the context of my project, the joy and sense of freedom he describes comes closest to articulation in works like Zukofsky's 80 Flowers (which by at least doubling the meaning of every word and every provisional syntactic structure demands split consciousness from its reader, even as an affect of delight prevails over the text as a whole) and Johnson's writing (especially the concrete poetry, which cultivates the gap between visual and legible). It seems to me that the preservation of this gap (formal manifestation of the negative) is what makes it possible for these works to pull off an amazing trick: they are pastorals, having all the energy of the truly utopian, yet avoid being false. They are stimulating rather than wholly consolatory.

A last note, irrelevant to what's gone before: I'm very interested in the exchange between Mark and Ron that suggests how literally Ron may have taken the notion that Quietude = Anglophilia. Is that whole trouble-making dichotomy Post-Avant vs. SoQ derived from Ron's inability to "hear" English verse? A gag reflex his only response to "ceremonious words"? (Mark quotes a blogger new to me named Sean Lysaght as saying, “I think the missing piece of the Yank auditory canal is the ability to hear 'ceremonious words'. American poetry is so tuned to the vernacular that it no longer recognises poetry pitched in a higher key.") This is too simplistic, as Mark goes on to point out: but I wonder how much of it explains my own unwillingness to sign on to Ron's dichotomy? As I mentioned in reviewing Camille's book the other day, at Vassar in the late eighties/early nineties we English majors got a pretty traditional education in the British literary tradition, which did in fact seem vampirically to embrace the few American poets taught there (Bishop, Lowell, Berryman). My ear was very much conditioned by iambic pentameter, so much so that it took me some years to accliimate myself to the wild proliferation of New American vernaculars. But I'm still very fond of English verse and there's no erasing the primal grooves Herrick and Herbert and Milton and Shakespeare have carved in my mental records. In fact lately I've been contemplating writing some blank verse, partly because teaching a Shakespeare course has reminded me what an amazingly flexible and powerful instrument it can be. Anyway, it would be amusing if much of the controversy between the raw and the cooked simply comes down to "He (or she) who has the ears to hear, let them hear." Me, I plan to continue to cultivate binaural listening habits.

Off to Maryland for a couple of days tomorrow for a last wedding-related hurrah.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

My old friend Camille Guthrie from Vassar days has a new book out from Subpress called In Captivity. The title refers to the last of the famous Unicorn Tapestries on display at the Cloisters in northern Manhattan; I blogged about seeing them and Camille's engagement with them back in July 2005. The "In Captivity" tapestry seems anomalous to the sequence as a whole, which depicts the hunting and destruction of the unicorn: where in the sequence, if anywhere, does it belong? Do they catch it, then release it and kill it? Were there two unicorns? Or does the tapestry represent an alternate, choose-your-own-adventure style ending to the pursuit? At any rate, now I've read Camille's book and it's marvelous: wryly funny, lyrical, even mesmerizing in spots. I've admired her formally adventurous and daring work since college, but I think she's achieved a new fluency and wit here to accompany the mythic landscape that she generally chooses as the backdrop for her poetry. For one thing, New York City is as fully present and alive in this book as the medieval world of the tapestries is, and our contemporary idiom is woven seamlessly into a tapestry (the pun is unavoidable) of high lyric. Rilke and Rabelais coexist here, while I fancy I can hear the "classical" education in English literature that was on offer at Vassar (i.e., strong doses of poetry and prose from the English literary tradition with little or no theory gumming up the works) in Camille's citations of Milton, Shakespeare, Blake, and Edward Lear. There's also a splendid assortment of forms on display: the funny and erotic list poem "My Boyfriend," the Steinian stanzas of "The Hunters," a masterly sestina called "My Psychomachia" ("He who knows the word for a thing I know masters the thing"), and a sequence called "Defending Oneself" that consists of "mirrored" quatrains, two above and two below a single black line.

Any New York book nowadays is a post-9/11 book: Camille handles the disaster obliquely and yet personally, stalked and stalking through the streets, which can at times appear as a Waste Land but with the survivor's ironic distance constantly punctured and punctuated. There's a welcome sense of bodily experience that I can't help but think of as the feminist difference between what Camille's up to here and the Eliotic in general. Plus the pieces of literature and myth she conjures seems fresh and alive: not fragments shored against ruin but the palpable elements of one woman's experience. From "Defending Oneself":
The finest I could've afforded
I sent him ten pairs of antique Levi's
As soft as a rabbit napping on moss
I'll overnight twelve more Tuesday

Forget it all, Leaf Litter
Your letters were shredded in the Reign of Terror
Then used to cover potatoes from frost
It was a fairy vision


True and False Heart
She'll do it you can count on it
She'll chop off their candied heads
And pretend not to like the sound effects

I'll still speak to her reddening while we talk
But only in answering couplets
She—celebrated oil of vermin
Me—genuine dust of scorpion
There's an uncanny knowledge on display here, a rounded awareness of one's one darkest corners and the difficulties of an ambiguous cultural inheritance. It captivates me and I hope it will captivate many more readers.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Excellent reading last night. Wyatt's short fictions are sly and funny, with a surprising amount of pathos creeping in between deadpan deconstructions of the domestic New Yorker story. Michael was finishing up a Northeast tour promoting his comic novella Martian Dawn: a slow-burning satire on the personalities and producers of American culture, high and low, spiritual and commercial. Afterward Michael was generous enough to gift SOON with a slew of copies of SHINY, plus a couple of copies of his 2000 book of prose poems, Species. Huzzah for the gift economy!

Next month it's going to be a small-press fest featuring Erica Kaufman of Boku Books, Stacy Szymaszek of Instance Press, Shanna Compton of Half Empty/Half Full, and Ryan Murphy of innumerable one-offs and invented publishers (see the profile of him in last month's Poets & Writers. In addition to reading, we're planning to have them talk about small press publishing. A can't-miss event!

One of the SHINYs (Issue 9/10, 1999) contains some excerpts from Ted Berrigan's journals between 1961 and 1969. A couple of gems:

[Sunday Feb 10th 8 p.m.]

I want to write poems that cannot be understood until they
are felt. They must be read, then must germinate in the brain
until they flower. Then they will be apparent—but still
cannot be paraphrased with any meaning for others. Each reader
must make something out of them himself, w/o effort.

What a poet
"does" is like
what a yo-yo
champ does—

But what is that

Now back to my regularly scheduled Sunday: grading papers and making diabolical plans for this evening's D&D game.

Friday, October 13, 2006

SOON Productions Presents a Reading by Michael Friedman and Wyatt Bonikowski

It's prose for a change! Come tomorrow evening to the State of the Art Gallery in downtown Ithaca at 7 PM to hear the work of two exciting experimental prose writers.

Michael Friedman has edited the influential literary journal Shiny since 1986 and is the author of six collections of poetry. Several poems from his most recent book of poetry, Species (The Figures, 2000), were included in the anthology Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present (Scribner, 2003). His first book of fiction, the comic novel Martian Dawn, was just released by Turtle Point in Sept. Friedman grew up in Manhattan and has lived in Denver since 1995. He has taught in the MFA writing program at Naropa University in Boulder.

Wyatt Bonikowski's short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Denver Quarterly, elimae, Exquisite Corpse, and First Intensity. He has also published articles on twentieth-century British literature and psychoanalysis. He is currently working on a collection of short stories and a book on war trauma and narrative called Traces of War. While his parents are both from Philadelphia, he and his siblings were dragged around the country while growing up. He has lived in Florida, two cities in North Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, and California, and he and his wife have driven across the country, with three cats in the backseat, three times. He recently received his Ph.D. in English from Cornell University, where he currently teaches, and he lives with his wife and daughter in Ithaca, NY.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Immersed in the first stages of the kabuki dance that is the academic job application process: writing letters, extracting a twenty-five page writing sample from two-hundred-odd pages of dissertation, and trying to parse what a particular school's advertisement signals about what they're really looking for. An unexpected benefit of this sort of head-scratching is that it re-engages me with my dissertation work, which has been lying fallow since midsummer, when the wedding preparations were first starting to heat up. Writing an abstract has been especially useful, as well as something of a relief: the damn thing coheres after all! When the envelopes are all licked and stamped I should be more than ready to return to the chapter on Ronald Johnson. I'm interested right now in his engagement with Ian Hamilton Finlay and wondering how I can learn more about it. It seems that they would have had very different temperaments: Finlay is actually much closer to the sardonic, critical spirit that I associate with "negative pastoral" than Johnson is. But then I see the three poets my dissertation deals with as something like stages in a dialectic: Pound as overreacher, Zukofsky as poet of renunciation, and Johnson as author of a radiant new attempt to "write paradise." Though I have no evidence as yet to support this, I suspect that Johnson's ARK was in part a reaction to Finlay's darker temperament. It will be interesting to see what I can turn up.

Feminism and chauvinism are very much on blogland's mind right now; as far as my own position goes, I'm somewhat inclined to agree with Jonathan when he writes that "nobody really wants to hear a man congratulate himself about how feminist he is." I will say, however, that the discussion has sharpened my approach to reading Beverly Dahlen's new book A Reading 18-20, just out from Instance Press (they don't seem to have a website but the book's available from SPD) and kindly sent to me gratis by Stacy Szymaszek, whose Emptied of All Ships I admire (I'm just a sucker for sea chanteys, I guess). I haven't read the other installments of the "A Reading" project, but this one impresses me as being one of the more moving and thoughtful variations on the subgenre that I've come to think of as "Frankfurt School poetry": poetry that immerses itself in the language and spectacle of modern capital, Arcades projects crammed with dialectical images, seekers after the truth content concealed by bits of governmental- and corporate-speak. The poetics of cognitive mapping, usually but not always unfolded over a particular urban space: the most recent work of Joshua "You can't spell 'Marxist' without 'Matrix' Clover comes to mind but also Rob Fitterman's Metropolis project, Kevin Davies' work, and almost everything I've seen from Atelos (especially books by Rodrigo Toscano and Ed Roberson). While many, many poets work this territory, these writers stand out for me for writing most often in books and series rather than individual poems: they take deep breaths and plunge for long periods into the spectacle, scalpel in hand. The major precedent or "root poet" for this approach is probably Jack Spicer, whose Collected Books map a lot of territory, including American politics and baseball, the currents of homosexual desire, and quite often the literary itself (from the first book, After Lorca, a necography of the Spanish visionary poet, to the last, The Book of Magazine Verse, a witty riff and deconstruction of the American media scene in the mid-Sixties). I don't know if this comes close to explaining the generally masculine tenor of this mode of writing: certainly Spicer himself had little use for women. But I am interested to see that Dahlen, who like Lisa Robertson seems interested in interrogating not only capital but poetry itself, engages directly with Spicer, not only in the title of her book A Reading Spicer and 18 Sonnets but in the present volume, who makes an appearance at the beginning of "A Reading 20" as a kind of revenant of negativity:
Redundancy is an antidote to psychic noise Ted says and writing it now I wonder can that be part of the poem or I'm starting to worry what's part of the poem like Spicer who seems to be fussy about that all the time what's in the poem and what's not what you can bring in and can't how old that feels to me how long I've thought of that not wanting it never occurred to me to credit Spicer now there's a paranoiac boob old false face lumbering, something about the raw and the cooked, bulges, and what you could put into that sack and maybe watch it squirm out the edges the poem a sack of kittens to be drowned. reading Spicer that's morbid his morbidity one side of that affects me strongly something at the boundary of civilization someone who lots of the time was beyond the pale.
I'm engaged by the personal tone of this, the sense of Dahlen's presence as a thinker: she seems to have less need of the ironic mask that most of the other poets of this mode that I've mentioned feel compelled to wear. Reading Dahlen reading, I often feel like I'm both enjoying the poetry and also reading a kind of brilliant textbook or at least sketchbook of a poet's progress: a poet who's also very much a critic (and isn't that what consistently appeals to me the most, the poetical-critical boundary?). The poetry per se, or rather the verse, happens between prose poems that take up the texts of predecessors and comrades, continually resituating Dahlen's "reading" in a shifting yet bracingly contemporary landscape. This is where we come from, this is where we live, this is the voice of the real mumbling in the breath of the commodity:
sheltering tough thought in exchange for the thickened plot
the deliberate colors of the fall from grace in a frosted glass
an eternal winter sunset qualified by artifice
by the hairs on her chin dowdy gray
by sexual ambiguity by the refusal to be the classic straight line
by prickly holly thorns below south the sun in the shape
of a rooster's foot inching towards Lapland
where the witches live

upon whom the sun has gone down

quoted on the bare bricks of Market Street
is it the end yet said my grandfather dying
darkness is all Were
proud? Of what? To buy

a thing like that.
I'm moved by Dahlen's attempt to construct a usable past in this poetry, a past which she puts under considerable pressure, finding what's living and vital in old chauvinist bastards like Spicer and Pound. It's a path that has, I feel, much to teach me.

Friday, October 06, 2006

I'm not Tony Hoagland's biggest fan, but this article, "Fragment, Juxtaposition, And Completeness: Some Notes And Preferences" from The Cortland Review on the uses and abuses of fragment and collage is quite useful and balanced: I would happily give it to undergraduates to whom I was teaching collage as a mode. When I come across an article by Hoagland I'm usually waiting the entire time for the other shoe to drop: for him to come out and express his preference for the easiest and most accessible kinds of poetry, and to dismiss other modes as highfalutin'. (The title of the book his essay comes from, Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft, is an example of the kind of pseudopopulism and false self-deprecation that I find so irritating.) But here Hoagland only gently questions the rising popularity of collage as a mode, and he raises a pertinent point of comparison that should have us all thinking: "Contemporarily, in some poetic circles, fracture and breakage have become the techniques by which authenticity and energy is certified—perhaps not much differently from the way in which explicit confession was used in the past to certify poetic authenticity." Also, his counterexample is one I find easy to embrace: Allen Grossman's weirdly skewed and prophetic poetry, which performs its feats of wonder within the bounds of normative grammar and syntax, leaving Hoagland to conclude, "The powers of complex coherence, visible in Grossman's poem and available to all of us, shouldn't be lightly abandoned, or shunned." He's absolutely right. But it's as yet sadly rare to find arguments of this sort for the broadening and deepening of the palette/palate, as opposed to mortar shells of snark and dudgeon inaccurately lobbed from one camp to the other.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Starting to teach The Merchant of Venice today. It's a far more repellent play than I recalled: racism and scorn for difference are everywhere, and not just in the portrayal of Shylock. Difficult to see how anyone could pull it off nowadays as a comedy; at the same time, it's difficult to see how Shylock could be made heroic or appealing (as has sometimes been the fashion) without drastic cuts. The homoerotic charge of Antonio and Bassanio's friendship is interesting, but strangely bloodless, conflating melancholy with same-sex desire. And Portia seems a very cold and calculating character, the least appealing of Shakespeare's heroines. I'm curious to see Michael Radford's film version with my class next week to see how he addresses these problems.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Men

On my thirty-sixth birthday, I'm delighted to have finally given myself the present of Lisa Robertson's newest book, The Men, out from Toronto's BookThug. It's a tour-de-force of metapoetry, a rather tricky and elusive subgenre in which the poem and poet examine the bases for their own production: a critique in the Kantian sense. That's not all it is, of course, not nearly all: Robertson's writing wouldn't compel me as it does without her exquisite ear, connected on a cellular level with her wry and incisive wit. "Incision" is an apt term for her poetical procedure in this book, I think: she cuts cross-sections and core samples through the lyric tradition with the seemingly dull tool of repetition honed to a razor edge. In this passage at the end of the book's first of five sections (they tend to have titles that somehow suggest palindromes without actually being one: "MEN DEFT MEN," "EVENING LIT THE GNAT"), the inhibition of a woman's speech is deftly eroticized:
I've touched the men who stopped
My tongue, I've touched the men
In the free breeze foreignly. But this
Immaculate equal
Grows as I speak
And their two styles flossy.
And their two
Styles flossy.
And hence experience
Butonly in relation
To the men
And my own eyes.

In this rough verse
Unavoidably the men
All bordered with sky blue
Stand alone
And my little bed also
Bearing nothing more.
I have only the reticence of intimacy.
Petrarch's Laura seems to speak in that last line (about not speaking), while the history of the lyric is indexed to my ear by phrases like "my little bed" (the sonnet as "little room") and the delightfully silly "two styles flossy" (stilnovisti). The motor for all this is, naturally "the men": Robertson deliberate conflates lyric as such with the gender that has historically defined and produced it. But she's not simply turning lyric on its head and turning men into erotic objects (though she does this with breathtaking effectiveness); nor is she interested in the ingenuous ecriture feminine that I've seen in some other younger feminist poets who center their writing on bodily or "gurlesque" experience. The Men is a romp through the secret masculinist history of lyric—erotic blazon, phallic wit, love as spur to writing—that Robertson's wily speaker seeks to crack open for herself by rendering that history visible (no mean feat in itself, at least not when accomplished sans soapbox) through the prism-like refraction of "the men" as subject-objects of desire:
The men have a house
Of rooms and time
To walk through them
Pondering their sons
And daughters, feeling
Loss and the long tiredness
Of passing. At such times
In exhaustion
They show you the liner notes. Look
Say the men, look
And the first webs of lust
Near the window
And their shirts are sweet
And their sweat bitter:
Just delicious.
Sappho's "sweetbitter" is evoked here, while later those men in the window are wearing "short-sleeved shirts," evoking the pathetic pipe smoke of the men in Eliot's "Passages." Not only are "the men" conflated with lyric, but they are also conflated with lyric's landscape (the pastoral is never far from Robertson's mind, and in many ways "the men" are obviously the descendents of "the Roaring Boys" from Robertson's Xeclogue). "All landscape is second," Robertson says: nature-gender is mediated by poetry and thus has a history to be taught and exploded. "Inside the men are people": there's a generosity of spirit here, a sense that men as well as women are imprisoned by gender roles. Simply as a trope, The Men remind me of another Canadian poet's work with men as desiring/desirable machines: Anne Carson, especially The Beauty of the Husband and the book whose title Robertson both echoes and strips down, Men in the Off Hours. Not least do they resemble each other in the astringency of their wit, which I associate with the disciplinary play of the classicist, she who knows her way around an epigram. And I am also reminded of the power a repeated noun can have, how a word as everyday as "men," especially when paired with the suggestive placing of a definite article, yields up treasures of signification when put under lyric pressure: coal into diamond. Another significant word that recurs in The Men was new to me: "hyrdromel." I had to look it up, but of course the meaning is clearly embedded: hydro - water, mel - honey. When fermented this combination becomes mead: a lyric drink, methinks, evocative of the middle ages that every love poem yet strives to inhabit. Robertson juxtaposes this word with "poverty," and it's that rift, that dialectic—the sweet poverty of the feminine object—that she mines and overturns in this exhilarating work:
I call out hydromel to the men I take all of their style and I turn it to poverty. Who can say which loses? I call out hydromel to the ladies as false as the gorgeous poem. This is referential stability. This is our passion to speech. Hydromel in the meadows and in the evening light especially. I have plenty so I give it to them false human face men fluttering men recumbent men married men in cognition lady's men men homosexual men of the true synthetic space men as glamorous as dew. Your name is a syllable on my face and I speak it from your own juice. What's prior to cognition. Amazed head of a man I feed you violets and fall upwards bleating.

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