Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Susan Howe, That This, New Directions, 2010




Words found among piecemeal fragments, useful to me in my work: “soft,” “shadow,” “melancholy.” Here is a book that as its subject has a shadow of a shadow that embodies the loss of a loved one. A shadow of a shadow that does not appear in the light and is not detectable at night. These words from “Frolic Architecture” are clues to the mindscape of Susan Howe’s That This. Sense skips over line endings and falls between verses, as it does in the first lines of the sequence that gives the poem and the book its title, “That This.”

 
 
Does a type when visible

objects change then put 

 

on form but the anti-type

That thing not shadowed

 A shadow not shadowed insisting as before, but the words that most call attention to themselves now are “type” and antitype.” The careful reader of “Frolic Architecture” has just navigated 58 pages of broken type, much silence and static. “Anti-type” appears as if it were an antidote, among other possibilities, an antidote to sorrow, the death of the beloved so exquisitely parsed in the prose of the first pages of the collection, “The Disappearance Approach.” In “Frolic Architecture,” enigmatic fragments, polyvalent in the extreme, emerge from the clutter of clippings that have been borrowed from the “private writings” of Hannah Edwards Wetmore and pasted as if to form an acrostic or some other word-puzzle in the shambling architecture of mourning. Hannah is the sister of Jonathan Edwards. Reading and research  of this order, as is Howe’s wont, registers interference patterns, later to be embodied in the muted electronic and digital clicks and burrs of David Grubbs’ electronic transformation of Howe’s work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR6cfDFTL8Q. Words leap out, from the 17th century source into echoing consciousness. Static and shadow suspend sounds. Mysteries, the drone reaching a crescendo, are particles in an insectivorous Brownian motion. Comfort emerges from these depths, “comfort” as a word. Howe’s voice, when performing, is mellifluous. I am soothed as I wander through meditations on my losses.
 
 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Core Samples from the World, Forrest Gander: delayed response to a well-received volume.

Core Samples from the World contains some lovely poems based on devices like repetition in a staggered or staged but lyrical fashion, interspersed with prose accounts of voyages to areas of the world largely unfrequented by Americans: Xinjiang, China; the Chihuahua Desert, Mexico; Bosnia; La Serena, Chile. All bleak locals, but some of these adventures are extraordinary, the “consumption of compulsory toasts” with the Kyrgyz of the Gobi Desert, the version of polo played there with the decapitated carcass of a goat, if you can ride. Overwhelmingly he conjures scenes of deserts, dryness, spent mining locations, impoverished terrain, all to real environmental disasters. Travel grants aside, is it only poets who visit such places? I felt no brotherhood among the bands of American poets and local poets or other residents of these spaces, but I did experience Gander’s sharp eyes and his ability to resolve lyric fragments from the prosaic: “Men at the edge of / their shops, spitting on fingertips / to seal the deal” (14). The prose immediately before this tercet evokes “hanging carcasses” and elaborate juice presses for pomegranates. From these details resolve lines that meet stringent prosodic standards of syllabification, stress, and rhyme, howsoever brief or jewel-like. This feat of resolution happens throughout the book: “a cannon sends shockwaves through my shirt, / the pigeons whoosh into the air, / a spadeful of exploding fists” (89). Resolution here of a surreal order, rather than mocking rhyme as above, the tightness of the movement over and through the lines is precise. We have come upon one of my hobby horse themes, the relation between work in lines and prose. In Core Samples, I also is a prose generated by the self-consciousness that accompanies travelling in remote places. The processes inscribed remind me of my own Mexican notebooks to be found in Prolog Pages (Ahadada 2009) or my treks through the mountains of Spain and Morocco A North Atlantic Wall (Dos Madres 2010).