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Monday, June 25, 2012

Gnostic Frequencies

Gnostic Frequencies

Spuytenduyvil, 2011

Patrick Pritchett in the endnote to his Gnostic Frequencies writes, “The crux of these gnostic frequencies lies here – in the unspeakable, the unutterable – in the darkness that surrounds and informs the matter of the poem as logos itself is what emerges, not from spirit, but out of earth. Whatever escapes language even as it transfigures it.” That sure sense of motion away from earthy or physical substances rhymes with my understanding of Gnosticism as I find it in a variety of poets including Ezra Pound, Robert Duncan and Charles Olson. In my A North Atlantic Wall there is a climbing toward ever higher elevations until, to my sense, the very soul dissolves. Call that pure immanence if it were possible to imagine such a stuff in substantive terms. Such is Pritchett’s project, but one riddled with ironic allusions to cybernetic culture or information technology. “Lyric says Ariel is the barcode of the dead” to cite one example. And the dead are our mentors in a gnostic universe. They are the ghosts who speak. Section three of Gnostic Frequencies  is a beautifully conceived sequence of testimony poems by revered poet-figures (not all deceased), offering a convincing register of such voices, a catalog or roll call: Basil Bunting, Frank Samperi or Gerrit Lansing (to name individual poems that I found trenchant in their ventriloquism) are echoed with uncanny sureness. Pritchett’s book is the voice made coherent, despite the crackling of white noise interfering with broad band transmission: lyric being the highest or most ethereal form of the logos.

I do not want to diminish the visionary element in Pritchett’s project. He is theorizing a universe founded on the materiality of language and its dismemberment in the cosmic stream. The resolution of the “Lyric Body” is his theme. The reflections of Ariel a gnostic secretary fill the first pages of the book , scattering puns, whose double sense is again a melding of worlds, let’s say earthly and virtual. The poem understood as a speech act instantiates the immaterial realm of secret knowledge, that is the Lyric Body or a “something beyond” (124).

Pritchett comes closest to this reach of the imagination with lines like: “The secret of transparency is /the opacity of its halo” from the title poem “Gnostic Frequencies” (119). His citation of esoteric knowledge is marked by play and the notion of inventory, catalog or handbook. In other words, he uses available bits of wisdom, not teach as divinely illuminated being might, but more as a physicist to make an analytic description of insubstantial thought. Like his gnostic scribe, Ariel, he is the transmitter, who offers a work of conceptual art, re-inscribing figures of enlightenment found in key gnostic texts from Plotinus to G.R.S. Mead (secretary to Madam Blavatsky and friend of Yeats and Pound). A surprising number of contemporary poets have been drawn in their work to the mysteries of transcendence employing figures of climbing, “rungs of water, “stairs of light” or stars. Nate Mackey comes to mind. His is another of Pritchett’s voices. At the level of irony, a distinctive aspect of Gnostic Frequency, the reader finds, “The firewall shattered by / the malware of lyric” (17).