CONTRADICTORY SENTENCES form series
of indeterminate length. Energy
arises in bending the line. Abrupt
carriage returns. Word substitutions.
Staging motivates scaled unfoldings.
“When you look at / the fieldwork, you see
the problem of agency supported by
/ the sophistication of upward mobility
… A contrapuntal / structure moves among
several different lives.” A cue to the method
of writing. The world order under capitalism.
The method generates incongruities
in the field of action. Meaning is in play,
“an abyss of crop-duster dictums” writes
Andrew Levy, Artifice in the Calm Damages,
the chapbook from which I have been quoting.
He continues “revolutionaries / via minor routes,
filth, blood, and noise.” His text, in the key of anarchy,
no newly born utopia looms on the far horizon
of destruction. Alice Notley, in turn, writes,
in the key of really pissed off. “Most of us
are slaves, largely by consent. Or / you could say
we’re brainwashed.” She’s sardonic.
“I work / in a shelter for battered women.
I submitted to / a pharaonic circumcision.”
Facing the abyss of embodied affect,
paralyzed, I see a cat sprawled under the clothes tree.
Juan Goytisolo muere en Marrakech,
city of highlife nightmare, jùjú music,
Djemaa el fna, central square of dance parties
and all night food stalls, estranged from myself,
grizzled old man in a brilliant Berber jacket.
Goytisolo sat with his back to the wall. Mint tea.
a notebook for recording phrases from an Arabic
that has no alphabet, seeking to better understand
those with whom he shared his exile,
three adopted children and their mother.
The tide that surrounds us grows impatient
with lame-foot measures. He chose
the Atlantic shore at Larache for his internment.
He eschewed literary prizes. From the need
to educate his children, he accepted the Cervantes,
crippled as he was and unable to stand on his legs.
Now he lies with Jean Genet as he had wanted.
Exile is central to my own disposition. Abjection,
docility and submissiveness, threaded as they are
with anger, inform the only poetry any of us write.
Remember Alice’s magic! Is it possible
to be an American in an age of deception?
That’s motive for exile in hers, in my case.
In Andrew’s? what does he do? He is pushed
toward the book. He begins with a conclusion,
“Nothing is in here.” Title and first line
of an earlier composition. By that he means
all that once had embodied joy is now absent.
Such desolation! Humor doesn’t help.
“The vile stench makes sunbathing impossible
and swimming / through the slime … the tiny
trapped sea creatures living inside perish
/ when the algae hit the beach, creating
a putrid sulfurous stench.” Is there a resolution
to “The chaos of Dreaming Life” where poetry
is wed with pain? Alice writes, “I wish
you’d waterboard me. Make my heart crash.
We’re immortal. It hurt my throat. What a bunch
of liars they are.” She has no interest “in being myself.
I just am.” She forces the poet’s hand, “There’s
nothing here now, there is only me.” She has
no answer to hovering incompleteness, “It isn’t
a good price that you pay for writing a poem.”
Everyone I know has money for their daily needs.
Even more than they know. To them, within the confines
of their reality, there’s no imaginable alternative
to their security and comfort. This insight
came to me during a heatwave. Even for my kids,
there’s nothing to be done but to call the installer.
“I tried to learn how to be a person,” Alice wrote.
“In death we speak, in dreams we speak, / and
in the immaterial past and future our vocal cords
are fast as birds.” She clutches a grail of light
to her chest and gives it to a child. So too thought
those in honor of Goytisolo as his bark rode the waves.
He no longer had words for his life. Andrew concludes,
“These are my words. Nobody asked me to write them.”
As to the riddle of this essay-poem, he suggests,
“You could identify with the poor.” That’s
the key of Juan’s attempt to decode
the analphabetism of the crowded square.
Andre Levy, Artifice in the Calm Damages (Victoria TX: Chax, 2017).
Andrew Levy, Nothing in Here (NY: Eoagh, 2011).
Alice Notley, Certain Magical Acts (NY: Penguin, 2016).
August 20, 2017