Disruptive Juxtaposition

Thursday, February 03, 2005

A break in the clouds

Metaphorically of course. Eugenian morning fog continues for what must be a record umpteenth day.

Last night I received the first rejection of this whole new "real job" stage of life. Carney Sandoe, a sort of caseworker-based clearinghouse for teaching candidates, didn't consider me sellable enough to take my case. Which would seem to mean, by implication, that their rejection stands in implicitly for the rejection of however many thousands of schools with which they liason. Maybe that's not the case. But it feels a bit like that.

Brighter news: the poem "LANE BIKE", the title of which I wrote yesterday and then abandoned, is finished. Among its many subjects:

o metonymy;
o that time I first kissed Kristin, who'd been riffing on the need to seize the day, which I did;
o the environs of West Eugene (especially its car graveyards and train tracks);
o the Lascaux cave painters;
o anthropologists of the Distant (distant!) Future (future!)

But it'll have to sit in the books for a bit before I do anything with it. It's way imperfect.

I'm tearing through the remaining books on my MFA reading list: C.K. Williams's Flesh and Blood, Eamon Grennan's Still Life with Waterfall. The former is far less satisfying than I remember. The eight-line form, each line of a Whitmanic length, is not the problem. In most of the poems the problem is to do with, hmm, let's see, maybe the near-total absence of image?? That might have something to do with it. Without image being meaningfully deployed & developed, the prosaic tendency of C.K.'s long line tends to blot out anything poetic. The best of these poems ("The Modern," about eating a tomato; I mean, hot damn) are quite fine, but the worst are like entries from a shrink's nightly journal of Deep Thoughts.

Grennan's poems, however, shine. Much of this might relate to the fact that I can hear his Irish lilt reading each line (especially whenever I come to the word "heart"), but really he's just expert at what he does. I don't think he'd mind if I shared one.

Up Against It

It's the way they cannot understand the window
they buzz and buzz against, the bees that take
a wrong turn at my door and end up thus
in a drift at first of almost idle curiosity,
cruising the room until they find themselves
smack up against it and they cannot fathom how
the air has hardened and the world they know
with their eyes keeps out of reach as, stuck there
with all they want just in front of them, they must
fling their bodies against the one unalterable law
of things - this fact of glass - and can only go on
making the sound that tethers their electric
fury to what's impossible, feeling the sting in it.

Monday, January 31, 2005

A veritable slew

That's in reference to the changes made today to the site. I had to reconstruct my html skills, which were never very good, to get some of the quirky stuff altered to me liking.

Whoa. A Piper prop plane just came in toward the house at a hundred feet or so and pulled up sharply to the left. Arresting.

So right, I've been entering what's been called the blogosphere in a manner akin to entering the depths of the ocean. The ocean / Internet is a very easy thing to get into - both are vast and borderless. But below you, in the turquoise crevices of the coral formations, that's where the experienced scuba divers have their tea parties. And I'm at the stage of taking deep-breaths and free-swimming down as far as I can before I run out of air, and with none of the skill of the pearl-diver either. Still, whatever the learning curve, it's less steep thanks to Blogger.

None of this means I don't look forward to the day this site looks completely singular.

Finished Sweet Machine after lunch. What a fine volume. Fine, fine. I can't think of a book of poetry that is sequenced better. Five sections of five poems, with each section bracketed by shorter lyrics; in the middle of each section comes the heartbreak, the redemption, the epic cathedrals of light for which Mark Doty's deservedly known. I picked this volume up seven or eight years ago, I think by this point, when I was a wee high schooler. This would be from the bargain tables at the Borders in Syracuse, New York; I couldn't have paid more than $4.99 for it. Ironic that I'd read it in the befuddledment of my youth, not understand it but still try to emulate it, and then revisit it all these moons later and find him to be downright instrumental to my poetry and, well, to American poetry.

Yes, Doty might be said to mark the emergent aesthetic of the post-postmodern. I didn't want to ring that bell today, but I suppose I have to. See esp. "Mercy on Broadway" to see this aesthetic at work.

But more to the point today, more on my mind at the moment, is his use of the line break. Since post-post depends (or might depend) on a narrative integrity to the speaker's voice, any sound developing theory must contend with the "Well, this sounds like prose!" ejaculation from the peanut gallery. (Trivia Question of the Day: What are the names of the hecklers in the balcony during The Muppet Show?) Okay. There's scholarship out there, I know, that deals with this question explicitly, which I think is a wonderful thing. Agamben's The End of the Line and James Scully's "Line Break" in The Line in Postmodern Poetry to name just two articles deal with this matter in some detail. But to skip directly to Doty's work is to see some virtuosic, complex, & complicating breaks of line that usually sharply accentuate - even create - poetic meaning beyond that of the syntax, which is itself longish and therefore complex. Here's an excerpt from "Metro North," from Sweet Machine; the subject is a homeless man and the home he's been able to assemble for himself from the city's leave-offs:

and when my eye wandered
--five-second increments
of apprehension--I saw

he had a dog!
Who lay half in
half out his doghouse

in the rain, golden head
resting on splayed paws.
He had a ruined car,

and heaps of clothes,
and things to read--
was no emblem,

in other words,
but a citizen,
who'd built a citizen's

household, even
on the literal edge,
while I watched

from my quick,
high place, hurtling
over his encampment

by the waters of Babylon.)
Then we were gone,
in the heat and draft

of our silver, rattling
over the river
into the South Bronx,

against whose greasy
skyline rose that neoned
billboard for cigarettes

which hostages
my attention, always,
as it is meant to do,

its motto ruby
in the dark morning:

A few words stand out to me each reading. "Was no emblem," "hostages," and "ruby" - the first jars the reader as it hiccups the rhythm via returning to a syntactic thought that it seemed had just finished. The reader's attention & eye must jump back to the "He" that describes what the man had; after the double stop of the hyphen and the stop sign of white space at line's end, we have a syntactic restart that emphasizes those three words in a way that a prose rendering just never could. Really. No, I'll show how. I've been meaning to do this with Doty since I picked up SM a few days ago.

"...and when my eye wandered --five-second increments of apprehension--I saw he had a dog! Who lay half in half out his doghouse in the rain, golden head resting on splayed paws. He had a ruined car, and heaps of clothes, and things to read--was no emblem, in other words, but a citizen, who'd built a citizen's household, even on the literal edge, while I watched from my quick, high place..."

Clearly, even prosified, this sentence is no amateur. It is spry and acrobatic. But those three words are lost in the momentum of the prose line, and it's no longer as difficult a task for the reader to link that phrase with what's come before it. The poem forces the eye, or at least the eye of the mind, not only to jump up three lines, but
also over the abyssal white gap of the stanza break. I contend that this highly enjambed sentence heightens the visual and thematic impact of the phrase in question, and works throughout the poem to by turns arrest and accelerate readerly attention. It's as though the enjambment & line breaks are a sort of Chief Wiggum presence in the poem; you know that episode? There some sort of accident, and he's there saying, by turns, "Move it along folks, nothing to see here," and then he sees the accident and says, "OOH! Look, everybody, an accident! C'mon and let's gather around - c'mon, gather around!"

The adjective "ruby" glows in the poem by similar means; even a reader fully on board mentally speaking with the train of thought of the poetic sentence won't be able to immediate process a line like "it's motto ruby", which of course possesses the obvious meaning syntactically but for a brief moment in the instant of its being read, in the moment of its life, it might
as a line possess some other meaning. If only for a fraction of a second, you go, "Huh. A motto ruby." Then it's back aboard the Syntax Train and you see what Doty saw and wants you to see, namely the Newport billboard by the Hudson, but see how he's made those letters far, far more ruby?

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Push it out

That's the Beta Band. Also what I was doing today with the comments on student papers. Sometimes, I would rather chew rocks. But they are done, for better or worse. I wisely kept the best papers for last - those rare few papers that have something to say & say it well; one drew a thoroughgoingly graceful comparison of the Civil Rights context with that of the current gay marriage debate - as the former was a clear societal wrong, so too is the latter. I'd never given an A before, but this student made me.

It's been a few days since I've written a palatable poem. As G______ said, you've got to find your voice (as everyone says one must) because, having done so, you're able to know not only how to sing, but also when your voice is hitting the flats and sharps. I like this analogy. I suppose then that what I've been writing the last fourish days has been so much phlegmy but still important harrumphing.

Now for dinner with Mark Doty. The written version of him, anyway.