Disruptive Juxtaposition

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Running notes selected from an in-process poetry review

One of the most intriguing things about O’Brien’s work in The Guns & Flags Project is its tendency to maintain an intact, technically-correct syntax, even as it adds up to something that is both less and more than a syntactically exact sentence:

And as it spoke of dawn the messenger became
less true or more sound filled the air
and ran along the ground like hair under water…

The “it” here undergoes so many changes and assumes so many disparate characters that a reader suspects the nature or identity of “it” is supposed to be lost, even though this sentence and others like it do make sense as sentences, which is to say that a schoolmarm could parse it out according to her habit. But they don’t necessarily make sense as an idea or a logically-connected series of ideas. Its logic is kept from us on purpose.

And as it spoke of dawn the messenger became
less true or more sound filled the air
and ran along the ground like hair under water,
in the nervously rehearsing patterns of traffic,
and as it went on clearing speech with the bishop
it became less of a messenger and more of
a rose drying out of sight, a fragrance,
until there were no parts at all in the view,
only a laborious frankness bigger than ever
hung everywhere in the quillcolored sky.

While these lines aren’t totally bereft of logic and direction, they pull toward nonsense, or an obscure sense. Taken at the speed of this average reader, the fact that the poem’s syntactically surefooted pulls one in, but the addled, all-over references and changing subjects frustrate a surefooted reading. One’s reminded of Noam Chomsky’s “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” which demonstrated that grammatical and syntactic correctness is no guarantee of intelligibility.

This is one of the stronger aspects of O’Brien’s work: one’s pulled along by the apparent clarity of the sentence level, but the content of those sentences blurs by. What stands out are certain key lines that function, er, as keys: “looking for all the violence was”, “a thing so young even its hopes are bitter”, “and the clouds come out like workers from a mine”. These are the points of access: they stand out from the technically-right, possibly-wrong-sense-wise sentence. One gets the sense that one is reading a poem of striking individual lines rather than striking sentence cast into lines; one suspects she is looking at a handful of pearls, rather than a necklace of pearls connected with a string, even though the string—the sentence—is right there to see.

Recently acquired

Anathallo, Floating World.

Aphex Twin, I Care Because You Do.

Devendra Banhart, Nino Rojo.

Devendra Banhart, Cripple Crow.

Coco Rosie, Le Maison de Mon Reve..

Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat.

Serge Gainsbourg, Comic Strip.

Mitch Hedberg, Mitch All Together.

El Perro Del Mar, El Perro Del Mar.

Russian Divine Liturgy, performed by the Novospassky Monastery Choir.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Post-postmodernism Sighting #77

Let's welcome Sincerity, Inc. to the DJ blogroll. It was on this site that the sighting was made.

Ah, belief. Something rather than nothing. We can all go in on that, right?