Thursday, February 10, 2011

Throbbing Actualities

The Imperfect, poetry by George Tysh
United Artists Books, 2010.

Marin Mersenne, the 17th century musical theorist and member of the Franciscan order who is recognized as the Father of Acoustics, and who preferred the lute accompanying a solo voice to all other musical instruments, believed in the perfection of imperfection. He stressed the idea that the purity of musical intervals (the distance in pitch between two notes) was not only relative, but dependent on context. If perfection is static, a state of final completion, imperfection is a dynamic condition, a ghost seeking flesh, a body of sound seeking temperament and fiber.

Sound is nothing if it is not heard. Music is alive and transports the soul of the musician to the ears and souls of the listeners. This, in essence, is imperfection. The irrational, the strange, the fragmentary, the elliptical are as necessary to the living being of a work of art as are the intervals and semitones in a piece of music.

The same principle obtains in poetry. The interaction between invisible thoughts and visible emanations may be described in terms of vibrations. What Whitehead terms “actual entities” in which there are no gradations of importance. The connections between matter and the dynamics of inner consciousness are inherently imperfect as there can be no completion. There is no such thing as completion. “God is an actual entity, and so is the most trivial puff of existence in far-off space.”

Hence, the more fragmentary and elliptical a work tends to be, the more it stresses these underlying principles. Such is the work of Tysh’s The Imperfect. The interplay of the interpretive possibilities of the whole utterance, or poem, constitutes an interanimation of words in a living organism. In other words, an experience. “Throbbing actualities.”

The poems in The Imperfect are small. They repose on the page lightly, entities of soft phenomenon, nuggets of gnomic seduction surrounded by space, the white of the page. “Link,” a poem of five lines, seeks what Mallarmé termed as a condition of music, a sense of the beyond magically produced by a certain disposition of words.

The best is behind us. Lumps of grace
imparting to urine the smell of violets,
the contents of a hallway seen through doors.
Holistic ass, organic member, nutritious putrefaction,
the fuck of death.

“The best is behind us” is a prosaic beginning; “Lumps of grace” contrasts sharply with its elliptical predication. We intuit muscle, human bodies in coitus, rumpled sheets, rumpled flesh. The acrid smell of urine, combined with the smell of violets, which are sweet, and which many people find redolent of the Victorian period. ‘Holistic’ is a new age word to my mind, holistic medicine, holistic dentistry, holistic vet. There is also a nice pun here, in relationship to ass. The word is pertinent, since it refers to the idea that all the properties of a system (biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, geographic, genetic, etc.,) cannot be explained by its component parts alone. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

“Nutritious putrefaction” is a nice paradox. It reminds me of the nursing logs in the forest, great hulking trees that have fallen and in their rotting nourish a diversity of fern and fungus and new trees.

“The fuck of death” is my favorite line. It has the sound of desperation to it, but also a jubilant, I don’t give a fuck kind of triumphalism, and a slightly onomatopoetic excitation.

There are nine sections of poetry in this collection, small, intriguing entities whose outward style alters in form occasionally, ranging from free verse words dispersed on the page `a la Mallarmé’s “Un coup de des jamais n’abolira le hazard” to the more structurally formal pieces in the section titled “Aperçus désagréables (for Ron Padgett).

The latter are constructed in stanzas. The first, “Unforced Landing,” focuses on the business of airline travel.

The bleached runway
and its faded terminal
remind our anxious passengers
of a scene they’ve seen somewhere
outside in the gleaming unprocessed air of
freely coming and going.

And the muffled static
of what passes for music
(actually a timeless performance of jazz)
is dimly perceived through tinny earphones
and of no more than symbolic relevance
to their poor tired ears

Welcomed as they are to a tarmac
stained with memories of a thousand
voyages under an unblinking sun
or clouded in a flash by showers
from which there is no shelter,
their common implacable destination.

Although this is one of the more transparent pieces in this collection, the pathos and associations of this poem are very complex. The jazz that is so dimly perceived through the little earphones provided by the airlines that is so tinny to the fatigued traveler as to be no more than “symbolic relevance” underscores the sensation of alienation that is such a hallmark of our era. The disconnection, the buffering, the array of conveniences, all comprise an environment that ultimately deadens, yet soothes and lulls as it deadens. The final line, “their common implacable destination,” gleams through all this technological sophistication with the implacable force of a knife blade. The illusion of freely coming and going is starkly revealed by the glare of the sun, and the initial bump of the tires on the tarmac when the plane lands and reverses the thrust of its engines.

Yet, there is a great deal of beauty revealed in these lines. They evoke a familiar world and give it an unfamiliar richness, excite, through their slightly oblique references, the interest of novelty. They seek, the in the image of "gleaming unprocessed air," the immediacy of experience. They encourage us to perceive our perceptions, make us aware of our perceptions. Awakens us, as Coleridge once phrased it, "from the lethargy of custom."

Tysh captures the mood of landing in a plane, a moment of passive reflection. The aisle is too crowded to get up. We gaze out of the window, study what is below.

Which is chiefly the tarmac.

“Stained with memories of a thousand / voyages under an unblinking sun” converts, metaphorically, the tarmac into a Talmud of airborne pilgrimages.

A poem titled, simply, “Heart” achieves a remarkably vivid effect in just six lines, using a combination of rhyme and line spacing.

the outline of a soap dish
on a shelf in the pink

evaporates this morning
in the bathroom I think

of it

That “beating” at the end, so remarkably palpable, is emphasized by its unexpectedness and dissonant incongruity following the rhyme pattern of ‘pink’ and ‘think.’ It dangles, at the end, a pendant reminder of mortality, transience, and a touch of the sublime.

A throbbing actuality, to be sure.

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