Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Death of Poetry

Because poetry died
I was finally able to write
A poem. Because the knuckle-draggers
Won and the poets lost
Their black holes to blackberries
There is a lurid meaning waiting
To happen in the honest
Stink of the swamp. Which is to say
Poetry is an eyebrow
Of meringue incubating
In the handkerchief
Of a dragonfly. Poetry
Venerates the jukebox
Whose lambent glow
Preserves the heat of a moment
Thundering in the rhinestones
Of the Zeitgeist. Opacity
Is more than a dog
Barking in a dog kennel
Otherwise poetry gets through
And spoils everyone’s conversation
With things they don’t understand
And the world is a mirror
When everything wet
Hurts to say it. The ecstasy
Of an X-ray oozing sexuality
On an intuition perched high
On a telephone wire still does
To words what words do
To one another, which is solidly
Indeterminate. So you can see
Why poetry died. None of this
Amounts to a bottle of shampoo
So who the fuck cares if poetry dies
When poetry is dead it’s finally
Possible to write poetry

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Mirror Writing

Here it is an emotion so big it mirrors
Reality. The gravitation of a piano
In England undoes a zipper that provides
An insight into the reality of clothing
And its deeper meanings. A nude
Woman squeezing a sponge
Against her leg illustrates the possibilities
Of going without clothing, even
For a short time. I’m going to throw
Another idea at you which is ribbons
And prisms in the philosophy
Of mirrors. What do you do
With a load of consciousness
So delighted to be a pastel that it
Flails about drunkenly knocking
The lamp over? And what impels
My reflection to act like a Technicolor
Movie whenever I shave with a long
Benediction? We are our own
Loopholes. Every situation is new
But Brobdingnagian. I get up and walk
Looking for an airplane made of glass
Doing delicate things. My meanings
Are spilled onto the table where they
Assume a life of oceanic ambivalence  
Symmetry has implications of cotton
If you believe that it helps to sparkle
Like a language. Is there life on Mars?
Yes, of course there is, and Marilyn Monroe
On a postcard. André Breton arrives
In a flying saucer and stops the world
With a kiss. Nothing hurts like indifference
And so I decided at last to get old in Hollywood
Feeling all those big emotions that one day drift
Onto paper and stare back at you like meat
Aching, abhorrent, and personal

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Secret Presence

Electrical Theories of Femininity
Poetry by Sarah Mangold
Black Radish Books, 2015
The first title of this collection  -  “I meant to be transparent”  -  put a smile on my face. One thing Sarah Mangold is not is transparent. I refer, of course, to the actual Sarah, the flesh and blood Sarah, the Sarah who constructed these poems. The Sarah whose devotion to the written word is so profound that she brings in an entire community to share it with her as she herself remains behind the curtain. This is among the most ego-less writing I’ve seen.
Mangold is a master of the collage form. Her poems are pure constructions with virtually no subjectivity whatever at their center. One senses her presence as a guiding principle, but it’s an invisible, not a transparent vector of personhood. Mangold writes very much in the vein of a contemporary Mallarmé. The work is based entirely on the life of words and phrases resonating with one another, fragments in drifting, aleatoric collision à la Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard (“A Throw of the Dice will not Abolish Chance”). Mangold’s poems are non-linear mosaics, verbal fragments pieced together in delicate convocation.
For convocation is precisely what they are, different voices from the literary world convened in a chorus of scissored calculus, exploring the sentence and its parameters, occurrences, absorptions, shifts and changes and the space between fragments, the pluridimensionality of different values in diverse lighting. The lines do not call attention to themselves as linear communications; rather, they refocus attention on the space the reader must fill and cross in viewing the lines as volatile combinations, an associational errancy in a state of becoming, aided by the reader’s ability to forge intertextual relationships according to the author’s poetic manipulation of space and elements of design.
Whereas Mallarmé’s “Throw of the Dice” has an evident allegorical element overriding its production in which the dispersed lines evoke the tumultuous waves of a storm at sea, the layout reinforcing the rising and falling motion of the sea waves and bobbing fragments, the loss of meaning threatened by the inherent navigational problems, the spirit overriding Mangold’s poems is one of femininity. Gaston Bachelard identified the spirit of reverie in poetry as essentially feminine in that it is essentially non-utilitarian. Mangold’s collages are pre-eminently non-utilitarian; her constellations invite multiple meanings and forms, a recognition that poetry is ill-suited to carry conviction beyond the sphere of the mutable. The Ondine comes to mind, elemental beings associated with water, first named in the alchemical writings of Paracelsus, and which are generally found in forest pools and waterfalls. Mercurial and elusive, their beautiful singing voices are sometimes heard over the sound of water.
There are three sections in this collection and an appendix which carefully lists the source texts for Mangold’s collage poems. “The Panic of the Multiple Narrative World,” which appears as the first poem in the third section, evokes the spirits of Whitman and Lincoln. Here is the poem in its entirety:
                             Whitman & Lincoln authorized all my
responsibilities. Two volumes of trauma classroom
a custodian of their hopes. Janitors all aims. Finding
these post national backgrounds new bandages. The
archival madness becomes apparent at this point.
       biography                bibliography
everything that belonged to the lived space. All the
19th century is deeply unrealized. There are certain
writers I can’t think about.
        Your eye otherwise
        Sound is important.
        Sound is successful.
What you do is extend that space.
Add beats within it.
Skirt the work.
        Meaningless is a form of meaning. Beauty is
Unavoidable. Salvation is totalizing but salvage is
Pulled and put back into your heart.
There are a lot of intriguing lines here. Which ones belong to Mangold and which have been taken from another source I do not know. Collectively, they hold the breath of a secret, a coition of words and things that propose a lush garden where one is free from assertions and in which “meaninglessness is a form of meaning.”
But I’m intrigued: I want to know what she means by “All the 19th century is deeply unrealized.” Is she referring to the western ideals of that century, the beginnings of Marxism, the literary and political achievements of figures such as Whitman and Lincoln mentioned at the outset, Mallarmé’s metaphysical crisis, the basic unresolved and unresolvable paradox of the human condition, which is to be perpetually hovering between absence and presence, being and nothingness, life and death? Who are the writers the author can’t think about? What is it to not be able to think about certain writers? I have deep, unresolvable conflicts with writers such as Martin Heidegger, Ezra Pound and E.M. Cioran, chiefly because of their affiliations with the Nazi regime. It’s not easy for me to reject them because their creative work is so powerful and influential. I have to separate the art from the artist, the philosophy from the philosopher. Is that what’s occurring here? Is it a crisis of conscience? Oftentimes, just to have these questions provoked in me is its own satisfaction, troubling as it is. What is of relevance is the way this poem has been structured. By arranging lines in non-linear, paratactic settings, Mangold alters their utilitarian function. The words cease to be reproductions which imitate appearance and so reflect experience in that one-dimensional framework; instead, the words become objects, things, essential matter; they don’t imitate experience, they initiate experience.
I particularly like her play on ‘salvation’ and ‘salvage.’ Salvation has strong religious applications, and is generally accompanied by scripture and its “totalizing” dogma. Salvage is pragmatic: that which is slated for demolition is redeemed, repaired, reacquisitioned. There is no dogma, only an effort to preserve, protect from destruction.
In “The Machine Has Not Destroyed the Promise,” Mangold remarks “If motion caused a disagreement of any kind we are regarding the same universe but have arranged it different spaces. That is to be the understanding between us.” Flux is the underlying principle of Mangold’s art. Collage serves her purposes because its elements are reflective of time and space as simultaneities of phenomena contingent upon observable events. Space is supple. No two events will be experienced the same if they’re viewed from different locations.
In his essay “Nature, Abstraction, Time,” Octavio Paz makes some points about modernist art that are pertinent within this context. “Presence is not only what we see: André Breton speaks of the ‘inner model,’ meaning that ghost that haunts our nights, that secret presence that is proof of the otherness of the world…Presence is the cipher of the world, the cipher of being. It is also the scar, the trace of the temporal wound: it is the instant, instants. It is meaning pointing to the object designated, an object desired and never quite attained… Meaning lies elsewhere: always a few steps farther on.”  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


It sometimes happens that a harmonica strikes the ears until one’s ganglions provide a version of morality that might appear peppy, if not for the cornelian cherry. Our abalone peppers its hums at language. There is clatter amid our signals. Let’s toss a gulp into proposition and watch the swallow of opinion. The Mediterranean verifies pins. There is a spirit in the ether. There is a house in New Orleans. What piano? Nature has given us the use of language. It’s a condition more resilient than those of the United States. I get angry quite often. There is a street where things are quicker at the edge of night. Shine of the rails is a tonic for the eyes. It’s always a little strange to sit in an exam room with the Statue of Liberty. The willow isn’t glued together with fiddlesticks anymore. Burlap envelops waves and wind and thought. Objects report the darkness in my room. The lobsters are resonant with red. My sternum contributes parabolas, a bag of nails that the rub of abrasion unites like a rag from a kitchen sink, oblong beeps of tailgate yaks. What happens if I engrave in you the permission to glitter? Locomotive whose wheels imitate the stars, whole roundnesses of steely convolution. Attack cogs that gravity salts. And dishes and ripples and opened carving sharply fang. Admire walks in. My favorite fabric consists of syllables until my tongue gets drunk with description. Piercing sounds of creosote. When I think of the ocean’s requirement’s I stumble. The cement conducts combs. The table causes itself by percolating pumpkins. I feel a certain sorcery weight which is alive with thirst. The digestion of art acts like a dry monstrosity. The air bites shrewdly. I merge into radiance. Ripple and a hoe and a grammar expanding the morning and flailing at the perspectives of invention that a talk animates. Airport ripped rain and a pronoun. I feel planets if there is a teeming I congregate to play the guitar. I is a pronoun in which propagation graces conceptual shouting. Timelessness is very much more than time and makes it that a meditation is a mode of scripture so sweet are the singular pleasures of reading. I am blatant, blessed, and taffeta. A fiber, basically. When I was in Paris I was sometimes sounding myself like a piano. I can put some emphasis on chewing the parallels, but would it wink? Walking and waking made a pain yaw and wag and then I came to a hill where I said fur and contrasts. French ocher hive is considered rhetorical, nicely repaired if it cuts the air but rides on a tongue and the size is the same when recognition relies on time to engage the mind. It’s a kind of recruitment. We tower over our detonation of burning forms listening to the hatchets hatch into Middle English. Birds are experienced symbolically. I is a hectic conceit that dissolves in suspension. Explore the stars. Power is only a heat. Wonder incised the clutter. We forced the scent to smell like magnetic flux. Embodiment happens when the oscillation goes all spontaneous and suede. What thinks our orchard of space? Bump a monument under the air. The kinetic boat glue is opened by pliers. Rivers clutter and luxuriate in our pockets. My dab teases a daub of definition and deforms the wiggle with skin. The hymn sends us jumping into hammerhead hats brimming with Germany. My arms pause in mutation. Personality’s anchors are painted a red and white and blue seclusion. Darkness and sympathy unite in thought. My stick bumps the heart and its fragrances produce a parade of beggars, groans, dampness, and winter. Existence is trouble and there is a consequent conviviality and the light is splashy. Velocity is a form of gasoline that weighs like play to a buttonhole. Plurality stirs thought. Do you believe in singing? The sky is totally eczema. Structure invites provocation. It is more the form of the farm than is its livelihood, which is cows and cowls and a fine black crow. Thank you for allowing me this moment to experiment with these words, which are pushing themselves into another lip to get spoken like snow.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Dividends of Desire

Go ahead. Pepper the potato and sparkle. Let the kerosene slosh around in the can. The thermometer is compelling and voracious for oars. The temperatures this year are gloomy and mild, sliding through the veins like envy. I’m going to paint the kitchen sink and frame it in a galaxy of oak. The stabbed ghost of my childhood wanders in a herd of caribou. Even the paper upon which I write ejaculates words in the exigencies of the moment, which are uncannily public. Thereby I’m going to glue my throat to the river and speak in the language of bark. I’m going to accommodate beauty. We will boil cabbage and admire beautiful things. The bold suppleness of my passion fulminates in an agitated journey of hospitals and horseshoes. If I spend a dime and let it flourish like a dime and circulate like a dime the dime will return to me as a dime and shine like a dime and enter my pocket like a dime and slip like a dime and slide like a dime and drop like a dime.
Bend your thoughts to the infrared. Let conception sway in your brain. I will give you an odyssey of lobsters and elves. Deliver opinion to the hunger for cypress. Include the growth of crystal. There are arms for this. I love coffee and the color red. There’s a certain red that flutters its wings in an academy of black. The black of coffee. The black of night and angels and mirrors and meteors and messiahs. O spirit of paste allow me to embody cardboard in an ambience of pique. Let my tongue extend beyond the spoons of pleading. Let me explore the invisible. Let me wade through the surf singing of chivalry and formaldehyde.
My intestines operate according to the laws of digestion. This is proved by biochemistry. There’s a hammer in the lobster boat that will confirm the weight of my dreams. Increase your fingers with a smear of rose. The crabs are on strike. Heaven’s arms descend like steep cliffs. The highway twists over a geology of divine elocution. The road toward paradise crashes through the ribcage. Erupts from the throat in a blaze of glory. The development of history proves more and more apocalyptic. It’s easy to see where this is going. Picasso has splashed my words with the sexual fluids of his muse. You can see it in the glimmering of the mouth. The warm flailing of the tongue. The passion to explain the inexplicable.
Corot’s magic oars flourish beyond the compote. A wall of spices secures the vagaries of an ancient religion. A timeless anthology of whispers suits the grain of the table. We endure the persistence of hope. An antenna emerges from the great tugging body of expectation and wiggles around looking for scarabs. The groaning of pipes extrudes from a phonograph. I ponder nutmeg with an armload of clay to embolden my reckonings of fire. We like to wear bronze as we pour ourselves into our hands. Grammar parodies the gymnastics of thought. My acceptance of acupuncture arrives as a revelation. In the end it’s the suppleness of the ghosts in us that neutralize the pain of existence. The heart is sterling that weighs the dividends of desire.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

How to Get Rich Writing Poetry

That’s right you too can be a Donald Trump
A Warren Buffett of poetry
A buffet of trumpets a warren of infinite crisis
Just follow these easy steps
To a cocktail lounge sit down and employ
A ceremony of words in a roiling brook
Of magnetic obscurities. An angel
     of the morning
Will drop coins of moonlight on your table
Which you can spend on a martini or a root beer
Your call. Me, I prefer cream soda
But that’s neither here nor there
     what’s important
Is getting rich. Here’s how to do it invest
     all of yourself
In the sound of something greenbrier
     or Sea of Cortez
This is rich this is true wealth my friend
Words will propagate like waves and roam
In your heart walking up and down
Haunted by the prospect of eternal life
In heavenly leaves of sycamore
What more do you want than a sycamore
There’s more to a sycamore than a sycamore
Escalator grease do you want escalator grease
You can have all the escalator grease you want
All you have to do is say escalator grease
And you will have escalator grease
Escalating throughout the universe
That is the poem. The poem that engages
     your being
Join me in swallowing reality
Take a great big gulp it just so happens
That we’re all surrounded by this thing
Called reality when you go to the bank
To deposit your opus their conception
Of what constitutes money will be different
Than yours don’t let that discourage you
Let the world lift itself into your eyes
     and hang
In your brain annuities perpetuities
     legal tender
And certificates of rain

Thursday, April 9, 2015

This is your Contusion on Drugs

This is your contusion on drugs. The glue is worded. Tears fit the eager sorrow. A dream of earth makes our sleep sparkle. I enkindle a word behind the pearl earrings that dangle from the moon above the house. A totem stitched at midnight feathers into resource. I shadow the carp. I oblige the sidewalk to sob oceans of ablution. All of this is happening. All of this is fourth dimensional and hermetic and vertical. A little bit of it is also a little uncertain and some of it is bloated and testimonial. The words are spurred, exciting ideas of possession. This is my stick and this is my sparkly Pythagorean dime. This is the drawing of a snake and this is brimming with Germany. This is extruding an aristocratic corpse and this is unfettered by income. It goes on and on and on. I have pulp and pubic hair. I’ve had these things for a long time and the day will come when the bank will accept my string and hold my account in ageless red dots. I will avenge the zip codes. I will accept winter. I will better appreciate darkness and sympathy and recognize adjectives for the trembling Fauve environments they truly are. Then I will be successful. I will expand into henna. Because the kitchen has volume and the war is over. This paragraph must be described as a shop smelling of Shakespeare’s plays. One day is quite anonymous and another brings puddles and experience. One moment I’m cloth and the next moment I’m all horse and Bob Dylan. I tend to experience flowers differently than other mammals. I lift myself into my sweat and take a long sniff and before my tongue has shaped a word my hunger is aroused and the western horizon gathers into pockets and powerful green knobs that denote horsepower. The excitement is hectic. Please believe me when I say that my attitude toward money is less than ideal. I spend most of my time describing the indescribable. The computer helps. A little. Eventually a completely useless feeling comes along and protects me from the shapes of ambition. I hang my clothes in the closet like anyone else but when it comes to feeling the need to need I don’t need it to need me I simply need to need it when it needs me. That which is entirely fire is also orange. But hey. It’s nice and cool in the Abalone Lounge. There’s room for the dishes and one day the loopholes will close and our hands will feel the weight of the universe connecting us like skin, or something akin to skin, something jolly like mud or hypothesis. A mind, after all, is nothing less than the shadow of a sentence that hasn’t yet been written.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Many Subtleties of Dishwashing

I feel a certain sorcery in the blood. I wrinkle and repair myself by pain. Gravity thickens in the House of Recognition. Words trickle into willow creating obstetrics and imagination. Imagination gives birth to the Alligators of Prophecy, all of them focused on salt. This is what the fiddlesticks demand. I must act monstrously, like a conquest that begins on Wednesday and by Friday has begun to percolate the Louvre. I’m full of the heavy water of accommodation. I proliferate in flowers. I feel the wiggly ambush of a wooden brain. Sirens interacting with the fingers of summer. Pronouns standing erect in the smell of language, like bags of semantic cement piled on a loading dock in Milwaukee. Facial nerves, ink, and nothingness.These are the sounds that are fossilized in abstraction. And these are the sounds that jerk around and snap into emotion. Big emotions, like the ones that churn with gas stations, pumping the serious fluids of life and thrilling through our hands in obscurities of future combustion. I am a fold of night. I am filled with unleaded consciousness and the burn of rain on the dissonance of time. My equipment is feathers and ears. I glitter to play the guitar and crawl into morality to obtain a mind of swallows. Shaving is a conceit that has turned spectral, like Fred Astaire. I feel names tapping on my feet. Pronouns thrashing around in science. The many subtleties of dishwashing parade in chronological utopias of soap and odor. I am altogether impressed by shoes. I spent the legendary summer of 1967 whispering all the words in the dictionary. Grammar is a muscle. I didn’t really to mean to buy a house just now but the grammar of mutation made me do it. I signed all the papers and spent my birthday among the filigreed. I celebrate my birthday every day. I string words together like beads and crawl out of a vagina in Paris smelling sudden and sophisticated like a pair of experiences that culminate in glue and cause the world to stick together. You might want to try sliding around sometime on something ocher, or emotional, like paper. Paper offers us miracles of hockey and shines in the eyes opening the mind as it plays among mirrors. Is that a door in your head? Or just a stepladder fattened on Plato? Here I am pulling myself along like a fire escape. I knew something like this would happen. As long as you carry the smell of life around there will be socks for the elves and infinity burning in the mystery of incentive. I’m sorry for being so personal, but desire is awkward, and unpredictable. This is why we find elephants in our dreams, and shiver to absorb the stars.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

When is Art Art?

When is art art? Art is art when it is everywhere art. That is to say rain. Snow. Mud. Movement. The grace inherent in things. The violence of things, violence of the air, volume in thunder, lightning, fire on the prairie. Smoke in the eyes. Experience. When experience is augmented by thought, by stone, by paint, by dance, by words, experience becomes art. It’s a translation of a language hidden in stones. Sermons in stone, books in brooks. Antlers on a shaman’s head. A man gazing at a lamp in an igloo and seeing visions of ancestors in snow, later to become a history engraved in bone.
Art is transformation. Existence is raw without it. Art lifts, elevates, alters, inspires, fills the brain with swimming images, fires like lightning in the neurons, eyes flashing like opals in the midnight solitude of Kansas. Art has the smell of wood and turpentine, the glop and dribble and smoothness of paint, the frolic and athletic power of dance, the canvas of air when words leave the mouth and enter other ears, other brains, changing like clouds in the thoughts of others.
The commodification of art does serious damage to the spirit and intellect. Art requires risk, the dare to say or represent something disastrous, threatening, and ugly. It has to have this possibility. It has to be a dragon of fierce autonomy. It has to threaten. It has to be dangerous. But not dangerous like money, which is polluting like cholera and typhus. Dangerous like the gleam of metal in a sword, the jewels of its hilt.
Art resists integration. It resists industrialization, purpose, utility. A hammer, a car, a radio, a smartphone can be a beautiful object and can have aesthetic qualities. But it will not be art. It will not have that quality of transcendent force about it, that aura of glorious purposeful purposelessness, of which Kant identified, and will feel dead as a faucet, banal as a doorknob or gym locker. A computer has no more allure than a refrigerator. But the poetry that gets preserved among its pixels has the aura of non-integrative beauty.
Art is the metaphoric counterpart of exploration. It’s synonymous with experiment. It stimulates dalliance. It parachutes through the nebulae of theory like a reverie of space. It amuses. It kills. It gleans. It multiplies ideas. It needs form because  -  existing in and of itself  -  the processes of its development involve static elements. Words, paint, marble, clay. Melody, rhythm, timbre, texture. The work remains still. The premises immediately posited by the work are fulfilled as its result. The work is permeated with its own essence. Garlic holds space in a trance of envelopment. A curve emancipates a feather. Colors arc into the embroidery of a thought.
Art is art when it opens a door in the head and a universe walks out.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Suitcase is Finally Lyrical

Distance murders velocity. How
Is this the same as our more authentic being
Of refinement and spheres? The official
Manipulation behooves me to wait
For your pathos with a mentally pressed
Upheaval. The scrupulously grappled
Navigation of flowing with lightning
Varnishes the mahogany of our shirts
And opposes nature. Charm a harmonica
And cab up the snow. A discarded
Wind articulates the wear of autumn
And its rapier chivalry. Toss a hammer
And the hail tastes of amplitude. Canoe
The paradox. Speculation is sticky
With maple bugs shifted toward Boston
And the light is swollen with sideboards
The aggression feels wavy and the propellers
Are so much pigment and yet there
Is a pleasure to be with oneself
And composure and thirst. Chronological glands
Chronological drawers. A crimson infinity
Asleep in the furniture. It’s only natural
To abandon cardboard and smell
Like adaptation. I accredit substance
With attitude and hurry to be an incident
A fence and fencing lessons and tea
Anger is expressive and so is bristling
If I flow into sounds and taste the sublime
Images can be pretty or excused. Infantry
Road has no gravel and the opposition
I hold to be the nebular prominence
Of a problem many times cooked
By holding a glow until the touch
Of the world sparkles like a paragraph
The Blob stretches into medicine  
And the suitcase is finally lyrical


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Close Encounters of the Rhizomatous Kind

Alien Abduction
Poetry by Lewis Warsh
Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015  

Is poetry a UFO? Are poets extraterrestrials? Yes and no. Which is to mean mainly yes and a little bit no. Which is to mean I simply don’t know. 

Poetry, if it is done well, leads to an acute sense of defamiliarization, which is a kind of alien abduction, to be sure. “It is perfectly clear that language is influenced by socioeconomic conditions,” observed Victor Schklovsky in his preface to The Theory of Prose. “The word is a thing. It changes in accordance with the linguistic laws that govern the physiology of speech and so on.” 

Alter language, you alter reality. To immerse yourself in a poem is to take a ride in a vehicle of defamaliarization. It is to subject ourselves to a dynamic act of perception brought into play by the poet’s technique. This is not abduction, since it is a willed condition, but the sense of alienation transmitted by the poet via the poem to the listener or reader is none the less real. The abduction may be mutual, but the world is not the same. The estrangement we feel is as penetrating and actual as any experience we’re apt to have in the realm of the imagination.  

Lewis Warsh has been a prominent figure in contemporary American poetry for at least four decades. This new collection offers a variety of technique for the transport of our intellect to distant planets whose distance is relative to the scope of our interior life, far away as Mars and contingent as a dinner plate. 

“Alien Abduction,” the poem on page from which this collection derives its title, begins with a line of dispassionate instability: “The line of least defense has melted away.” The tone is neutral, the lack of resistance feels resigned, calm, almost good, as if a tranquilizing drug were beginning to take effect. The following lines are a disjunctive pastiche of statements drawn from highly dissimilar aspects of life, some commonplace, some dramatic, some imagistic and mysterious, such as the sentence “An animal in a carrier left on a subway platform overnight.” The image is an abduction of alien import; one pictures the animal in a state of agitation, or look of woeful anxiety, not knowing what the animal actually is. One might assume it’s a cat, or a dog, but it might be an iguana, an anaconda, or a raccoon. The image sits there on the page, speculative, compact, and unresolved.

The following stanzas, of which there are nine in all, continue the pattern. Stanza four includes a sub-stanza rendered in italics, which begins with an odd, Piranesian image of urban squalor and then makes declarations concerning the pitfalls of love:

Brackish water cascades from faucet to
cupped hands and then disappears into
drainage system of old-fashioned tenement
apartment. Don’t complain.
You can love someone without lying.
You can love someone with equal
intensity. You can sink into the
sickness of infinitude and never

Reading Warsh is always a joy. Words bubble out of the page fresh and sparkling like water from a spring. It is a remarkable thing that poets such as John Ashbery, Alice Notley, and Lewis Warsh grow stronger and brighter as they age. Of these three, Warsh is less prone toward the oneiric and introspective and more inclined toward imagery of a quotidian, urban, experiential nature. It is the way he juxtaposes sentences in delightfully incongruous, paratactic structures that give them their energy.  

Victor Shklovsky once again in Theory of Prose: “A literary work is pure form; it is neither a thing nor material but a relationship of materials.” In Alien Abduction, dissonances splash like cymbals in jazz, vibrate in the mind creating ripples, echoes, foment, words in bright mosaic, cartoons of our lives in bubbles of conversation, drifting, meandering, exploring.  

Warsh’s universe is eminently social and diverting: spoons, socks, dinners, dates, a long train ride along the Hudson. This makes the title of this collection all the more ironic. One doesn’t encounter the eeriness of a Roslyn, New Mexico or anal probe aboard an alien starship so much as a gentle twist of perception. The extraterrestrials in this collection wear ivy shirttails.

In “New Travelogue,” a poem of nine short stanzas rendered in short, declarative sentences, everything pivots on the pronoun “I.” A series of events is listed, some spectacular, some mundane. The poem builds in comedic energy. The “I” of the poem appears manic. “I stumbled out of the bushes / to see a deer drink from a pool,” “I bothered friends with my troubles,” “I floated on my back in the ocean / at Maui… Took LSD in Paris and sat /  on a bench in the Luxembourg Gardens,” “I missed my flight from Madrid to Lisbon,” “I wheeled a stroller down an icy New / England street… Called the suicide hotline / but no one answered,” “I sang karaoke in a bar in Tibet,” and so on, building  -   through geography and situation   -   an identity of hectic ramification.

Warsh is also a writer of fiction (Spuyten Duyvil recently published One Foot Out the Door, The Collected Stories of Lewis Warsh), and many of the pieces in Alien Abduction have the feel of fiction, short narrations whose capricious designs offer aperçus and advice concerning daily matters such as socks and underwear, or ice skating and homicide. In “Difference” (“There’s a difference between being with someone and being alone, but I can’t tell you what it is”), the narrator is not quite sure whether to be grateful to be alive or what, exactly, to do in life. Some cities to visit, perhaps: “Prague, Berlin, Vilnus, Odessa.” The overall feeling is one of blithe acceptance of life’s inherent uncertainties, the kind of negative capability that keeps life interesting and leads to adventures that  -  for the narrator  -  are whimsical velleities, like walking “the Malecón in La Paz, one last time,” or swiveling one’s “hips in time to the music, an old disco record hidden away in someone’s attic.”  

“Dark Study,” for Bill Berkson, is a series of sentences remarking on a variety of events and ideas, none of which are related. A sampling of several lines   -  “Maybe abstraction sounds the death knell to the colloquial stammer, a tightening of the windpipe as the muffler explodes,” “You better turn on the defroster if you want to see through the windshield”  -  reveals the kind of incongruity that embodies the space between them, broadening the expanse of the similar in the dissimilar. “Some writers,” observed Rosmarie Waldrop in Dissonance (If You Are Interested), “are more concerned with finding ‘the right word,’ the perfect metaphor; others are more concerned with ‘what happens between’  the words, with composition, exploring the sentence and its boundaries, slidings, the gaps between fragments, the shadow zone of silence, of margins.” “Dark Study” takes this tendency to an extreme. It takes our brain into the outer space of a cosmos of sentences so constellated that each beams in independence of one another.  

Again, Rosmarie Waldrop: “any use of language is a passport to the fourth dimension.”  

I’ve never been abducted by aliens or had my anus probed by curious extraterrestrials, but I can tell you that life often feels like an abduction in and of itself, and that the overall feeling is often disorienting. Poetry helps with that. If, as Warsh states at the beginning of “Dark Study,” “There’s something we don’t know about that’s happening elsewhere,” it only makes sense to keep probing for it, feeling the walls for a light switch as we stumble about in the dark.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Brimming with Hats

The music of the present tense juggles vast
Skulls of earnest objective. Neutrons
Come in thumps. Fish come tumbling
Into the biography of a pill
Of aspirin and the rhapsody has pliers
With which to remove the vapor
From a dot in eternity. I’m anxious
To make a point, and that point
Is a warrior whose globules
Drip light on the gravel
Driveway of a bonanza
In the clouds drifting overhead
Like a fetus of inexplicable pasta.
Hope is pepperoni, despair
Has pastels. Many of us applaud
The rain but the rain
Doesn’t really give a damn.
The smell of thought is fugitive
And vanity is hard
To support with a two-by-four
And a bag of nails. An oak forehead
Is better than a pine box
Or an afternoon folded into Ohio
Like a hacksaw. They say everything
Is made of molecules and I agree
To sparkle on a yardarm
Not out of platitudes and what
They’ve taught me but sheer nerve
And willpower, the way our forefathers
Taught us in the navy when the world
Was but a scooter and ampersands
Tasted of adage. I began my life as a grimace
And I will end it as a beginning
That drags itself forward crackling
In a paroxysm of dimes
Like a rhododendron. Identity is meat
And blood, though I would prefer
A handkerchief. I’m awake now, thank you
For your honesty. I’m not a horse at all
But a fine chemistry of warm thought
With things to do. Everything else is weather
Like Bob Dylan in a Cadillac Escalade
Commercial. A hard rain’s a gonna fall
You betcha. And tenacity has a payoff
I feel at home in my nerves do you
Like me very much? I like you
But can’t bring myself to say it
Without getting to know you first.
Sit down. Let’s talk. Every sensation
Is tangled and inexplicable like a brain
In which the language is trying to get out
And describe the logic of things
As they occur in color. Say what you want
The Cadillac is a fine car, but the colors
Are wanton, and that makes us wonderful
Yes wonderful. And I mean it. Here come some now
Full of warmth and fungus and brimming with hats