Sunday, November 30, 2008

reading Silliman's the Alphabet 

Where to begin? It's been a long time since I've read a book of poetry THIS BIG and kept reading it, and kept reading it faster with picked-up excitement. I think it's important to say now that most book reviews make me sleepy, and no one ever writes the kind of book reviews I want to read. So this one will be much like the ones I want to read: personal, details about HOW and WHAT is going on with the reviewer (in this case me) while reading. READING IS as much a part of the life of the poems to the reader as it was to the poet writing them.

LANGUAGE Poetry remains an impressive form of ignorance to the fearful masses of poetry lovers. And I guess it's important for me to think that I didn't actually come into CONTACT with this group of poets until after the big wars had already happened, meaning that maybe I met these poets after they had settled down a bit? I'm just going by things I've heard, whether the things I've heard were even true or not I don't know, and frankly don't care too much to know. I do know what I've read so far in THE GRAND PIANO seems lacking any evidence of war of any kind, except maybe mentions of bigger conflicts in the world being confronted. Could it be THE GRAND PIANO is leaving out internal squabbles with various communities? I don't know. Eileen Myles wrote once that "they won" because THEY get the tag in the NYT and elsewhere when someone wants to explode with anger over innovation. I like deviants. Are these a bunch of deviants? Yeah, I think they're deviants in many ways. I titled my first book Deviant Propulsion because I believe it's the deviants who move us forward, often whether we are ready to move or not. I was reading their work long before meeting them, and was impressed that Charles Bernstein in particular wasn't a monster when I met him, and was in fact a generous soul. Monster is kind of what was being channeled into the mythology of this group. Silliman too was not a monster, in fact he's a guy who reminds me of the working class men of my family in many ways, only in good ways. Some of the men in my family don't make good comparisons for anyone but Hitler, so, I'm leaving THEM out of the comparison when I say this.

What I DO know is that the poetry of this group of poets is what remains important to me. Ron Silliman's poems are without a doubt some of my favorite poems. His giant ALPHABET collection makes me think about the challenges I hear sometimes, often in fact, from poets today saying we don't need BIG projects, trying to equate the BIG projects with ego problems. Well, if the poems are good who cares? And maybe too I think the dismissive nature of such comments are born of jealousy, or other such unbecoming clothes for a poet to wear.

Recently here in Philadelphia some of us were lucky to hear Ron Silliman read with Magdalena Zurawski and Pam Brown. THAT was a reading we'll remember! At that reading Silliman said that he thinks it's best for readers new to his work to start with the book WHAT (included in The Alphabet collection). In ways it makes sense when you read it, the nature of the line giving us shot after shot that moves image to thought to image to thought, always surprising, always. But I didn't want to listen to him. And didn't. I wanted to read The Alphabet from beginning to end, wanted to get a FEEL for the poet over the years of his life as he pulled it all together for us. I'd much rather read this book than THE GRAND PIANO any day.

Right from A it seemed odd that the first poems were shorter than much of the later letters. Did he edit out portions for the collection? I don't know, but they seemed complete so it doesn't matter. B is the poem "Blue" which is "for Gil Ott" and we find out in the notes in the back of the book that it was written after "a long walk through the Lower East Side with Gil Ott." It's just a two page poem, and the only one I reread while up in NY recently to cat sit for Eileen Myles, wanting to take a walk then reread it. It was important to me that I didn't attempt any kind of goofy sentimental reaction to the walk, like, WHAT were they seeing, as I'm sure 1981 and 2008 Lower East Sides might as well be different locations at this point. But these were the streets, and, "At dusk very little is neutral" is very different. "I am writing in shadows. Don't you worry about accessibility too?" Shadows is pretty close to the feel of the poem, in the best sense, meaning how the remains of the walk are what the synapse fires back to the pen gleaning experience from experience, making the reading an entirely new experience, whether or not you walk the same streets.

In the long period of reading the book I injured my left knee, which is only now starting to feel better. Damage is included in other words in my reading as a filter. There were endless lines and phrases and moments that I would want to write down now, but it would only be a list of things that caught me. But what's more important is to say I was caught, often. To be so lucky to be caught so often in our own. "Open wide, these rose petals will soon fall."

VOG is where the amazing long poem "Woundwood" appears. When finally getting there I thought, WAIT A MINUTE WHAT THE HELL? Did Ron change this? What was different was that the pages, the actual paper is bigger, making more obvious the fact that this poem is a long, continuous column. It was clear it was a continuous column when reading the chapbook Kyle Schlesinger put out a few years ago, but seeing it in The Alphabet reminded me of how Tim Dlugos's legendary "G-9" poem is a continuous column, only now as a whole online for the first time (ditto for Tom Meyer's marvelous "THIS IS THE HOUSE"). Seeing "Woundwood" projected onto a wall would be as marvelous, complete, and completely unbroken. It finally made sense HOW "Woundwood" began with the image of the Waterman felt-tip pen and circles around at the end, meaning, when I first heard that "Woundwood" was an excerpt from VOG it seemed strange that it was so complete as a poem. VOG is a series of poems, a book, and it's a good dangling surprise now solved. I'm STILL convinced Silliman is talking about the Delacroix exhibit in "Woundwood" at one point.

The cover of The Alphabet is something I like to look at, think about. It's by Geof Huth, and from a work titled "The Construction of The Alphabet." When first studying the occult I was most interested in my Danish and Irish roots, in particular Norse mythology. One can't really study such things without hearing about sigils, or bind runes, or a combination of runes/letters to complete a spell, set it into action. Huth's cover art is a mysterious form of sigil work. Mysterious mostly because the fonts look like the findings from an archeological dig of some new species of critter. Pertho is the Mother Rune, a gaping mouth where all the others poured forth. Huth's art is like the primal mega-blast shooting and shouting out over the dust of everything said and about to be said, it's sublime at its best.

The last of the book was something I was particularly interested in reaching, not to FINISH, as in GEEZE I'M GLAD THAT'S OVER (I generally don't finish things that make me feel this way), but because I was lucky to hear him read from this at the Philadelphia Free Library last year. Last year? I think so, maybe longer? Anyway, THERE were those lines I had retained, intact. For some reason I really WANTED to read this last book in the noise of my city I LOVE so much, and went to Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market CRAMMED with anxious bustle and joy. I was stoned on the thousands of spices coming from the giant spice stand in the market and the dark chocolate I had eaten. I had eaten dark chocolate when going to hear him read at the library, something I like to eat for any reading, you should try it. But, it's important (at least I think so) to eat dark chocolate when reading poems you had heard read aloud if you had also been eating dark chocolate when hearing them. It accesses those mesas in the brain where you put them, and yes indeed it works. Also, dark chocolate makes me enjoy Reading Terminal Market instead of being annoyed that no one is giving love to the jazz pianist banging the keys for tips. And I wasn't ignoring him while reading, in fact I was riding WITH HIM while reading. "Read a book of poems until you get a sense of its author, / then put it down -- when you pick it up again, read until your sense of its / author changes." OK, and, "Life is strategic but reality is tactical", and "Objects in text are sharper than they appear", and, does Jim Behrle know he's in here, that, "I'm a figment of Jim Behrle's imagination"?

Poetry is what I love, and this has been a long period of reading and loving poetry, but I'm not going to grip some kind of investigation outside what I've done already above. My review is for the love of poetry, nothing more, and for me there is little more, little higher than poetry.

And I highly recommend this book for everyone. And I guess if you have hated the idea of LANGUAGE poetry take Silliman's advice and read WHAT first. Sit down in the bookstore and read WHAT, if you want, I'm sure you'll want the book in your life, I'm positive about this in fact.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?