“The Purs’d Lips of Posterity”
Up here crouch’d against the green brink of nothingness, attempting
to lance the plenum, bust up the polarity,
Though hardly succeeding. Moon swoll’d up scab-red like a tick burrowing
into the brindled hound of night. The corpus of
The damn’d lies deep in its violet-cover’d refuge, its solitary mound,
Spurn’d and querulous, muttering whilst it reviews the contents of its Cratylus,
awl and shuttle and name and is the instrument of language
Reliably arbitrary, or piercingly natural, you prick, you prick, you prick! Lucre
of the nervous. The corporate body lies
Under the fleur-de-lys’d garden “plots” with prevailing reveries
of the glut
Of cheap labor any mechanization supplies, all the D.I.Y. scanners in grocery
And dry goods department checkout counters, “serviceable” by a single smiling
Continuity girl, a plump brunette with a history of self-esteem “issues” who’s
“there” to call out plaintively rhapsodic “advice and instruction” to all
And sundry, Sundays off. She’s replacement for the continuously goosed—and worse—
nineteenth c. Irish maid and housekeeper the plutocracy
Routinely saw to suicide. Scullion and wench and name, is language instrumental? I
recall one morphine addict
With “misdirect’d anger” asking Gus the grocer to pour molasses in a hat. Which Gus
did, and immediately got it
Plant’d—splat!—full in that impudent countenance he wore to work
in, blinding him
Utterly. The thug sporadic scoop’d the till.
Retard SpoilageAugust Kleinzahler, out of Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (FSG, 2008). Sadhu’s a beggarly ascetic, a Hindu mutterer. Reechiness is, seemingly, neologism or nonce, leech, leach’d out (soil), retching, all that in its vicinity (Kleinzahler proceeding—manoeuvering the poetic craft—by sonic lights alone): lovely; butyric referring to butter, particularly its chemical constitution (butyric acid a fatty acid, one of the butyls, gone “off”—smelling rancid, vinegary; Pseudomonads: bacterial agents of food spoilage. (Positively Horatian how “instructing” the piece is . . .)
Animalcules heave their tackling,
ladders of polysaccharides,
onto meatmilkshimp&creamy emulsions,
sticking like putrefactive Velcro.
The refrigerator switches on in the darkness,
a murmuring, perfervid sadhu close at hand.
Turbidity, gasses, a silky clouding over—
gray slime spreads across hot dog casings,
a sour reechiness transpires below.
However much by day we shore up our defenses,
darling, over time they find their way back
to slowly assail our dwindling larder.
Liquefaction, spoilage and rot—
mephitic flora breed apace,
leaving behind them a ropiness, butyric off-odors.
Ludamilla’s prize-winning kraut goes pink.
Fetor of broken proteins—
the drumstick fluoresces, alight with Pseudomonads.
There has to be a music to it all,
I’m certain, if only one could hear it:
a Lilliputian string ensemble’s low humming,
an almost inaudible cicada surge,
earwax hissing in peroxide solution,
sausage frying in a distant room.
Good, patient Leeuwenhoek of Delft,
having “partook of hot smoked beef, that was a bit fat,
or ham,” of which he was most fond,
suffered a grave ruction below
and so put to work his celebrated lens
that he might better examine his troubled stool
and found there an animalcule, nay many,
but one especially, in the figure of an eel
that “bent its body serpent-wise,”
“a-moving prettily,” he made thorough note
in a letter to his estimable coequal, Robert Hooke,
and “as quick as a pike through water.”
Sleep, my angel, sleep,
though everywhere out there they are among us,
within, as well, wriggling deep,
they prosper into our dark complement, and by us dwell
in perfect equipoise: your inviolate sweetness
amidst that which is vile&writhing&smells.
I look’d into Sleeping It Off in Rapid City out of Ron Silliman’s cha-cha about Joel Lewis, “the quintessential New Jersey poet of our time,” wondering both “is there such a beast, or animalcule?” and “what about August Kleinzahler?” Is Alfred Starr Hamilton a New Jersey poet? Is Amiri Baraka a New Jersey poet? Is Theodore Weiss? (I knew a man name of Rob Patton once wrote a poem call’d “Jerking Off in Jersey City”—though I suspect the intent of de-shodding a certain clubby Connecticuter (or Connecticutian) behind it—or is Stevens a “quintessential” Pennsylvanian poet?) (And how was Amiri Baraka, say, or, gulp, David Shapiro, once in the indefinable past, each, the quintessential New Jersey poet of “theirs”? I’m running into all sorts of “era interference” or something, chronological lapsuses (or lapsae)—when is one’s time no longer one’s own again?) Ne fait rien: I like the Joel Lewis lines Silliman holds up for inspection—
Rogue meteorologists call it a “radium sunset” but the air—and they put me to the Kleinzahler (whom Silliman never mentions). The “milieu” and, particularly, the sonic chewables, that gobbledygook noise, “specificity & clatter.” See Kleinzahler’s “sticking like putrefactive Velcro,” say. Kleinzahler’s noise (and figure), though, is nigh-Elizabethan (ain’t talking about no Elizabeth, N. J. neither)—look how he keeps finding perfect iambics—“mephitic flora breed apace,”; “or ham,’ of which he was most fond,” &c. Look to the lingo of “they prosper into our dark complement, and by us dwell,” or to the sudden ruction of rhymes at the end(“sleep” / “deep”; “dwell” / “smells”). Look to the way the poem works through the senses and turns to the beloved, the “dark complement.” Isn’t Kleinzahler’s piece in direct line with something like Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXXX with its sensory checklist and final “groundedness”?
always shouts out someone’s Christian name, the braying voice
of Saint Springsteen drifts from the swirl
of tactile local daydreams.
I negotiate a Hot Texas Weiner at Libby’s—just north
of the Great Falls of the Passaic River.
“Talk as if you love truck noise,” sez the douchebag
to my left. So I fart propel myself off this tan
counter stool . . . &c.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;Shakespeare, quintessential New Jersey poet.
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,—
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.
(Query: What is the meaning of Silliman’s “Lewis doesn’t pretend that these poems will change the future of verse & their modesty fits perfectly the specificity not just of location, but of sound & meaning. It’s a very Jersey book.”?
a) New Jersey is a very modest state.
b) Joel Lewis, for all his “great eye & ear” and exceptional subtlety and terrific poems, is modest to a fault.
c) To “change the future of verse” is something New Jerseyites (or New Jerseyans)’d be foolish to even think of.
d) Ron Silliman’s antagonism towards the New York School’s slopped over into one of its bordering states.
e) All, or none, or all.)
Out of Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (Coach House Books, 2009):
What is heard in the film here beneath the narration is a tiny sample of the oneiric, torpid hours of sound sculpture my late brother Cameron made as a teen with his beloved reel-to-reel tape recorder and vacuum-tubed radio. He would slowly dial across all the frequencies available to us on crystal-clear Kennedy-era nights, layering one station upon another, and record these audio strata as they drifted their broadcast opacities on top of sudden and inexplicable clarities. Cameron’s mashed-up recordings were, typically, dreamy and terrifying overlappings of Cold War newscasts, talk-radio speculations about Air Force UFO sightings, commercials broadcast live from far-flung furniture stores and car dealerships in Detroit, Chicago or Houston—the whole sculpture held together by the tinny staccato beat of all the pop music played in America during the years leading up to the British invasion, so that, without warning, a bolt of musty doo-wop could unfurl itself like an immense frat sweater pulled down over the entire soundscape.And:
The E Gang! In the 1980s, Winnipeg trembled beneath the thumb of the E Gang, an elusive group of nocturnal criminals whose sole crime, repeated endlessly and always with impunity, for the identity of its members was never ascertained by the police, was stealing the letter E from every piece of signage in the city. Our city became even more elliptical that decade: The Winnip g Ar na; &npsp; arl Gr y and Gr nway schools; atons; Th Paddl wh l; The W vil Caf ; K-T l Int rnational; even Lil’s B auty Shop. We realized this was a letter we could easily live without, that even in its absence it was really still there. One exciting night, perhaps because I expressed so much public support for these mischievous gangsters, I was blindfolded and taken to their lair to behold the booty of their long exertions. What I saw mounded there, or hung about the place as queer trophies, was nothing less than gorgeous. The letter E in every possible font, in all sizes, fashioned from every conceivable material—moulded plaster, carved wood, cursive driftwood, neon tubing, tin, cast iron, punched zinc and incandescent clusters of glass! A garden of Eeeeden!In a conversation with Michael Ondaatje:
I couldn’t get Fellini’s I Vitelloni out of my head, either, because I guess the period of Winnipeg of which I’m the fondest dates from my twenties when I had some I Vitelloni-type friends—charismatic but useless guys really wasting their time stylishly—and we used to be able to enchant the city by making rituals out of anything: out of trips to the cheese shop, or to the carwash on Man’s Day. There was a carwash that had a Man’s Day every Thursday, so we decided, being men, we would go every Thursday and get our cars washed. One year, International Women’s Day coincided with Ladies’ Day at the same car wash. We decided to go down to the car wash and try to pick up some girls. We never did, but that wasn’t the real point anyway, or so we told ourselves. Stuff like that.
. . .
Having thought of all these various things, I knew I couldn’t just put them all in a blender and make the movie. I was living with my girlfriend at the time, and we had a dog, Spanky, that I would take for walks—there’s something about walking that’s better than driving, better than sitting in front of a word processor, even, for digging up ideas. And during these innumerable frosty dog walks, my thoughts always become somewhat melancholic; they always become backward glancing. And I realized while walking—I guess the walking put me in mind of Sebald—and I realized that that was maybe my best bet. I could never be the artist Sebald was, but maybe to make a movie that, even though there’s very little walking in it is at heart a walking reverie . . .
MO: Well, your film has a lot of walking in it.
GM: Yes, there is some—and sleepwalking and dog walking. I ended up adding a train element later because I’ve always loved trains and they enchant as well. I keep using the word enchant because, to go back to the moment I was commissioned to make the project, when Michael Burns assigned the project to me he said, ‘And don’t show me the frozen hellhole everyone knows Winnipeg is. Enchant me. Enchant me.’ So it was to be kind of a propaganda piece right from the beginning. But he’d been to Winnipeg only twice and he’d been enchanted both times. Once was to ride, as the sole passenger working as a production assistant, the train used in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven from Winnipeg to Alberta, and the other time was to visit the set of my collaboration with Isabella Rossellini, My Dad Is 100 Years Old. For this latter visit he just dropped in on this blasted-out, very postwar-Italian-looking dark movie theatre where we were shooting—an unheated movie theatre—and I think Isabella went over to him for maybe just twenty minutes and poured Italianate warm whispers into his ear for a while, and enchanted him of course, and then he had to catch a plane out of town after this briefest of visits. So he was enchanted both times—who wouldn’t be after such charming samples? It was he who charged me with the job of enchanting the viewer, or attempting to. And then it was Sebald who pushed me out the door and said, ‘Think of this as a walking adventure . . .’
MO: This is with his book The Rings of Saturn . . .
GM: Yes, with the structure a walking book suggests, you can have digression upon digression and always still be going somewhere.