Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Carol Szamatowicz’s Blasting Through a Hole in the Universe

Awning and Slot

Carol Szamatowicz’s Blasting Through a Hole in the Universe (Green Zone, 2009) works the durable ruckus mode of Clark Coolidge (“Squid eyes look upwind. / There’s sand in my gum”) up against the complacencies of the demotic of John Ashbery (“The flowers recover from their dicky condition / . . . / We’re not going to live here, put the knitting down”). That’s one way of approaching it, albeit missing completely the adamant requirement that a woman is writing (“Why we differ has a lot to do with ovaries, / Auguries, flags and pickles”). A woman with both a wry and feisty sense of humor (“It’s a backward covenant, gallantry— / A caterpillar poses a riddle, a cabbage has rights, / A centipede puts a thorn through its “arm”) and a minor pleasing weakness for the high surreal (“Milky fires of thorns under her nails”). Blasting Through a Hole in the Universe contains seventy-eight sonnets, jittery, imperfect and unpredictable, hammering formal residue into a malleable thing, a series of containers each made of the various marvels it contains. Here’s one:
Red Breasts Afield

Birds study their map to the fist heist
In clouds of blinding lint
With blue pounding their ledge.
Turn me and you shall see I am a wooden boat
Languishing in my rocker. The wind swivels
And waggles, too bashful to lead.
It’s a harpooning contest between foot and rake.
There’s still a trunk hidden in the weeds.
Wisteria crawls up the trading post.
I don’t know why I mess with these knees,
How much weekenders have already lost in their lives
To come. We run sea, sand and sky into idioms
But allow the birds to write their own speeches,
Racking up the islanders in the reeds.
Something, one thinks, about the world’s hardy tentativeness. The way tempting descends out of the same Latin root, temptāre, to touch, to try the strength of. One talks in circles around such a piece, alighting gingerly, noting the off-rhymes, the uncanny surety of the rhythms (making the whole inexplicable and convincing). Energy’s odd throttles and ralentissements: “blue pounding” and “boat / Languishing.” One thinks of Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse): “Often she found herself sitting and looking, sitting and looking, with her work in her hands until she became the thing she looked at—that light for example.” A balance of mystery and intent, or attention and its laxer suasions. Another:
Artificial Assault on Sensibility

I might have another accident.
It has nothing to do with intent
Or the recording of distortions, making amends.
Can we turn the painting to the wall?
Or even the people, such as they are . . .
Time wanders off to its obsessive compressions.
Action slows in the duck blind.
I wrest rightness from its attack on stillness.
Of course it’s true there are very few
To help me with my work.
I would be pleased if they liked it at all
But otherwise don’t care much.
It’s fancy work, near enough to disappear.
Finally I leave it undone, offering it my throat.
“Fancy work,” a sewing term for fine ornamental needlework, hinting at the stitch-by-stitch inability to see the whole. “Obsessive compressions.” Everywhere here figures of stilling, “finish” versus the undone, the accidental, the more vulnerable “offering.” “Rightness” resides not in the stop’d down measure (“duck blind”), but in what Ted Berrigan, misquoting O’Hara, call’d the “mess and message.” (O’Hara’d claim, in “Biotherm,” to be “guarding it from mess and measure”—a kind of mock-midpoint between extremes, rather akin, here, to the way Szamatowicz’s “Time wanders off to its obsessive compressions,” the dilatory wandering meeting the constricts of those minute “compressions.”) Another piece:
Degrees Not Vertical

Three four-year olds mime peeing
Against a wall.
Allure, submit, escape.
What crude blood wood gives up.
The kids come out of the bath
On waivers, punchy—
A close second to wandering in viaducts.
I sit down soft and runny to write.
If you blink I hear it.
Baskets of oysters and grapes
Wet and dusky at once.
A tripping way to talk,
Each word comes up lucky
In light of each puddle here.
Unmissable: motherhood and its necessary, fraught (or freight’d), stolen moments. And: ordinary kid mischief. (The pricelessness of “out of the bath / On waivers, punchy”—how little kid roughhousing and mayhem finds its way into la poesía norteamericana . . .) Samatowicz is the author, too, of the terrific Zoop (The Owl Press, 2001), a parlay of prose poems, accumulatory in a way counterpart to the Blasting sonnets.