Reading about Sumerian Cuneiform: in which "at first every character represented one word, but many words lacked unique symbols. For these, symbols of related objects were used (a foot could mean both 'to go' and 'to stand,' in addition to meaning 'foot.'" This means that Sumerian yuppies probably knew how "to backpack" long before we ever developed such expressions.
Why write about the work of established writers sounds like a rhetorical question, doesn't it? Perhaps because some of them don't appear to be faking it as much. Know however that Politically Incorrect Cultural Studies will get you in the end.
This past Sunday evening in a late night IM session, Stacy who was preparing her intro for my Poetry Project event the following day zeroed in with some frighteningly perceptive questions (I paraphrase): “What’s this piece on p. 16 that sounds like Susan Howe?” Well yes I had to admit that she’s one of my favorite poets, and while writing that piece and some other parts of my book I had been memorizing long passages from Frame Structures at the time, because I admired the way the prose moved:
“She has cut small locks of hair from her two younger daughters is using sealing wax to close these souvenirs of love in boxes. Two doctrines materialism and spiritualism. The objects which surround my body those which are near to my body frame a simple idea of time. As shadows wait on the sun so a shot soul falling shot leaves his body fathomless to draw it out. The armies are tired of their terrible mismanagement not counting the missing.”
There’s a wonderful element here and in much of Howe’s work that might be compared to something like the semiotic surging up and overwhelming the symbolic, where a kind of antinomian “speaking in tongues” occurs and the resulting moments of urgency, alarm, and tenderness cause one to become flushed with an abundance of potentially ecstatic meanings, all the while confronting the limits of language as parseable material, as sound.
Clog nutmeg abt noon Scraping cano muzzell Foot path sand and so Gravel rubbish vandal Horse flesh ryal tabl
I suppose this might be seen as a kind of New England uncanny, Salem trials and all. Her lyricism is always overflowing and jamming the system, reaching around and through the grid of the dewey demicals. I was reminded of this intensity yesterday when Howe gave a riveting and memorable reading at the Poetry Project. Really, she's the kind of poet who absolutely takes over a room with her presence when she approaches the podium. She read from “Hope Atherton’s Wanderings,” from another poem that was essentially a lyric to the Bienecke library by an outsider in the mode of Edwards' personal recollections, and from some newer work that was amazing too. Perhaps what I’m most fascinated by is how she makes these transitions or elisions into uncanny sound clusters seem effortless; the cheerful and matter-of-fact way that she begins somehow already incorporates this wilderness, as if it were home:
To kin I call in the Iron-Woods Turn I to dark Fells last alway
The hairs on the back of my neck are still standing up.
Thanks to Charles Bernstein for posting a report on the Sunday Chax book launch. I was very pleased with the turnout for the event and with the enthusiastic response from all who attended. A ton of people bought books and it all went toward a great cause; as Allison Cobb put it, "Charles Alexander is a poetry hero!"