Sunday, December 7, 2014



Sonnets by Anonymous
(Face Press, Cambridge, U.K, 2014)


Yesterday an envelope arrived in the mail, from Ian Heames’ Face Press, with my copy of JH Prynne’s new Al-Dente, a little book of 8 poems. Unexpectedly, there was another little book in the envelope, called Sonnets, of which there are 9, for which no one seems to take credit. At least there’s no name on the thing. It might be by Ian, since it’s also Face Press, and since he sent it to me, but it might be by someone else. I really have no idea.

I wrote Ian to thank him for Sonnets: “They come from a world I recognize only too well, and are just what I need to survive in it.” They are, really. What better kind of book to review, than one that I didn’t know I needed til I had it in hand?

Sonnet 1 begins with these five lines:

            Find the cave where the internet is most weak.
            Look back at the distinctions we outmade.
            Dusk steels over the onlookers who stare back
            with elite eyes and began to eat. I dropped my
            Lumix into the sea. This is what I am tired of.

Jumping quickly thru these lines I hear echoes of Plato’s parable of the cave, what seems to be a desire to escape the omnipresence of mediated noise, Lot’s wife / Orpheus in the underworld, both of whom made the same “mistake”, a complex neologism in “outmade”, a use of “steels” where we might expect “steals” tho steels works just fine, the oddness of elite eyes (are they elite because they belong to those who have the luxury of eating?), a tense change between the present of “steels” and the past of “began”, a camera (the Lumix is made by Panasonic) and then a sudden declaration for which the referent must be inferred in “This is what I am tired of.”. All written in the most straightforward of syntax, each word with its “normal” semantics … and yet … and yet. I am going to refuse the temptation to untangle this because if it was meant to be untangled it wouldn’t have been tangled in the first place. Not that it’s tangled. Not in the least. But I do want to linger a moment over “This is what I am tired of.” I want to know what “this” refers to. I cannot escape the (intuitive) sense that it refers to poetry.

I find, a few lines later,

                                                Text is to whole conduct
            as life is to other themes. Love that
            corrects nothing.

I think of Auden’s “For poetry makes nothing happen” juxtaposed with Williams’ “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of” etc etc, but because of the steely dusk and the sea – and the rhythms and musics – I really mostly think of Spicer’s

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Is bread and butter
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.

And I come away thinking that perhaps it is truly unnecessary, perhaps it has always been unnecessary, in poetry at least, to distinguish signal from noise (“White and aimless signals”, not “White and aimless noises”). And to just go with it. Which I think might make the author glad, because further into this sonnet I find:

                                    Better to win
            hearts than enemies with the first
                line of a new thing.


I find myself wanting to note that it’s not only the music that has me thinking Spicer, it’s also the feel that this is a serial poem, not nine “one-night stands”. Certain words recur, like, “elite”, “sea” / “seas”, “simulator” / “simulation”, etc. So do flowers, eco-concerns … But Spicer couldn’t have written this. This is a poem from our time, not his, and tho I’ve lived thru both, Spicer died in 1965, long before the neoliberal / globalizing / post-modern / langpo / post-langpo / cyborg etc etc turn(s), and those parts of my life feel very different to me.


These sonnets are made of sentences. Are they “new sentences”? To quote Bob Perelman’s “On Ketjak,

The term was coined by Ron Silliman....A new sentence is more or less ordinary itself, but gains its effect by being placed next to another sentence to which it has tangential relevance: new sentences are not subordinated to a larger narrative frame nor are they thrown together at random. Parataxis is crucial: the autonomous meaning of a sentence is heightened, questioned, and changed by the degree of separation or connection that the reader perceives with regard to the surrounding sentences. This is on the immediate formal level. From a larger perspective, the new sentence arises out of an attempt to redefine genres; the tension between parataxis and narrative is basic.

So, yes and no. There is a definite “tension between parataxis and narrative” in these sonnets. And yet there’s not, I think it’s the tension that creates narrative. And as for whether these sentences are “more or less ordinary”, wellllllllll … what do you mean by ordinary? Yes and no. It occurs to me as I write that the new sentence is a concept that is almost as much from a different time and place as is Spicer’s work. So maybe these are “post new sentences.” I think that the tensions that were there for some of the language poets [I don’t think the new sentence is a truly definitive concept for all that has fallen under the langpo rubric] are no longer tensions for those of us who get to come after. They are just the way it is. Maybe that makes us always-already crazy? I learned a new word the other day: solastalgia. It means something like “the distress caused by environmental change.” Take environment in the very broadest sense you can imagine … Maybe that means 2014 ain’t 1980 …

But of course no one ever invents anything.


Anyway, enough maundering.

Here are a couple “post-new-sentences” I really like: “All poems / pass Turing.” “The whole universe will go through / the worst starfish  / in time.” “That the dead obsess / in their own fractal post-socialist dream time / is their own / terrain.” “Maybe you won’t see this before then, but if / the stars panic, tell them about the time / I was trying to make a point about omnipotence / but tired out.” I could go on, but instead I’ll type out one whole sonnet to give you a better taste:

            The temple told her it was a good idea to fly him to Hong Kong.
            The lightnings pour now.
                        Rhinestone venusaur submarine autobot hellebore, to some
                        fixed furniture of objects; the same causes
                        freight idles in the blocked ports for. Night then
            beguiles evening of its early lead
            and wide base. Waves are each other’s
            toys for drowning. Deals done in love
                        make light of a lot of things
                        like plumage. They are Beijing’s otherworldly.
            But it is hard not to be oppressed by what doesn’t matter.
            This would seem to be a wasted thread. The all-terrain
            vehicle mentored in even snow. Even as the donor’s heartbeat
                        is cut out.

If this is what it means to be tired of poetry, I’m all for being tired of poetry. And, seriously, if it were up to me, you’d all write Ian Heames


John Bloomberg-Rissman has maybe six months left on In the House of the Hangman, the third section of his maybe life mashup called Zeitgeist Spam. The first two volumes have been published: No Sounds of My Own Making (Leafe Press, 2007), and Flux, Clot & Froth (Meritage Press 2010). His tentative title for the fourth section, which he is already planning, is The Giant Notebook of Harsh Noise Wall Bejeweled Barrettes Anything Sumak Kawsay OK The Orphaned Zag Kledonomancy Tome. In addition to his Zeitgeist Spam project, the main other things on his plate right now are reading proofs for an anthology which he is editing with Jerome Rothenberg, titled Barbaric Vast & Wild: An Anthology of Outside & Subterranean Poetry, due out from Black Widow Press sometime early in 2015, and a collab with the visual collages of Lynn Behrendt, which will hopefully be published by the end of this year. He's also learning to play the viola and he blogs at (Zeitgeist Spam).  


No comments:

Post a Comment