Commentaries - May 2013

George Quasha: from “Speaking Animate” (preverbs) with a note on the poetics of preverbs

G. Quasha: Axial Drawing – Dakini Series 2012
G. Quasha: Axial Drawing – Dakini Series 2012

1                                              words under pressure bleed original sense

 

The trouble with paradise is you never want to be away from home.


I make what calls me out.
All gone before you know it.


Words may drop passing color yet seeing you here now are born again, and again.
Closing a word in the mouth feels the sound until the tongue can’t stay still.


To unmask is to go silent.
Language makes no promise to communicate.

 

An articulated sound has it own dream in the ear.
Her presence in the room gives aroma to the syllables I voice.


Now she’s ready to draw eros from foreign bodies.
It starts by focusing on the sounds beyond hearing, still felt.

 

By she I mean who speaking animate configures.
This is the time of alternative obscurities to see through.

 

Through thoroughly, as a word weighs.

 

2                                                          a voice scape landing


They’re playing the perfect music for our movie, Rushing to Meet Anima.
The rhythm’s spacious enough I slip in the back door without a trace.

The drama is gathering soundless. It lives like that.

I never let go of her hand in my other world.

 

This I learn from you who read me back.


They say ancient Irish saw serpents where there aren’t any.
I descend from there to here where I see what I say even unsounding.

 

Writing I extinguish my voice but there is calling you hear.


Falling apart is syntactic.
Writing at the edge of collapse is surrender.

 

Saying depths in a tongue all hands puts the cards on the table over the edge.

Time to stop asserting order where it’s already in waiting.

 

Write this off as of a poet or one inspired by being written through.

 

3                                              time has its ins and outs

A sacred grove takes refuge in the voice.

 

A language hasn’t come through to itself if being inside isn’t self-instructive.
Syllable by syllable earwise spreading orders the cells.


What configures signs, time switching subjects on the line like my life.
It seems the same is saying there were no same.


A journey ever worth taking records itself within your hearing even now.
“I will always have been here before with or without you.”


Gnoaxial poetics, for want of right naming, finds pulse in grammatical drift.

 

The more she says the more I find configures.
The new singular noun soon plurals.


I’m beginning to recall the forgotten adventure, long since signed for.
The time of our playing recalls us back together.


This very time turns into space in our search for self true north.
Her tone is dissecting the next move out before.


The tense is two timing us.


The experience beyond reportable experience is self sensing.
Real work is indefensible.



4                                               seeing through hearing


Now to dowse the poetics of the poem to come.
We hold these principles to be self evident—in order to be self evidence.

 

Configuration is parthenogenetic.
We’re talking fate here.
High flying biology. Bios mating logos.
Flowering, percipiently imaginarily auto-erotically speaking.
It sees and knows what it’s doing not a moment before.

 

We call back to our other us through the air pressed into sound.
I’m just trapping animal life in its resound here.


Our group gives the dream time.
A date’s charge belongs at heart to anytime.

 

Our only mythical bird is fleeing the page as we speak.
It makes a very very very fast line out.
Sculpting hands in the saying.


Not every finger is instantly intelligible.
Signing principle, it calls itself, and hands itself over.

 


5                                              undesigning music


Watching your dancing feet is its own dance.


What if everyone talked funny at once.
I’m willing to avoid special pleading but ignored distractions will have their say.


Sudden behaviors may be of unaccountable origin.
Tongue the surface long enough and you bleed old demons long in exile.


Learn from the dog to dig up old shame, then bury it where you want it.
If you find a guy’s personality be sure to send it back.

 

Meet you where we know each other.

 

Beautiful music takes me away rather than throwing me further in.
Clamoring lines cannot disguise the sound of one mind slipping.


The center is holding just fine, yet the periphery is forgetting where it is.

Freudian slips of the hand put your mouth on your money.

Also note paradisal memes at the tip of the slip.

 

Life goes on … off … on … off.



6                                              scared sacred


What am I hearing with these other ears?

 

Prepare your mouth with pre-carnal intentions.
Poetry valorizes childhood because children make language.

First language.

It gets you little again to be verbal.


I can’t deny my excitement upon reaching the threshold of carnality.
No more hovering over secondhand bodies.


The heart is the organ of consorting.


Life is intelligent
means it knows where it’s going but I don’t.
Fearful asymmetry.


Contacting the word’s core intent to mean itself is poetic insistence.

Logophagi know that certain morphemes are more delicious than others.


No truth behind the poem, only forward in its own before.

 

* * *

a note on the poetics of “preverbs”

If a proverb is a statement of wisdom in a single verbal gesture, a preverb is a statement in wisdom-mode that due to a linguistic open middle never arrives at wisdom as such but suspends reading in oscillatory mindful outcomes. Preverbs do not accumulate or progress but continuously return to zero point and are often syntactically variable; however, they do tend to swarm.

Speaking Animate (preverbs)
is a poem series that I call a preverbs-complex. "Preverb," obviously a twist on proverb (related originally to Blake's "Proverbs of Hell" in Marriage of Heaven and Hell), refers to a single line, which is the basic formal unit in the work, limited by the line-length of a Word doc. "Preverbs" refers to the work in general but also to a "complex." A complex is an arrangement of lines in a larger unit: first, a numbered unit, like those here, in the given sequence, limited by the length of the page in a Word doc (double-spaced in my working but not here) and which has a kind of title--a name-like verbal unit at page-top after the number. This "title," however, is not a true title in that it does not necessarily relate specifically to the content of the page-complex; rather, it's a parallel language act like the single preverb or the page-complex that bears upon what follows in various ways. Second, preverbs may indicate a preverbs-complex as the assembly of page-length poems, in this case the sequence of 24 numbered units comprising Speaking Animate, from which you have this selection. Accordingly I can say "a preverbs" and mean either the page-unit or (most often) the larger sequence (preverbs-complex). Seven of these preverbs-complexes comprise a book; Speaking Animate belongs to the unpublished book of 7 preverbs-complexes called Glossodelia Attract (preverbs). This is the 8th book of preverbs to date, each book consisting of 7 preverbs-complexes of a variable number of pages. 8 books = 56 preverbs complexes = something like 500+ pages. Only one book has been published to date: Verbal Paradise (preverbs) (Zasterle, 2012), but I'm also publishing preverbs-complexes as short books of which the first is Scorned Beauty Comes Up From Behind (preverbs) (Between Editions, 2012). Another is forthcoming.

 

Speaking Animate (preverbs) is dedicated to Robert Kelly

Snelson on Eclipse, Clay on Granary, Freeman on Drucker, ed Kyle Schlesinger, new ABR

American Book Review
Volume 34, Number 3
March/April 2012
a feature on bringing out-of-print materials back into view, including essays by Penn's own Danny Snelson on Craig Dworkin's Eclipse -- now on-line at
http://eclipsearchive.org/ Here is a pdf of Snelson's full article.">http://eclipsearchive.org/

Here is a pdf of Snelson's full article.

Lost & Found
Kyle Schlesinger's Introduction to Focus: FACSIMILIE (again)
Jed Birmingham's "The Archive of Interzone"
Danny Snelson's "Archival Penumbra"
Steve Clay's "The Dig" (on Granary Books reprints)
Brad Freeman's on the  reprint of Johanna Drucker A to Z
Megan Paslawski's "Publishing's Restorative Properties"

Lydia Davis

The poet's novel

In “Composition as Explanation” Gertrude Stein writes: “The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends upon how everybody is doing everything.” [1].

Lydia Davis is a writer who is a great influence and inspiration to “everyone,” when everyone includes readers of experimental fiction as well as a myriad of poets “doing everything.”  Davis is a master of short fiction and extremely short fiction, as well as a celebrated translator, novelist and poet.

At a recent reading at Bryn Mawr College, Davis addressed the audience at first by noting the grandeur of the room.  She said, “I’ll just stand here and be impressed for a while.”  And that is exactly  how the audience regarded her, standing before dramatic windows and reading short and very short works from her forthcoming book titled Can’t and Won’t. At one moment dramatic lightning lit the room and she paused in her reading to note that she had not brought an umbrella.  Davis has the ability to take a simple detail which appears to be drawn from the repetitive nature of the quotidian and to magnify its associations and triggers therefore launching the mundane into the grim, surreal, comic or philosophical.  For instance, here is a very brief story, titled “Housekeeping Observation” which I hopefully copied correctly as she read:

“Under all this dirt the floor is really very clean.”

Davis hints at the life observed, often from a somewhat detached analytical distance, but her subtext points to the hidden, the unseen, the elephant in the room, embarrassment, anger, awkwardness, failings of personality and the body, ambition or personal slights.  Often reading her work I think, this is what the writer says to oneself, in the privacy of one’s room, later, after interactions have taken place.  Hers is the voice which pleads or conceals, complains, consoles or neurotically traces patterns.  In the surface of her works is a fluid accessibility in events, voices and locations.  The reality which she probes is not obliquely suggested, it is always right there, immediate, so that in reading there is a simultaneity in effect.  Her insights often shock or entertain with a direct and unexpected honesty.  The clean floor is always right under the dirt right under our feet, but how often do we consider it?  The dirt could be a metaphor for the work it would take to remove it, and this aspect of effort, of the difficulty of honesty or wakeful human consciousness could be a revelation. Peeling back layers required to reach any clarity about human behavior, or the way the mind works, is possible, and yet we see in the picture presented that it is a daunting and endless task. At the same time, it is just dirt, or unglorified dirt which is offered.  The dirt is real dirt for a reason.  In other words, there is nothing purely ornamental or gratuitous about it.  We aren’t just imagining this dirt.  We, the reader, stand upon it openly, whether or not we are aware of it.  Davis keeps reminding us where we stand, what we stand upon and how our foundational assumptions and predicaments influence our interactions with others.  Her work appears effortless, while in the same breath chronicling travail.

Here is another of the very brief forthcoming stories, though I did not get the title.

“Now that I’ve been here for awhile I can say with confidence that I have never been here before.” 

This statement seems fitting to describe many positions, and particularly at this moment, my fascination with the poet’s novel.  Perhaps a poet comes to a place in his or her writing life where in order to say with confidence that one has never been here before, a switch is required, a movement to prose.  Also, inside any poet’s novel is the experience Davis describes, of both an initial dislocation, then familiarity which creates a textual dwelling, and also the sense that the text is entirely new.

Both of these short works could be called poetry, are categorized most commonly as “short fiction” and at the same time they gesture toward the poet’s novel.  How long must a novel be?  Can a handful of words encompass a novel?   More to the point would be a question: how short can a novel be?  Are there edges, boundaries, limits to the form?  If so, who is able to break them and how? 

Back to Stein: “The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends upon how everybody is doing it.”  Many novels fail to provide the depth in acuity in much of the shortest works by Davis. 

When I asked Davis about divisions between poetry and prose, and between short fiction and the novel in her own work she replied “I don’t label ahead”  (meaning she does not decide before she begins to write what genre she is creating) and noted that she thinks of her work as a “continuum” indicating that these boundaries between genres and forms are for her somewhat fluid, and not something she considers while she is writing.  She said “the material determines the length.”

When she was asked her why she writes “short fiction” she invoked the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan and his homage to Zukofsky, the point being that the title of his poem is three words and the poem itself is only one word, “the.” [2]  


Edward Morgan

In Stein we find “A sentence which is in one word is talkative.” And “A paragraph without words.” [3].

Davis also noted that while working on her translation of Proust she spent long days toiling over the Proustian sentence, so in her own work a the time she “reacted against it a bit,” and “decided to see how short” her works could be and “still have them have substance.”


Notes:

1. Gertrude Stein, A Stein Reader, ed. Ulla E. Dydo, Northwestern University Press (Evanstan Illinois 1993). 497.

2.  Edwin Morgan, “Homage to Zukofsky,” Scottish Poetry Library, http://www.spl.org.uk/poetry/poems/nine-one-word-poems.

3. Ibid., 550.

Aaron McCollough: “Four Preliminary Notes” & “A Stray Note” from Underlight

[Reprinted from Underlight, published 2012 by Ugly Duckling Presse]

 

     In Contact with the Ground (Personal Sun) 

 

I needed to match our feelings, mine and the other living things.

 

May I tell you how this became deadly without polluting you.

 

I reached out for the dog that lay on the downed wire that led to

     the lightning.

 

I put the wrong things in my body till my skin extended to harder

     surfaces. Canals.

 

Practiced the sacrifice. Bought a gun.

 

All this brought me closer to the ground,

     which I learned was inert.

 

I chose a suitable room.

 

But isn’t the whole plot a forest of suicides since Christ is hung on

     every tree.

 

My discovery, my watering descent.

 

 

     Mercury 

 

Each soul to the quick.

 

God’s center in this gutter, your reading glance.

 

The circumference, maybe nowhere.  Flaws in the windows.

 

Not strictly joy, when I reflect on creation.

 

The light of knowledge just leaches through vapor.

 

All deals double back.

 

The soul whatever, even if turning somehow occult.

 

The mouth has potential but even closed it holds nothing in

     or out.

 

Mouths are more like rings than openings. Rings are groans.

 

Whatever I’ve done to harm you is the idea of men and women.

 

I’m trying to sound out the beginning so I can stand it.

 

How miserable, you lamented, is the soul that depends on a soul.

 

Having not yet noticed the problem’s reflection.

 

 

     Sulfur 

 

Is there a badness in you like a pruned branch. That’s tough.

 

Think of the soul in bigger, rougher shapes.

 

Rough soul.The hawk wants a mate, so does the man, the lion,

     says the beast.

 

This is one way to self it out.

 

Messias can mean measured. Always found wanting. Quell.

     To kill or well out like water.

 

We feel something divine most under gravity and say yes, whatever

     you require.

 

This was the window shade drawn. That was an open one.

 

The burden of responsibility for your desire almost becomes my

     own.

 

I do adore the flaws near fitting. Narcissus blistering the surface.

 

The record is complicated enough to include sacraments of abuse,

     but no one says so.

 

Lord, make me large so I can see you in your smallness.

 

Barking like crazy at the threshold.

 

 

     A Quintessence 

 

Fear of getting stuck makes the soul aware, forlorn.

 

The messenger, he ran; he took on need and got hanged. Sticking

     is constant.

 

Her look says no amount of permission can overcome the law’s

     resistance.

 

The window bounds everything, and all threats are announced.

 

Measured in a friend and jackal, our evenings narrow, but friends

     pass.

 

Permit these stops as the reed still quavers higher. Observe small

     minutes. Even if this means more defilement, unlatch the top

     again and put your face in the steam.

 

Not a failure of the tongue; what the mouth cannot encompass

     with every organ and orifice.

 

We are trying to make do with this dross, this sweat of the sun.

 

The tree branch a warbler. The incisor that’s plugged in the hide.

 

 

     A Stray Note, Sometime Called “Runout Groove” 

The little chirruping birds (the Wren, and the Robin)

                        This one is like the dogs by the sea in Aesop

                        who cannot get at a floating corpse and therefore

                        try to drink themselves a path

 

They sing a meane; the Goldfinch, the Nightengall, they joyne

                        in a flowing stream water rolling on water

                        over a stable bed fleeing and pursuing

                        and driven by the following drawn by the former—

                        same stream, waters ever-changing

 

in the treble; the Blacke bird, the Thrush, they beare the tenour;

                        this one is like Gryllus, the boar who prefers it

                        to his prior infirmities, the law’s push-

                        pull, the reason’s civil argument,

                        order into which unlikeness obtrudes, always

 

while the foure footed beasts with their bellow sing a base

                        and the beasts are like children, they think this

                        is happening, not familiar,

                        not triumph, hardship, thing I’ve done wrong

 

and the man stands there strumming strings made from another beast’s gut;

                        the young boy in his lawn smiles making a sign

                        across his throat; from this line goes all difference,

                        an opening that’s easy to recognize

 

[NOTE.  In McCollough’s fifth book it is clear again how his work calls up sources & resources that expand while they almost deny the personal nature of the work that the work also proclaims.  Of all this he writes: “As the titles of the ‘Preliminary Notes’ poems might suggest, I was thinking about the Alchemical tradition during their composition. My actual notes from that time indicate an engagement with the work of Thomas Vaughan (brother of poet Henry Vaughan) and also with pseudo-Dionysius. I was already deep into the writing and rewriting of the manuscript for the book that would ultimately be called Underlight but which was under the working title ‘Rough Soul.’ Although it’s probably true that all of my books are about ‘personal magic’ at some level, or about trying to work magic on the world and the self from my own isolated garden, “Rough Soul”/Underlight is especially personal. The book is a house. It’s my house with the traumas, recoveries, and ecstasies marked in ways that are often obscure, and the ‘Notes’ poems offer the reader some tips about the rules of the house. I’ve always been drawn to Medieval/Early Modern micro-/macro-cosmological descriptive vocabularies. My house is a cosmic house. So, the ‘Notes’ poems are meant to offer tips about the rules of the cosmic house. The genius of the place is the Hebrew letter ‘Bet.’ First letter of the Torah. Number 2 in gematria. The letter with which the creative act can take place (as it does in Torah: ‘Bereshith’).The place for creation. House. ‘Rashi points out that the letter is closed on three sides and open on one; this is to teach you that you may question about what happened after creation, but not what happened before it, or what is above the heavens or below the earth’ (pseudo-Dionysius). The book questions and rejoices in what’s happened since creation as a way to feel out what might be above or below it. The seed is in the ‘Notes’ poems.”]