What is s=C=a=L=e

Writing over capital

C.J. Martin, Unused Cover (Portable Press, 2013), 2012 (Supersuperette), Two Books (Compline, 2011)—Full disclosure: Martin cites me in the index of his reading influences and practices. Although I’m going to focus almost exclusively on Martin’s Compline book, the two recent chapbooks are crucial parts of his overall project insofar as the book itself is composed of work largely available in chapbook forms. This history would coincide seamlessly with much contemporary publication practices were it not the case that Martin takes up this bigger-is-better scheme (see my previous review of Donato Mancini’s Buffet World) as the subject of almost all his work. The primary modes of scale that interest Martin are theological/philosophical and aesthetic/political—that is, piety v. idolatry (What Is Worship) and model v. structure (Maquettes for Monumental). Martin’s discrete series of observations, reactions and extensions of his reading and thinking will remind some of George Oppen but, in his concern with 19th c. America—the century during which the former colonists of England, France and Spain reimagine themselves as the United States of America—Martin may be understood as a nodal “bundle” in a network of intersecting affiliations and affinities, Susan Howe, Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson chief among them.  Martin’s conceptual and constructivist predilections echo Schwitters et al but the manipulation of grammar and syntax, the disruptions of the semantic field, is pre-dictionary, those historical moments of haphazard writing and talking  (say, in England, Germany and the USA) before the formalization of grammatical and syntactical rules. As he writes in “What Is Worship,” “[SMALL SALMON SLIP] LANGUAGE/ follows events—migrations,/commerce…” Martin’s project in toto, but especially in Two Books, renders moot the condescension of terms like “idiosyncratic’ as applied to the writings of people like Howe, Dickinson or, more recently, say, Jordan Scott. Yes, the foregoing can doubtless be reduced to Language Writing, and there is no question that that model informs Martin’s writing. Yet his interest in the merger of theological and all other values under capital’s expansion in the 19th century locates him within the geography of his ‘upbringing” and “residence” (“How is a/disposition held, as geographic knowledge.”). This sentence comes toward the end of the last section of Maquettes for Monumental; it is titled “More and More Plastic.” Moreover, a poem like “2nd Maquette: Miraculating Machine” could easily have been written by someone like Donato Mancini: “”So it’s”, or/the production/of consumption--/Plus, that fostering’s/such hard work/to begin w/.//-affix orphan letter-/-who won’t eat, etc.-…” One of Martin’s most frequent abbreviations is ‘b/w” or just ‘w-.” For me, it registers at several levels: texting (communication), black & white (telecommunication), and between (the lacuna before or after a message has been sent or received). This lag effect as the very form of received history glosses Martin’s publication methods. Everything “inside” the book and chapbooks is meant to drag its feet against the pull of the next “book” since, invariably, the end result will indeed be a monument (an oeuvre, Heaven, a triumphant neoliberalism, etc.). Perhaps this is the significance of the title Maquettes for Monumental: Martin wants to underscore that which tends toward what escapes it. In this regard, it is not surprising that the titles here—of the book, chapbooks and poems—so often initiate their monumentality by “merely” dating when they came to be (2012), what they came to be (Two Books). Martin works at every level of language and its distributional modes, to say nothing of its inevitable commodification, in order to resist (however futile) the accompanying, institutionalized, habits of “reading,” “purchasing,” and, as here, “evaluating.”