Notes on a phenomenological poetics
A review of Kevin Varrone's g-point almanacs
Kevin Varrone has written a series of works entitled g-point almanac. An early installment was g-point almanac (9.22–10.19), available as a Duration Press e-book. Others include the 2007 g-point almanac: id est (9.22–12.21) published by Instance Press and 2010 g-point almanac: passyunk lost issued by Ugly Duckling Presse. The almanacs echo, record, build an encounter with language that is based first in an encounter with a shifting world, quite real in its slippery emotional geography. It’s satisfying to read the books as elements in an ongoing project, one that tours the weather and the city of Philadelphia and maps traces of intimacies blowing through it, gently organized in a Book of Days format.
Varrone’s poetry speaks to the notion of an urban ecological poetics, the lyric self in weather in city in song, a poetics that is simultaneously a philosophy of being in things: a phenomenological poetics, perfect for the urban contemporary. Being, in these books, is constantly in formation, determined by environment and intersubjectivity: fluid, shifting, live.
Among the most illuminating cycles in the series, clarifying the kind of topography of the mind developed in Varrone’s work, is “that worst part after,” which appears in the two earlier books. (Why not revisit that worst part after? We always do. We savor it.) But what is that worst part after? We read, and we fill in the blanks. The lyric reader is a builder of imaginary emotional landscapes. Varrone writes:
cities (are they?)
epiphanies of desiring
We are propelled, here with punctuation, but also with the desire the writing sets up, the blank spaces that allow us to open up the possibility of perceiving the felt. We are dropped into the next line, through more blank space, into
gaps & apertures, absences,
that worst part after —
Accepting the impossibility of completion, the poem reveals the gaps inherent in language, investigating this in particular at the site of experiences that are the most difficult to translate because of their emotional thickness: that worst part. Coming close to articulating the experience without actually articulating it. That worst part after — it hurts most in all its gaps and empty spaces. Varrone leaves blanks, then offers some signs:
— that worst part
left for science
g-point almanac (9.22–10.19)
The reader gets some resolution on this page — the after is “after romance” — a filling in of one blank. We understand the worst to be an emotional texture, and then we are moved back towards the body, hollowed, the “corpse / left for science.” Varrone is a poet capable not only of exploring the complexities of the lyric field — spreading the page wide with space, shifting through enjambment and expansive vocabularies — but of letting the poem enact an important philosophical moment: a moment where the language is at once embodied and lyric. The poetry moves through the pages without settling on a moment of profundity, yet guides us through a phenomenological encounter with both thought and world. It is therefore appropriate that these words echo in the Instance Press book, only condensed into one page with less white space, “this corpse” becoming “a corpse”, an indefinite object, at a remove, with less silent space on the page, less raw emotion (16).
Creating the world by perceiving it, as we do, the poem does not crystallize experience but continues the ongoing process of creation. The instabilities of the body in motion through which emotion winds and unwinds. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty insisted, “We must not, therefore, wonder whether we really perceive a world, we must instead say: the world is what we perceive.” Varrone puts it slightly differently:
through versions of the city
beneath these versions
& say remember &
in the eyes of others
remembering looks like crying —
g-point almanac (9.22–10.19) (11)
The landscape of a book is the expanse of the page, often mostly white; the landscape of a book is the words, the punctuation, the sprawl and the spread of them. The landscape of poetry is still the words themselves, even their shape.
In g-point almanac: passyunk lost, the poems move through winter, following sometimes a daily journaling format through January, February, March. The book commences with the uncertainty of perception, a parenthetical lyric interpretive turn:
(a freckling effect across the sky)
undercut, informed by:
(what I mean is: sky’s frighted with false stars, adidas
across powerlines what I mean is chuck t’s I
g-point almanac: passyunk lost (13)
The book opens like this, and aptly so, for then the book the thought the language unfolds in this way, both suggesting and performing a kind of thinking that is simultaneously a way of seeing. In Philadelphia, a poet sees “round table. plastic chairs. propane grill,” the mundane stuff of domestic urban life. But this life never escapes its groundedness in the ethereal, so to speak. Does that ring ironic or absurd? All the more apt. This is a poetry that will not let us get away with cynicism and will not let us get away from lyricism. In the propane grill and the chuck t’s and other quotidian objects we find “the quality of silence / harnessed // for inelegant use” (68).
We, too, may have seen the way objects in the world collide with the mind, do violence to it. In Kevin Varrone’s work, birds:
there are birds that hover & those that take off at steep pitch. those that make
noise in morning & those silent at noon. things said & words after
words, as if in latin. a desperate octave of the throat. a tom waits song.
g-point almanac: id est (53)
An almanac is a collection of agricultural and meteorological information, but Varrone’s poems collect the information of poetic perception — a lyric Book of Days, a love letter, a Book of Loss. Nostalgic and documentary at once, with song throughout, it reminds us to listen better, often to the silence.