Monday, October 17, 2011

Day five: Enthusiast

Jonathan Williams

literature – the way we ripen ourselves
by conversation, said
Edward Dalhberg…

we flower in talk, we slake
our thirsts in a brandy of heated speech, song
sweats through the pores,
trickles a swarm
into the sounding keyboard,

pollen falls
across the blackened paper…

always idle – before and
the act:

making meat
of vowels
in cells
with sticky feet

I happened across a book of poems by this author in the library while hunting for another poet, picked it up more or less at random (went to return 2 books, came out with 4, you know how it goes). The back of the book describes the poetry within as “eccentric, strange, and boundlessly authentic,” and I certainly found it so. Though the authenticity is of the sort that I think would seem false, to someone not familiar with the context.

Because this is Black Mountain poetry, Appalachian poetry. It’s poetry of the American south, but the part of the south that gets forgotten even by the rest of those states. It’s scatological, sexual, dirty. A lot of it’s found poetry, but without the romantic NYC associations of the Beat poets. And it’s spare – each word chosen with no space for frills or lyricism.

Which sort of ties in with my comments on Saturday’s poem about how things should be read aloud. The Black Mountain group was associated with this manifesto by Charles Olson, which talks about shaping poetry by breath rather than by the formal constraints of meter, that form should come from content rather than content from form. A lot of that essay is pretty incoherent, I think, but there’s something to the idea of poetry as an essentially sounded thing, where a word is a sound above anything else, even above its meaning. (“speech is the ‘solid’ of verse, is the secret of a poem’s energy”)

And I think there’s a natural connection between that idea and found poetry, because the act of creating a found poem is an act of listening, of taking what’s there rather than making something be there. Yes, the poet shapes the end product, but that shaping is subsidiary to the source material. There are things you can’t do in a found poem – you can take things out, you can put things in a new order, but you can’t add things, not if you want to keep the authenticity of the found.

So, Enthusiast. I picked this one out I think because sub-consciously some part of me thinks of this as one of the more poem-like poems, one that seems most crafted. That doesn’t surprise me – I like art that shows skill and crafted-ness and effort, so it’s natural that I would like this more than some of his more clearly experimental or found poems, the ones that are more explicitly snippets:

one edinburgh publican has
a sign over the
bar that says if
assholes could fly this
would be an airport


my daughter can spot
a cute boy at
150 yards what she
can’t find is a
tomato in the refrigerator

And Enthusiast is a poem about words, which, you know. Button, pushed. So what do I like about it? I like the way there is this series of images but that they’re given in a very terse way. Each of these words makes me think of a different image: brandy, sweat, swarm, pollen. And more isn’t needed - my brain supplies all sorts of detail to go with those words. To analogize, reading the poem is to reading a book, as reading a book is to watching a film. Watching a film can be great, but when you’ve got this very spare wording, your imagination does the work.

I like the sounds of the poem as well. I tried mouthing the words and found myself really aware of the shapes my lips made, the movement of my tongue. It’s the sort of thing you don’t really think about most of the time because it’s become second nature, and then when you stop and try to think about it, it seems really weird. I wrote a poem about reading as eating once, and this reminded me of that, of sort of taking each word into your mouth.

I think I’m going to try finding more poetry at random, maybe hit up the library again tomorrow.

(This should be day 6 but I missed a day due to busy life, etc)

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