Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jeffrey Side: Carrier of the Seed


Carrier of the Seed is a Blazevox e-book by UK poet Jeffrey Side. Those skeptical about the e-book format would do well to peruse it; it is proof positive that e-books are, in fact, both real and legitimate. This is a single long poem; 63 pages long, and its formal characteristics are unique: it features a single column composed of spare, terse lines, going straight down the page. This gives the poem a sleek, lean look, as is customary with Side. Reading the poem is like riding on a high-velocity train; it doesn't get sluggish, and there are no breaks in the continuity of the sustained, brisk rhythm. There is an obvious connection with some aspects of Language Poetry; the primary difference between, say, Barrett Watten's Progress and Carrier is that Carrier does actually tell a story, albeit elliptically. This is a story of love lost: memory associations, forms of consciousness which accrue to it.

What happens is that Side will often break through the fast-moving, but often opaque surface of language-as-language into something like this:

my love I
need you so
much but more
than else I'm
waiting for you


There is a relationship being posited, and the poem's velocity can be taken as a metaphor for the poet's escape, or attempted escape. It is also important to note that specific scenes do get interspersed in the "deluge" format:

as to how
many erections she
caused in a
crowded room who
can say with
signs and signals
from her hips


The title of the poem implies a kind of address to manhood itself, what constitutes being a man-in-the-world. This address to/of manhood is complicated by the relationship scenario that is enacted in the poem:

all day and
night I fight
for light while
you were with
my mistress it
just makes a
fuck of me
as I go
up to the
south of hills


The relationship is ambiguous, manhood (as presented here) is ambiguous, and it all goes by so fast that the poem demands multiple readings. There is also a song-lyric quality to many of the most memorable bits in the poem:

I can't get
you under I
can't be leaving
you not until
I've done everything
I have to


This visceral, heightened formality is one I look for in poetry right now. It's Language poetry, with greater velocity, more affective drama and intensity, a kind of balls-out sangfroid. Yet, the implied presence of music does not preclude an engagement with poetry-as-history:

calling all cars
calling all cars
Keats let me
down too much
you left before
we could be
strangers this is
a trying time


Burns and Milton also put in memorable appearances. Bits of rhyme jazz the thing up as well:

life with fetters
cut from water
pearl you never


The following bit, for me, is the heart of the poem:

night and you
had a pocket
to keep you
out of sight
as you tried
to be so
helpful but maybe
we never existed
separately so nothing
can be sacred
and I cannot
love or hate
and I have
no care for
fate and it
will be chaos
in the end


This is a poem that extends the thematic range of avant-gardism in the English language. It demonstrates the kind of humanistic gravitas which Barrett Watten does not, yet it maintains crispness, pungent sharpness for its duration. I immediately thought, also, of Chris McCabe and Mary Walker Graham, younger poets who are taking Language Poetry and expanding its parameters. If this is, in fact, a kind of movement (what is now being called "post-avant"), Side fits squarely into it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mini Q & A: Karen Volkman


Adam Fieled: I’m struck by the manner in which you manage the sonnet form. You manage to balance the formalist’s impulse to craft and the post-modernist’s impulse to abstract. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how this balance was achieved.

Karen Volkman: I'm afraid it's a bit difficult to say how I came to the "balance" --the sonnet project was a very unexpected development in my work, and took me by surprise -- continues to, in fact. I can say my touchstones through the writing have been the trinity of Hopkins, Mallarme, and Rilke. (Valery has also been a reference for some of the most recent poems.) I of course deeply revere the great sequences of the Renaissance, but it was reading Mallarme in French and Rilke's sonnets in German that really pushed me to try the form -- something about the intense materiality of sound impacting through the foreign words and syntax.

I hope to continue this conversation at some point in the future...
 

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