Friday, January 09, 2009

My Favorite Things Pt.2

I do not recall how first I discovered the work of UK poet Andrew Duncan. Eventually, circumstances converged and I was able to correspond, exchange books with, and publish him. I have found Andrew's work remarkable for its emotional depth. As American centrist poets have decried the lack of emotion in post-avant poetry, I thought it would be worthwhile to present a Duncan poem with some substantial affective weight. Mark Young's poems showed us rejection of closure; Duncan's poems reject closure, while maintaining an engagement with sense and the sensual world that can be traced back to first-Gen Romantics Wordsworth and Coleridge. I have taken centrists to task for universalizing; Wordsworth also universalizes (The world is too much with us..), yet the extreme formal rigor of his language, combined with a piercing awareness of suffering, easily raises Wordsworth above American centrists. But back to Duncan. I have chosen a long poem from Anxiety Before Entering a Room: Selected Poems 1977-99, which was released by Salt in 2001. The poem is called The Metallic Autumn, and see if you can discern how Duncan does three things at once: rejects closure, registers the sensuous world as an (intermittently menacing) objective correlative, and relates it to a personal world:

Rain silvers the slate roofs, smoke blows through the rain.
The hawthorn hedges are a red haze.
The hills above the town are blurred by mist.
Beauty is stripped away.
Light is pierced with nostalgia, slow and lax.
Decadent season.
Water forms a haze between light and rain.
Flowers and leaves decaying in the streams
Mix earth and water in slow dispersal.
Blur steals over visible forms,
Smoke and moulder stir in the ash of light.
The pools are sorrowful, the sips of flowers spilt.
I find a single apple whole after all these weeks,
Skin whole and pulp firm as sapwood.

In a slush of softness and excrescence,
Late berries languish on the tendrils,
Lush to dissolution, spoilt with juice,
Blacker than nature with a white tinge like regret.
In the shadow of the sunny fronds,
Where the dew never dries, they drink and rot.
Rain on the leaf, dew on the bine. Mites
Finger the abacus of their flesh.
Rain silvers the roof-slates, smoke blows through the rain.

Season of memory and regret.
Barrels coop up the giddy heats for recollection.
The animals grow lazier and furrier:
Search out shelter and apathy!
The heady noon is gone, the soft inner of the blossoms
And their offer. The rarer veins are frozen in their course.
We waited for the glance of the sun.
The osier of bare birch twigs seems like smoke
Against the red glow of the Apple going down.

Rain silvers the roof-slates, smoke blows through the rain.
A swirl of leaves like heavy fire
Pours through the tamping of a world on the wane.
The darkened sky withholds the weary forms.
Crepuscule, dissolution of concepts;
Seasons of case-hardening ash,
Season of ferment and thorough steeping.
Fruits infringe their brinks and streams their brims
Overlapping the thick pulp of fallen things.

The principle of ice shall come to judgment
On the lusts of Nature, searching out the flaw.
Bare branches detach pure metre from an obese rhetoric.
Blue glare shall shake out the torpid mist,
Pure axile-crystals shall affirm the morass.

Between the imagery of this poem and its sonic gorgeousness (boasting as it does extensive use of assonance and parallel structure), what sets this poem apart, and allows me to affix the appellation "post-avant" to it, beyond its macabre, Imagistic sense of natural decay, is the total restraint with which Duncan resists the impulse to put himself into the poem. Yet, I take all the sensuality that Duncan is seeing and registering as Eliotic objective correlatives of an interior state (of ripeness moving into decay) being adumbrated. The one universalist moment (We waited for the glance of the sun) suffices to place us in a personal world, but it is world that Duncan merely unfolds. This poem has a clear spiritual predecessor in Keats' To Autumnone of the most exquisite of his five major odes.

P.S. A reading I'm doing at the new Highwire in February.


In terms of a spirit or Geist around British avant-gardism, which might fit under the post-avant aegis, a poem has now been posted on PFS Post by Chris McCabe, which not only parallels Andrew Duncan's sense of abstraction (inherited from century XX but projected/projecting into XXI), shares a macabre sense of the dense inscrutability of nature, and Wordsworths the protagonist (to use Wordsworth as a verb) into communion with eternal forces of darkness and light. As of today (1-22-17, Byron's 229th birthday), the poem is untitled, and here it is:

I seek the fine grain with the course mind, 
The cloth my brain is wrapped in, rough
To the touch of the world's green edges.
My body sometimes knows what's to be

Done, when in name I speak a wild field
That has not been cleared of impediments:
The culture's stones, commerce's salt
That rot the Earth and shut off the sun.

I long to yield beauty, in its own allotment; 
Uncurbed and yet refined; freely available
But not cheapened by bargained price.
Let the spring, the bird-song, the trees,

Come into their aloneness like a coronation
That allows the new king to attain greatness
Amidst the very loss that brought him there. 
All that is most clear and true is visible

Like the color that breathes itself on rain
To make the surface dazzle with life, to show
That what is beautiful carries between floors
And can be on the ground, or greenly upstairs. 

An issue for post-avant to grapple with, pertinent both to Duncan and McCabe— are British avant-gardists like Duncan and McCabe using abstraction as a kind of metaphoric tool, to pierce into dark mysteries (around language, around philosophy) that would otherwise remain impenetrable?

1 comment:

Steve said...

"Close-reading" ANY poetry/poming, imo, should be THE whole idea of reading in the first place. And personally, I like close-reading that is never hesitant about permitting impressionistic and personal response, or, for that matter, even launching into and becoming poming or near-poming, itself. Then, there is the rest of "reading," which is reading designed to advanced oneself in the world of letters and in academe and careers. And also "reading" that serves to advance one's own theories, or one's comrade's poetics, or one's best thots, and that is ALRIGHT, too.

But really truly I don't believe we do each other, poming, all other poets/pomers any justice at all if we do not "close-read" their poming in as personal and idiosyncratic a manner as possible, so I find this post of yours quite refreshing, Adam, and anytime you visit my own pad, theenk, you'll see some "close/closet readings" there, too. :)


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