Saturday, April 18, 2009
The Canary, Number 6
Edited by Joshua Edwards, Anthony Robinson, Nick Twemlow
Editor-at-Large, Robin Schiff
We each approach the act of reading with our own set of dispositions. That is, we all possess our attentive quirks and prejudices. To read is to develop a permeable shape – one with a distinct private identity that nonetheless also interacts with an extended galaxy of readers and readerships. This blog is a personal tool that seeks to function on a private level - as a means of defining my own experience as a reader. For the Birds’ wider goal, though, is to incite communication and encourage further investigation amongst individuals and between disciplines and schools. That is, in the public sphere. The model, though, is hopefully more complex than a simple Venn diagram though, as we are dealing with three-dimension objects and not two-dimensional planes.
My own reading habits, that is, how I choose what I’m going to read next, is a collapse of discipline and whim, combined with my own obsessive neurosis. I buy a lot of books – more than I can probably handle, and definitely many more than my modest living space (not to mention financial means) can accommodate. As a result, books get bought and forgotten, in some instances, for years and years. The other day I was rummaging through one of large cardboard boxes stacked high in one corner of my room in hopes of finding an umbrella, and instead I unearthed the sixth issue of the Canary, a poetry journal focusing on more experimental, open work. It was better than an umbrella.
What exactly does this mean, though? Well, first off, I need to admit my inexperience when it comes to literary journals. I read them with great difficulty, as I find myself forced to reorient and reconfigure my expectations, my very method of reading, every couple pages or so. They demand a very rigorous reading experience. Yet I also find reading through an intelligently complied journal to be one of the most invigorating experiences for a reader. Or a writer. The collision and procedures and temperaments on display in the Canary, from Karen Volkman’s finely-turned incremental language to Thomas Heise’s nightmare urbanologies, inspires and incites me within my own work, as good poetry often does.
In many ways, the centerpiece of the issue is Rosmarie Waldrop’s translation from the German of Ulf Stolterfoht’s “Lingos III, (Re-) Encounter with Cut-Mute.” The center, ironically, is a crater, no, a hole. This is a tour de force of linguistic scarification. The difficulty of Stolterfoht’s poem is not confined to its opacity or syntactic rigor, it further steams from the wound of words. We encounter the gross misconduct of language, how “they say: ‘the word that’s tied to might/ will wither.’ this means also: when not subject/ to any master - name the master. means roughly/ to distinguish: sheer and mere. scare and cash./ fallow will step in when athwart drops out.” Look closely at the violence of Stolterfoht’s enjambments! The first and second lines here excerpted exert a real tension upon the pivot, as the thematic thrust of the passage churns around concepts of “might” and “will.” The enjambment is an economic one as well, as it exfoliates the potential of the word “will” as both a verb and a noun. The other end words of the above selection further explicate this conflagration – “subject,” “roughly,” “cash,” “out.” Stolterfoht is leading us through a hell of language’s nightmare tyranny.
As I scan over this abrasion of language, of a “…dear mother-/ tongue – burned down!,” I cannot help being reminded of the past centuries’ poets of monumental loss, of Paul Celan and Edmond Jabes, and particularly their contextualization by Michael Palmer as the proprietors of an analytic lyric. Palmer discusses “..this notion of disintegration of faith in the sign.” In Stolterfoht’s long poem I do not so much see the elimination of the sign as I do an apocalyptic signification. Also, the wound that is linguistic presence.
Stolterfoht at one point dismantles or at least defamiliarizes the stability of quotation, as he notes “st. augustine already knew this when he said:/ oh-these-gallows-again/ah-how-they-thrive/ - that sentences are just long names. i-how-/ ever-quote: could not find such a passage in/ st. augustine…” The attributed quote stresses the totality of unit within the sentence, but this concept is questioned as the source is disambiguated and nullified. Words are crossed out by words. We return to this linguistic absence: “i-however-could-not-find-a-soul who/ kneads his words as if they contained names.” This statement further nullifies the supposed St. Augustine quote – no one can be found to substantiate the above-posited physicality of language.
Furthermore, consider this later excerpt, where a dialectic is established between “they:/ understanding a good day’s work as the/ destruction of what came before. me: con-/ sidering there might be facts outside the/ poem.” What is the implication? Rather, what are the implications of such a passage? Look at how Stolterfoht nullifies language with his enjambment of the word “considering;” it becomes negligible as its stratification dismantles its signification – the word’s meaning is deactivated! We also see here a poetics that has grown apart from the holistic integration of such great American modernists as William Carlos Williams. This is something else. Imagine a poem as a net. Williams or Pound privileged the ability of the net to entrap and enfold an object or idea within it. Stolterfoht, and by extension earlier German writers such as Celan or Jabes, draw attention to what passes through the net.
Many of the contributors to the sixth issue of the Canary circle around the urbanized zone. In a selection from her larger work, “Traffic and Weather,” Marcella Durand configures a codified urbanology where “Each facet reflects another part of itself/ but never self-reflective: always moving out.” It might be more apt to say not reflexive, but reflective. Durand illuminates the poem’s surfaces. “The city is made of untouchable facets./ When drenched it becomes unbearably active.” That is, more facets mean more surfaces, as well as “More rain, until every surface reflects.” Durand visualizes an urban biology correlative to the urban futurism I have been reading about and enjoying immensely in William Gibson’s science fiction novels. Durand’s line “Once this neighborhood was many neighborhoods.” could very well be a description of the hypertrophied urban zone of the Sprawl as seen in Gibson’s “Neuromancer” or “Count Zero.” The city is an organic sprawl. There are resistant elements of course. For instance, “The role of the landlord is. To prevent building,” and there are those who protest progress, who “…don’t want anything to be built in that space.” Imagine the manner in which a city grows – a closing of the interstices between signified urban spaces until pluralities become a teeming singularity. This connection of increments reminds me, in a way, of the accretion of the New Sentence, look at Lyn Hejinian’s “My Life,” Ron Silliman’s “Ketjak,” or his collaboration with Rae Armantrout, “Engines.”
Thylias Moss’ contributions to the Canary, three wonderfully aplomb and digressive prose poems that utilize her concept of Limited Fork poetics, also develop through their accumulation. While Moss’ poems do not directly confront an urbanology, they do locate themselves in clearly delineated spaces. The poem is a city-space. Consider the opening to “Absolute Hairlessness and the Cannibal,” where Moss tells us she feels “…like a cannibal as I tug at a bagel with my teeth outside Ludlow’s Smoker’s Palace where I bought it…,” or the expansion of geography as her poems move “a block past Ludlow’s Smoker’s Palace – on the side of the gets less sun, doesn’t drain well after storms, melt sits, residue of violent weather has no place else to go…” The circulating digressions of Moss’ poems manifest as complex a landscape as the one seen in Thomas Heise’s absolutely stunning “0006.33.000,” an excerpt from his longer “Journal of X.”
Heise’s prose poem is a harrowing map of a nightmare urbanography. The text is centered in wide columns, allowing for both the expansive breadth of prose poetry’s freed line, as well as the ordering tension of strict lineation. The column also engenders a vertical movement downward, to the subterranean depths of an urban husk. We move through this city where “…from an unfathomable/ depth of space rose the harmonious song of children/ that spread over the ice fields…” and we stop at a bank window that “…held an aquarium with an/ angelfish swimming around in circles with its/ dorsal fin out of the evaporating water. It was/ inedible.” Ice seems to blanket this landscape. We encounter “the woman/ who would become my mother… [whose] face was brilliant,/ pixilated, and filled with a million crystals of ice.” These formations of ice provide the structure of a vast sprawl. Heise wonders if “Perhaps the structure was a series of/ multiplying crystals that we imagined on a clear/ morning, when we knew what we wanted, what we/ had to have more than all else, was taken from us.” Maybe, then, it is more correct to say that the frequent return to notions of urban space and growth that various contributors make within this issue of the Canary is instead an issue of structure.
Consider Michael Marcinkowski’s “Placentia Bay to Jackson,” which utilizes a projective field of dispersed words and phrases connected by the totalizing agent of the page. Here we see structure, that is, lineation and use of page, spread out much like a city, as Marcinkowski states “So few, here, know/ that your view/ is/ your own/ and your city/ is/ of size and now/ of age/ to be relic…” or that “the industrialized East Side/ still bears the marks of township/ in/ construction and design.” So, then, we find the scaffolding still apparent, though perhaps it might be disingenuous to compare structural elements with temporality.
To the best of my knowledge, the Canary is now defunct, which is a real shame, as reading through their sixth issue was such a wonderfully explorative experience for me. Imagine, one last time, the conceit of the city. In some fashion, I feel as if I only had the chance to stop over in this city while in the process of a greater travel. Donna Stonecipher puts it nicely in her poem, “Inlay (Susan Sontag),” one of her two contributions, both which eventually made it into her recent collection, “The Cosmopolitan.” She asks, “If you’ve been to a city’s airport, can you say you have been to that city?” Perhaps Stonecipher answers, or at least addresses, this concern within the very same poem, as she concludes “Wasn’t this then happiness – to be contained within life like a big mind inside a bigger mind?”
PS.: the accompanying image is of Robin Schiff, the Editor-at-Large of the issue under discussion. I choose it partially because of the wonderful disconnect between Schiff's beaming grin and the scowl of the woman in the background.