Tuesday, February 04, 2020

you see the flight pattern but no bird

A couple of weeks ago I felt fed up with my longstanding moratorium on buying new books. So I broke out and ordered As When, Miles Champion's selection of Tom Raworth's poetry. Charity shops can supply nearly all my reading needs, but they're not much good if you want modern poetry, especially not the kinds of modern poetry I like best.

Thus I reflected. As was perhaps bound to happen, later the same day we were in a charity shop in Frome, and I picked out Shira Dentz' How Do I Net Thee, published by Salmon Poetry in 2018.

The floodgates were well and truly open now. A couple of days later I succumbed to a three-for-a-pound thing in Swindon: Christopher Lee's Eight Bells & Top Masts, memoirs of apprenticing on a tramp steamer in the late 1950s; John Arden's play Serjeant Musgrave's Dance; and a novel by Michael Frayn, Towards the End of the Morning. A couple of days after that, I was back in Frome and failed to resist Åsa Larsson's Until Thy Wrath Be Past, a scandi noir thriller set in Kiruna, a place I may be passing through this summer. And finally, this past weekend, Hubert Selby Jr's Last Exit to Brooklyn.

This post registers a well-founded caution about how many of these books I'll really get round to reading  (and what about the forty already on the go?)... but I like to imagine it.

[All of them, as it turned out. The links are to my subsequent reflections.]


A girl of freezing ice in my stomach; papoose;
skinning my meat.

see-through ice
at my caverns

a tongue wider than

Who can turn down the volume?

biting myself. i'm a basket full of eels on the backseat of a car.
curled like question marks.

Am i the girl who makes the empty plank of a brother

white keys on the far ends of a piano

a baldness, with nothing around it


                                                                       vaseline on my senses

being angry comes in waves             you see the flight pattern but no bird


For a few minutes i sit in front of a white sun aglow. watch it move behind a

                    the moon a white eye. roundness is so common

a navy sky
bitter cold and a missing
            how can i take a bird i saw once
all i want is warm, mango-colored. it'll go down like wine.

then you become a voiceaholic.

his voice, a flock of pigeons.
sky is water
a voice like a raincoat
what spare change

(Shira Dentz, beginning of "Marsupium")

Marsupium = pouch

This is the first two pages of eight; I wish I could quote it all, because exciting things keep on happening, for example "those yellow fruit that have accordion sections", or "a brief flick in the air like light from a lighter".

Many of  the early images are referenced again later e.g. tongue, eels, question mark, brother, piano, bald... It suggests a developing argument, which is perhaps a delusion as the poem seems quite unwilling to be circumscribed, each line has its own horizons.

But let's tug at one of the threads. The "voice like a raincoat" is followed almost at once by "A voice descending". That could mean in pitch, as in the piano keyboard, but "cascading" and "Waterfalls" definitely suggest downward movement. As in "talking down to", a sermon from on high? But nurturing too, like the coat? For the voice is "his voice", "the chop suey of my father's verbal egg", "My father's younger voice wears a cap I call salvation".. But the poet has a voice too, to deploy or dispose of ("Throw my voice a way the potter throws clay"). Perhaps, though,  voices cannot be so easily owned, though they come from within. What about "loneliness is everyone's spitting... the man on the other side, spinning... viny voice ripping through crinoline yellow and pretty that's no way to pick up the alphabet"? (I'm seeing that yellow fruit splitting open.) The sounds of the voice aren't always verbal or voluntary or constructive, they often parrot someone else (a parent for example), and what they mean to a listener isn't necessarily what the owner of the voice means. We are transmission devices, resonators...

Shira Dentz lives and works in upstate New York. She has published five poetry collections since 2010 (though I think some of the others might be contained within this one).

I've had it in mind to read more Tom Raworth for ages, but what finally prompted the purchase was poetry by the editor Miles Champion. There's a generous ten poems here:
http://www.wildhoneypress.com/Audio/Miles_Champion.htm .
I've spent most time feeling my way round the first one, "The Beige Suprematist". So here's how it starts:

We made some drawings of the volume lengthwise.

There was a typewriter key in the sweat.

What of the resolve that curtains us into a solid trope.

I see him loosen what's moist,

   and acquire a mute pathos.

"That", says Kazimir Malevich, "makes a soap man."

On an island of noise, attach

the sockets to a mucuslike substance.

But what are these wooden pipes on the floor.

Points of beforehand in Deanna's basement.

In the end, though, I came out on the square.

He said it was white and felt cheerful.

Our smooth shapes angled off in flakes of noun breath.

They have the inner beats.

Seems Tim swam off, forming two domes, whose crystals had dislodged.

Put literally the cylinder seems to striate the flicks.

The box that holds it has a burly dynamism.

A sausage-shaped ball roosters about this.

In constructing it, what I say breaks

   into heavy props.

Basic plastic strain exhausts artistic feeling on the roof.

So language, stopping, creates a square.

My sharp eye out, the size is no break, it words the interstices

                          and creates a split.

That chairs be ladders, each chair rescuing a flake.

Chet bakes the fast eye.

(Miles Champion, from "The Beige Suprematist".)

This poem and some or all of the rest subsequently appeared in A Full Cone (2018), which looks a great book. If I say that it reminds me of vintage Ashbery, that's supposed to be praise, but I know sometimes that sort of remark doesn't go down well, because who wants to be thought of as evoking the art of fifty years ago? But what I mean is, the poetry has a particular kind of effortlessly eloquent amplitude, something I'd almost forgotten about.

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