Sunday, September 26, 2010

a doozy from Dusie (Kollektiv 4)

Mark Lamoureux
Dance Poems
([no place]: Cy Gist Press for the Dusie Kollektiv, 2010)
[5.5" x 8.5" / edition of 50]
-- and --
Dance Poems
an on-line pdf / expanded edition
[an e-chap in Dusie Kollektiv 4 (September 2010)]
[click here to read]

Well, how’s this for great: ten days ago the Dusie Kollektiv (editor = Susana Gardner) posted 33 new poetry e-chaps (click here to see), just seven months after they put up a batch of 49. Yes, it’s another poem-bonanza, and it’s free for all! Congratulations to the Kollektiv, lucky for us, and everybody please just keep on chooglin’!

Better here, actually, to say keep on pas de bourrée couru–in’! That’s a ballet term [pah duh boo-RAY koo-REW] signifying a kind of running, a progression on the points or demi-pointes by a series of small, even steps with the feet close together. It’s a quick, skilled, and beautiful set of moves (click here for a seven seconds QuickTime video), and in that way perfect to celebrate Dusie’s new batch o’ chaps, which appear so soon after the last big bunch. So keep on pas de bourrée couru-in!

The ballet term is also perfect for this post today because the particular Dusie e-chap I joyfully pirouette around here – Dance Poems, by Mark Lamoureux – presents twenty poems entirely inspired by and actually written during – you guessed it – live dance performances.

I have a relatively long, and unusual relationship to Lamoureux’s dance poems. The poems had me from when I first saw them in April, 2009, when Lamoureux first posted individual examples on his blog. He posted others in June, 2009. All the poems (a total of ten) made me feel – made the mind whirl – in ways very similar to sensations experienced after watching live dance. The poems have lots of space, as if the page (or computer screen) is the stage, and the words seem to take positions and perform.

The dance poems also interested me because I’d remembered that in 2005 Lamoureux had done something similar by writing poems while watching independent or experimental movies. The chapbook of that work – Film Poems – was very well received (click here for Ron Silliman’ s post on it). It also had a beautiful cover design, based on a classic 1960s’ issue of Film Culture magazine.

In August 2009, I e-mailed Lamoureux, who I did not know other than by reading his poetry. I asked if there were other dance poems, and suggested that they would make a great chapbook. I also suggested that similar to Film Poems the cover of any such chap should mimic the look of a classic dance magazine. To that end, I tracked down and attached to my e-mail an image an early 1950s issue of Dance Magazine, featuring a striking photo of a ballerina en danse.

Well leapin’ Pavalova and how-‘bout-that-Nijinksy, Lamoureux replied that he had written other dance poems (some of which he immediately posted), and was interested in having a chap published, although he explained that he still had performances he planned to see, and thus poems to write.

But soon enough, in late January 2010, his own Cy Gist Press (for Dusie) published a hard copy edition of Dance Poems. For the chap’s cover, Lamoureux used the basic Dance Magazine image I’d sent (he kindly thanks me on the colophon page), but he had improved it immensely. Among other things, Lamoureux (presumably via PhotoShop) multiplied the single image of the dancer to beautifully suggest movement, and replaced the word Magazine with Poems. I know the cover of the chap, a scan of it, is at the head of this post, but why scroll when you can have it again right here:

And so now I, a poetry reading fool, have the incredible almost unbelievable pleasure of seeing in the world, of having in hand and reading, a poem-book just about as – really, even better than – I’d dreamed it could be. How sweet is that?

How. Sweet. It. Is!


Dance Poems, in the expanded on-line pdf edition, contains 20 poems, all transcribed from writing done in a notebook during, and in response to, live dance performances. In an endnote, Lamoureux states that he avoided music and dance vocabulary as much as possible, “in order to preserve the abstract quality of sound and motion . . . .” He also writes that each poem is “discrete” from but “conjoined” to the performance from which it arose, and advises readers to refer to the original dance pieces whenever possible.

The longest of the Dance Poems is ten pages (it’s on a William Forsythe ballet), and two others are seven pages each (written during pieces by Merce Cunningham, and Christopher Wheeldon, respectively). Most of the poems are between two and four pages, and some are just a page long (a few of the latter are labeled “excerpts”). Other choreographers whose works are written on (or through) include Trisha Brown, Melissa Barak, Paul Taylor, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, and María Páges. It’s a substantial and interesting mix of modern, post-modern and contemporary dance, including even a dollop of flamenco (Vamo’ ya!).

These poems, I think, could only have been written in or around New York City (Lamoureux lives in Astoria, a neighborhood in the northwestern corner of the borough of Queens). Where else could anyone see all these dance performances, in such a relatively short period of time? So here’s a bow and a curtsey for The Big (Balletomane) Apple!


Here’s a one-pager by Lamoureux from Dance Poems that, while shorter than most in the chap, is not an excerpt – it was written over a full performance. It has less than two dozen total words (not counting the title) but seems not austere, but lush. It gets going, I think, godly good:


                               cloud        line

                tuck                         satyr

snake                                      shadow


                echo                        green

grown                                     over


                tube       ripple



                mist                        pulse

lift                          over         part

George Balanchine, Valse Fantasie (1953, revised 1967)

Balanchine’s Valse Fantasie (1953, revised 1967), is a relatively short (eight minute) work for five women (one a lead) and one man, set to a composition by Mikhail Glinka. The ballet’s considered, in the words of a New York Times reviewer, “a small gem” that’s “dotted with leaps and leg beats, with rising on pointe and coming down, and with the step known as pas de chat [a leaping cat-like move].” The music surges and recedes and (quoting here another Times writer) the ballet’s “dancers . . . never stop moving and . . . constantly run or leap in and out with great swiftness . . . .” Or, as another reviewer put it, “[the] music is irresistible in its melody and rapid waltz pulse; the [dancers] spend much of the time airborne . . . .”

Balanchine - Valse Fantasie
“leaps and leg beats” / “much of the time airborne”

Lamoureux’s poem suggests much of the qualities of the ballet mentioned above, paticularly its off-the-floor or “airborne” character. That’s implied directly in certain of the poem’s words, including cloud line, ionosphere, over (twice), mist and lift.

But leaps are also indicated by the structure, or form, of the poem, especially the first six lines. Take a look at those, freeing yourself while you do from the tyranny of top-to-bottom reading:

                               cloud        line

                tuck                         satyr

snake                                      shadow


                echo                        green

grown                                     over

Here, the eyes move up, in a way leap, with the two sets of three words that can be read bottom-to-top, left-to-right, starting at the poem’s left margin (i.e., “snake / tuck / cloud” and “grown / echo / ionosphere”). The eyes also step or move up with the two trios of words that are more-or-less vertically aligned in columns on the lines’ right side (e.g., from bottom-to-top, “shadow / satyr / line”). Aptly, and similar to the airborne characteristics of the Balanchine ballet, each of these bottom-to-top lifts and leaps end, via “cloud line” and “ionosphere,” in the sky, the sky of the mind. Where, I say, the the words dance, especially when, as here, the writing’s spontaneous and simultaneous with the energy of sound and movement.

When I first read “Valse Fantasie” I knew nothing of the Balanchine ballet, and yet the poem worked. The array of words in four vertical columns are interesting to the eye, and provide a structure, similar to ballet positions or the measures in music, in which the words move, and there is, substantively, an interaction that can be narrated (consider “satyr” and “liege,” “snake” and “chime” until the final “part[ing].” The very short lines (mostly one or two words) suggest speed, as does “run” and “arrow” while “echo,” “ripple,” and “pulse” suggest rhythm, momentum and energy.

Interesting too, and maybe my favorite part of “Valse Fantasie,” is the word “chime” (three lines from the poem’s end), and what it does in the space, the white space, that precedes and especially follows it. With its substantive meanings and connotations, a noun or verb of bells and harmony, “chime” is exceedingly musical. And there’s music too, of course, in the word’s actual sounds: a consonant digraph (“ch”) followed by the open vowel (“i”) that when closed off with the concluding “m” results in a particularly resonant laryngeal hum. And that “chime” rings out into, and through, the relatively large white space (air) that follows in Lamoureux’s poem, as if a dancer in glorious mid-leap. It’s also a resonance that associates back to the “echo” and “ripple” of a few lines before.


Carmen and Ángel Corella in María Pagés’ Soleá (NYC, 2010)

Here’s the title and first approximately two-thirds of another of the Dance Poems:


                                 String                  breath

                 weary                    circuit

                                 divide                  interior

                 so blue                                long last

                 reliquary                            bridge

                                 brown   flame   gnome

                                 simmer              grave


                                                burn magenta

                                                blossom beat

The poem has eight more lines, but I think this excerpt shows how Lamoureux’s words evoke María Pagés’ Soleá, an eight minute pas de deux that combines elements of ballet and flamenco, specially choreographed for the sister and brother team of Carmen and Ángel Corella. I focus hard here on “reliquary bridge / brown flame gnome,” combinations that bring to mind sacred connections and rich earthly fantasias. There’s also life and death in here (“breath” and “grave”), and the final four words above – “burn magenta / blossom beat” – come across as pulses of almost psychedelic beauty. And the arrangement of the words, the gaps and rhythms, bring to the ear, to mine, the footwork and hand clapping that must have been integral to this dance.


I could, maybe should, go on, and say more about other Dance Poems. When Ron Silliman wrote about Film Poems, he mentioned that Lamoureux’s writing was “studded with fabulous gems throughout.” The same’s true here: stopping on a random page, there are (these from “Melissa Barak / ‘A Simple Symphony’”) “allele division” and “quadrant / hexagram,” unusual combinations that seem entirely personal to this poet.

But the great thing about the Dusie Kollektiv e-chaps is that you can read ‘em all, including Dance Poems, yourself. So have it, please. Besides, I’ve worked myself up way too much. I’m pushing the chair away from the machine, and am off to trip the light fantastic.

Well, okay, probably I’ll just take a walk, maybe just around the block. But with every step, I promise you, I’ll do some kind of choreographed move, up there in the “ionosphere” of imagination and across the “reliquary bridge” of my mind, to honor Lamoureux’s word-dances.


Mark Lamoureux


Saturday, September 18, 2010

An Alli Warren Report

I first came to Alli Warren’s poetry about four years back, via the Bay Poetics (2006) anthology. That book included six poems by Warren, across eight pages towards the back of the book. The first of her poems there – titled “One the sources of fiber” – had a second line that hit particularly hard:
locked in a sneezing cabbage
That’s a phrase that comes, to use the parlance of Andre Breton, “knocking at the window.” To amplify, using again Breton’s words, the phrase is “rather strange . . . without any apparent relationship” to typical experience. Its “organic character” not only “caught my attention” but “[a]ctually . . . astonished me.”

And so from “locked in a sneezing cabbage” I read, happily, the rest of that first poem and the others by Warren in the anthology. There was one prose poem – a sort of New Sentence fandango – but it was the verse that most wowed, with many surprising, abracadabrant-in-a-most-excellent-way lines and line-clusters. Here’s the first stanza of “My Vocabulary,” the last poem of Warren’s in Bay Poetics:
A pair of Many voices
Lay down with the corn This morning
an old friend upchucks
A Ferry
building ferrying Mariachi mourning
the Puritan afternoon
There’s much to rave about there, including the lines (designated by a capitalized first words) that start within the first two lines, which along with the capitalized proper names in the final three lines give the whole a syncopated, or should I say upchuck-y (!), rhythm. But I mainly chose this stanza to present so I could foreground its opening line
A pair of Many voices
because it suggests a double-barreled multiplicity that not only reflects our multi-layered experience and the variety of perspectives by which a poet can put it in words but also conveys what I believe is a key part of Alli Warren’s poetry: you never know what’s coming round the bend!

Yes, I open her books (the half-dozen chaps and two e-books she’s so far published are lined up at the bottom of this post), turn the pages, read the poems, and you know, you never know. The writing has a freshness, a surprising-ness, that entices and excites. Alli Warren’s poems keep your mind on its toes!

Alli Warren’s poems keep your mind on its toes!


The first poem in Acting Out, Warren’s new chapbook just published within the last month, is a two-page, forty-six line (with a double-space between each) work from which the collection takes its title. Warren writes in the second person, and anaphorically, throughout this poem; twenty of its lines begin “You are” and several others start with “Your”).

The repeated “you are” and “your” phrases seem to add up to a “Je est une autre” / “I is some one else” self-portrait by Warren, or a self-exploration by her in which the sometimes annoying “I” has been banished. Of course, all the “You are” phrases also mean that the poem works as a snapshot, or at least a suggested depiction, of any person who reads the poem, and/or of a “you” that that is being addressed by the poet off-stage and who is unknown to us.

Whichever way the “You are” phrases are read, the poem’s repetition hooks the reader, and then an wide array of things that follow those line-opening phrases keep us reading and thinking. Given all the things that follow all the “you are” phrases, it’s not easy to summarize what’s presented. But apropos the “pair of Many voices” phrase highlighted above are the following lines, which come near the poem’s start:

You are whatever you can afford and arrange, wherever you can imagine to appear

You are this third thing

fixed only in the variety of your manifestations
And there is plenty of variety in the manifestations: among the interesting things brought into the poem are “riding bitch in the benz,” “shooting up the overpass with pink paintballs,” “shadow ressentiment,” a mastiff, greyhound, spaniel, and shepard’s dog, and “the ceaseless excess of little green things.” As I wrote above, the


Acting Out has 17 poems. Given that number, I probably shouldn’t focus on a tiny subset, especially when they are so different from the rest, since it may skew your perception of the collection as a whole. So forgive me here as I give a shout out to the chap’s eighth and fifteenth poems – titled “Ain’t the Way You Found Me” and “Reification” – even though they are quite different from everything else.

Most poems in Acting Out are decidedly brainy, by which I mean their language and associated ideas keep your mind on its toes, to repeat what I wrote above. However, “Ain’t the Way You Found Me” and “Reification” are something entirely different. Composed of words and rhythms that you’ve heard, or could easily imagine hearing, in a song, a doo-wop or Wall of Sound type song, they provide a far more immediate and sensuous pleasure. Here are the first six and eight lines, respectively, of each poem:
yeah yeah well well you (ooh ooh ooh ooh) (you you)
well well well you (ooh ooh ooh ooh) oh yeah you
(ooh ooh ooh ooh) hell yeah
well ‘cause you (ooh ooh ooh ooh) hmmm hmm you (you
you you you) oh yeah
listen to this (you you you you) oh yeah


Oh baby
Baby oh baby baby
Oh baby
baby Darling
my my darling
Oh baby
Come on baby
Oh yeah
These two poems, set amidst the poems that keep you thinking, seem to serve as interludes, joyful interludes, and they are blasts of big fun. Warren gets into it in these as if she were a poet-preacher of love, and gets great grooves a-going. Well, that’s what I think, and to show you I embed – as a tribute to the spirit of these poems – an eight minute 1964 instrumental by the immortal Jimmy Smith who with his trio exuberantly lays out his particular Sermon in a way that feels to me a lot like Warren’s “yeah yeah well well you (ooh ooh ooh ooh)” / “Baby oh baby baby” poems:

Jimmy Smith

“The Sermon”


The Editions Louis Wain website presents one poem from Acting Out in its entirety, and here it is:
Another Mule in the Stable

To my boys from Costa Del Mar
including all the tetrapods

who brave spiny lobster, blue
crab and spotted sea trout

All honor to the spring we train
to give the hoary sea its propers

when I get home I just want
to jump in the pool with my black hawk
boy and his family and the network guys

even if they did steal 2 GPS
from our garage wtf?
Don’t mock my Haiti aid

I love what I'm doing now
nothing happened in Hawaii

We don’t need flap flukes
or flippers to embrace

the mound spilling our
Massic juice we elect

to touch the abs of the boys
from Costa Del Mar
the innumerable
This is a poem that – to repeat a common enough, and sensible approach to poetry – is a thing itself, and so need not be explained and probably can’t be “understood” in the way you might grok your checkbook balance. Or maybe this poem’s “meaning” is plain as anything, and I’m just slow on the uptake.

Anyway, I dig the mix of the (ironic?) (satirical?) (honorific?) (all (or none?) of the above?) tone of “To my boys . . .” and everything else in the poem: the numerous references to things of the sea, the sensual (“spilling our / Massic juice” and “touch the abs”), the weird words (“tetrapods” (referring, I think, to the concrete structures used in coastal breakwaters) and the chemical term “Massic”), the slangy acronyms (“GPS” and “wtf”) and the current events ( black hawk” and “Haiti aid”). And I think “Costa Del Mar,” while presented as a real place, an actual geographical location, may be a made-up state of mind, like Robert Duncan’s meadow.

Please understand: I can’t put this poem all together here, and maybe the same is true of most all the work in Warren’s Acting Out. And so I end with this: I know it’s only a (chap)book of poem, but I like it, like it, yes I do (and I like it!).


A Selection of Recent Poems by Alli Warren Published On-Line
[click anywhere in each description to go]

Three Poems
[all from Acting Up]
Jacket # 40 (Late 2010)


Two Poems
[“A Few Facts About the Thorax” from Acting Up
plus the amazing (and not-yet collected)
“Where How Much and of What Sort”
with its opening couplet:
“The poet must be a professional at the call of his job
This job will not wait till she has the leisure to spare for it”]
pax americana 13 (2010)


“what is determined disintegrates”
The Brooklyn Rail (October 2009)


“Bummer and Lazarus”
[Emperor Norton fans take note!]
posted September 13, 2010
a blog kept by Michael Cross

“A Newsworthy Thing”
on September 9, 2010]

“Our Tender Urban Core”
on September 17, 2010]

“This Will Be The Material Of My Song”
on September 24, 2010]


see also:

“A Poetics”
[a (blurred identity) collaboration between
Alli Warren & Suzanne Stein
from On: Contemporary Practice No. 1 (2008)]


A Gallery of Alli Warren Books
(in reverse chronological order)

Acting Out
([no place]: Editions Louis Wain, 2010]


Well Meaning White Girl
(Lawrence, Kansas: Mitzvah Chaps, 2009)


Bruised Dick
(Alli Warren and Michael Nicoloff)
([no place]:[no publisher], [no date])


No Can Do
(Duration Press, 2007)
[an e-chapbook, click to go!]


(Brooklyn: Lame House Press, 2006)


([no place]:[no publisher], 2005)


(fauxpress, 2004)
[an e-chapbook, click to go!]


(Oakland: House Press, 2004)


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reading (part 3) The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner

Arthur . . . . . . & . . . . . . Larry

Après le Déluge   |    L u s t r a t e

This post, I promise, is mostly about Arthur and Larry – and yes, I think first names only, Vegas-style, works just fine here – but first a bit of background, before I get to the poets and the poems.

Poems in the ekphrastic mode – by which I mean those that respond to or arise from other creative works, including novels, music, TV documentaries, other poetry – are a relatively small but very interesting subset within the 3000 plus poems in The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner (Stanford University Press, 2010).

Eigner had a hyper-curious intelligence (“curiosity pulls me about,” he stressed more than once, adding that he was always “tantalized in all directions”). He also had – due in part to his disability, his birth accident cerebral palsy – a goodly amount of time to read, listen, or watch, and made a habit of doing all that from an early age. Atop all that, he had a proclivity (or even necessity) to communicate via the written word (his speech wasn’t good, and as a child his mother would tell him to go to his room if he wanted to respond to things by talking out loud).

Given Eigner’s intelligence, curiosity, habits of reading, looking, and communicating in writing, it’s not surprising that over the decades he wrote dozens of poems arising from or inspired by (he sometimes said “occasioned by”) other people’s creative work. The earliest Eigner ekphrastic endeavor appears to be two poems from January 1952 responding, as suggested in the Stanford edition endnotes, to Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage.

Other examples from the 1950s include a poem arising from an account of the Donner Party ordeal, one occasioned by John Marshall’s The Hunters, a classic ethnographic documentary, another regarding the music of the 19th Century Russian composer Alexander Borodin, plus three inspired by mainstream films (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Giant, and King Solomon’s Mines, respectively).

Eigner continued to write such poems as the years proceeded. I can’t provide a complete list, but just so you might have a better sense, the final volume of The Collected Eigner, covering the Berkeley years (1978-1995), includes more than two dozen poems that per Eigner’s own in-poem notations or his typescript comments included in the endnotes respond, or were occasioned by, other creative or artistic works.

Specifically, in that volume are poems that arise from other poetry (collections or work by Vicki Hearne, Joseph Gugliemi, Robert Grenier, Ron Silliman, Claude Royet-Journod, Bob Arnold, James Weil, Kit Robinson, and Walt Whitman), music (Beethoven, Schoenberg, Schubert, and Alden Carpenter), film or TV documentaries (on the sea, Nanook of the North, Chagall, Rome, Buddha’s travels, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and The Holocaust), popular or independent films (Ecstasy (1933), The Bridge of the River Kwai (1961), movies by Stan Brakhage); and other miscellaneous stuff (e.g., a painting by Red Grooms, a National Geographic article on the Amish and Mennonites, a speech by an U.S. Senator, and a radio show on “fuzzy logic”).

Eigner’s ekphrastic-type poems aren’t anywhere near as numerous as those arising from what was outside the windows of or in the rooms at Swampscott or Berkeley in which he mostly sat and worked (there are hundreds of those, referencing matters in the sky, the neighborhood, or in and about the home). Nevertheless, these ekphrastic efforts should be highlighted because they – as do Eigner’s 30 or so poems from the news (click here) – demonstrate the range of his mind and interests. They are yet another facet, a highly reflective and absorbing one, in the gem that is The Collected Eigner.


Although most of Eigner’s ekphrastic efforts use a creative work to springboard a poem that concerns, or spins off from, the work, there are a few – and these are only among those that respond to poetry – in which the particular creative work is used almost totally as model. Eigner gets imitative, in other words, and it can be big fun.

And thus we get to – and finally! – Arthur and Larry.

The ekphrastic Eigner poem I spotlight today, titled “L u s t r a t e” (and yes the spacing is as it was written) is one that responds to – is actually labeled by Eigner as “a variation” of – Arthur Rimbaud’s prose poem “Après le Déluge” (“After the Deluge”). Rimbaud’s poem, you probably know, is the first one in Illuminations, and as such holds a particular pride of place in one of the greatest prose poem collections ever.

“Après le Déluge” (“After the Deluge”) also has a particular pride of place at or very near the tippy-top of my list of all-time great prose poems. Its rush of vivid images – particularly the opening shots (to use a cinematic term) of the rabbit, swaying flowerbells, rainbow, and spider’s web – always blows my poetry-mind. Its rapid rhythmic shifts and transitions, and combinations of short/snappy and long/rhetorical sentences forever rivet attention. And its “message” (to be cheap about it, since I don’t think the poem adds up to any one thing) about the purifying and/or creative energies of the flood (or the idea thereof), and the need for the poet to have such surges, strongly resonates.

But enough of my talk. Here’s Rimbaud’s poem, in the still lively Louise Varèse translation (New Directions, revised edition 1957):

                 AFTER THE DELUGE

      As soon as the idea of the Deluge had subsided,
      A hare stopped in the clover and swaying flower-
bells, and said a prayer to the rainbow, through the
spider’s web.
      Oh! the precious stones that began to hide, --and
the flowers that already looked around.
      In the dirty main street, stalls were set up and
boats were hauled toward the sea, high tiered as in
old prints.
      Blood flowed at Blue Beard’s, --through slaughter-
houses, in circuses, where the windows were blanched
by God’s seal. Blood and milk flowed.
      Beavers built. “Mazagrans” smoked in the little
      In the big glass house, still dripping, children in
mourning looked at the marvelous pictures.
       A door banged; and in the village square the
little boy waved his arms, understood by the weather
vanes and cocks on steeples everywhere, in the burst-
ing shower.
      Madame *** installed a piano in the Alps. Mass
and first communions were celebrated at the hun-
dred thousand altars of the cathedral.
      Caravans set out. And Hotel Splendid was built
in the chaos of ice and of the polar night.
      Ever after the moon heard jackals howling across
the deserts of thyme, and ecologues in wooden shoes
growling in the orchard. Then in the violet and bud-
ding forest, Eucharis told me it was spring.
      Gush, pond,––Foam, roll on the bridge and over
the woods;––black palls and organs, lightning and
thunder, rise and roll;––waters and sorrows rise and
launch the Floods again.
      For since they have been dissipated––oh! the
precious stones being buried and the opened flowers!
––it’s unbearable! and the Queen, the Witch who
lights her fire in the earthen pot will never tell us
what she knows, and what we do not know.

And now, the Eigner response, a work he calls (to repeat myself) “a variation.” The poem was written in January 1960, and is found at Volume II, page 367 of The Collected Eigner. Here it is, in the typeface (courier) in which Eigner typed it and with spacing (including between the letters of the title) similar to how he laid it out:

            L u s t r a t e

                          (a variation)

    The moment the notion of a deluge subsided, a

hare, held by the poise of a rainbow in the spectra
of woods, resilient among the veins of infinite
runners, sprawlers, grass, flowing trees, stood still.

      precious hiding stones   flower
                         lookout already
          Windows of town   mourning transparencies,
            the layers of tears.     I, mage  shapes
   Blood reaches out, and milk, whitening seal
blemish of the panes. The great dirty street where
the staging encroaches the heights and you heave
boats down to the sea, loftily carved.
                                      A door
clangs to like a hen, beavers persist, caravan,
wagons, break off madame Whatever coffins a
cleated piano home up through the alps and Hotel
Splenderous in its own mugs forks its blackwatered
ice by the polarized night and day   So the moon
hears the jackals lowering away in bared shrubbery
and eclogues flat in the orchards,   while anyone
would tell me it’s Spring.
     in the shelves of freshening forests  Spume,
clamp on the bridge, suds the woods    awnings and
organs   lightning and thunders, swirl, sorrow ..
      For ever since they’ve been dispelled ––o
the precious stones burning into the earth and the
wide sky  staring flowers!  Terrible, and the old
snore who pots and pitches the country, how should
she say what she knows and we don’t

This poem is something else, yes?! Perhaps I should keep my mouth shut and just let it be, because this one in particular LIVES. So forgive me here, as I will offer a few comments:

1. The title of Eigner’s variation seems a genius-stoke, getting right to the poem-heart while being unusual enough to spark curiosity and a run to the dictionary:
lustrate [luhs-treyt]
– verb
to purify by a propitiatory offering or other ceremonial method
Origin: 1615–25; from Latin lustratus, past participle of lustrare:
to purify, illumine.
2. Eigner’s opening lines, the way they change up while carrying forward the Rimbaud, stun. There’s still a rabbit (“a hare”) and “a rainbow,” but the clover, swaying flowerbells, and spider’s web of “After the Deluge” shift to something different, but which seems equally wondrous.

The key phrase in the Eigner variation is “the spectra of woods.” Spectra, the plural of spectrum, beautifully suggests endless arrays upon arrays (of “woods,” a large and thick collection of growing trees), but also of course via connotation also suggests the rainbow the poem had just mentioned. Eigner then further energizes “the spectra of woods” by detailing its “veins (branching rivers of life) “of infinite runners, sprawlers, grass, flowing trees,” a scene of splendorous never-ending branching growing moving life.

I mean, wow! What a riff on the Rimbaud!

But the real double, or even triple-wow here is the change regarding what the rabbit does. In “L u s t r a t e” there’s no praying as in Rimbaud, or if so, it’s prayer of a very specific kind: Eigner’s hare, “resilent amidst the amazing plenitude, “stood still.”

This emphasizing of “stood still” while true to the Rimbaud’s poem (in which the rabbit is “stopped”) seems to me pure Eigner. It seems directly related both to how his poems via words affix the world, for a moment at least, and to his physical condition, how it was to live with cerebral palsy, particularly in 1960 when he wrote the poem. As he once explained, “Especially before the cyrosurgery that tamed my wild left arm and leg – in September ‘62, 5 or 6 weeks after I turned 35 – in order to relax at all I had to keep my attention partly away from myself, had to seek a home, coziness in the world.”

In other words, Eigner’s day-to-day, moment-to-moment, physical and mental challenge was to (again, his words) “sit still.” As such, I think the notion pitched in “L u s t r a t e” of a moment of repose (“stood still”) amidst the magnificent array upon array of teeming life is extremely (forgive me here) moving. Please, go back and read the poem’s opening paragraph.

3. Also particularly moving – as in rapid kaliedoscopic action – are the surreal swirl of images within Eigner’s big (third-to-last) paragraph. It can’t get much wilder than “coffins a cleated piano home up through the alps and Hotel Splenderous in its own mugs forks its blackwatered ice by the polarized night and day . . . .”

4. You, yourself, and the you that is an other can compare, contrast, and dance with many additional similarities and differences between the two poems. The final things I’ll say here upon concern the poem’s final sentence. And they aren’t too special either, so go ahead and skip to the coda below if you’d like. All I want to say is how much I enjoy how Eigner changes Rimbaud’s “the Witch” – a figure that I’ve always felt was like a Siren, someone who possesses special knowledge but can also be dangerous, to “the old snore.” Eigner’s variation is marvelously human and earthy.

Even better is Eigner’s variation on Rimbaud’s “will never tell us what she knows, and what we do not know.” For Eigner, the problem is not an outright refusal, but a challenge of communication: “how should she say what she knows and we don’t” (emphasis added). This too seems marvelous, with its implications relative to Eigner’s mode of composition, which focused always on “understatement,” “the supression of words,” and arose from his always and forevers consideration of “what’s engh sd or trop peu, how much to make of anything, to find // the weight // of things.”


L u s t r a t e, per the bibliographies, never appeared in print prior to The Collected Eigner. It stopped me, filled me with giddy joy, when six months ago I first came upon it while reading through the books. Even after I’d read all 3,000 plus poems in the four books more than once this poem stayed with me, struck me as the most unusual of the previously unpublished Eigner poems.

I mean, who’d of thunk that when Larry did Arthur, it’d turn out so great? Who’d of thunk that Eigner, known for attentiveness to thought, carefully composed lines, and observations of seemingly prosaic everyday life (cats and phonepoles, for example, are common in his poems) could typewrite up a poem that fits side-by-side with a classic by Rimbaud, the “raisonné dérèglement des sens” proto-surrealist?

Well, while I’d never of thunk it, I must point out that others -- at least one other -- most certainly did. Check out what Cid Corman, in his review of Eigner’s Another Time in Fragments (1967), wrote about Eigner’s poetry:
One perception moves upon another with the instantaneity Olson counselled in his Projective Verse essay and which Rimbaud had already picked up from Baudelaire at an earlier date.
I think Corman is right on here with his identification of a common approach -- the quick movement of perceptions -- in the poetry of Eigner and Rimbaud. And you know what? Take a look at the top of this post, the photos of the two – maybe there is also a similar intensity in their eyes, yes? Maybe Arthur and Larry, via some process of transmigration and reincarnation, are actually. . . . Well, okay, probably not. But still, “After the Deluge” and “L u s t r a t e” are still a kick, a great pair o’ poems, an Arthur-‘n-Larry combo for the ages.


Those interested in another Eigner poem occasioned by Rimbaud should check out “spectacle” at page 1300, in Volume III of The Collected Eigner. Written in December, 1976, the poem is a fragmentary versified response to “Parade” (in English, “Side Show”), which like “After the Deluge” is a prose poem in Illuminations. Per an endnote for “spectacle”, Eigner’s transcript includes a note from him stating the poem came “[f]rom scribbling on” the page of the New Directions Illuminations, in the Louise Varese translation.

For other posts on Eigner here in the glade, please see (click ‘n go):

Reading The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner (Part 1)
[on Eigner’s poems from the news]

Reading (part 2) The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner
[on Eigner’s poems with but one word per line]

For even more on Eigner here in the glade (again, click ‘n go):

A gathering of statements by Eigner, regarding his poetry

A gathering of statements by other poet-readers on Eigner

A post on the left-side margins of The Collected Eigner,
a coda to that post,
a post on the corrected edition of Volume III


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Puzzle Poem Pulchritude

Joseph Mosconi
Word Search

([no place]: OMG!, 2010)

[100 copies, issued with a custom-printed pen]
[7" x 8.5", stapled wraps]
[the image above combines the rear (to the left) and front (to the right) covers]

Folks who do nutty things for poetry pretty much go straight to the top of my list. And at the tippy-top are those who do the particularly nutty, the vivaciously off-beat. I’m talkin’ ‘bout hey-now! (hey-now!) / hey now! (hey now!) / iko-iko un-day / jock-a-mo fee-no ai na-nae / jock-a-mo fee-na-nae, to borrow a phrase.

And so I today give a full-on iambic shout o’ joy, and a special “Exuberance is beauty” commendation, to Joseph Mosconi and his Word Search, published in late July by OMG!. How’s this for nutty-beautiful: Mosconi in his book takes a (what else could it be?) deep (deep) love for the poetry of Robert Creeley and makes eighteen poems, each of which is a word search puzzle that contains the words of a particular Creeley poem.

Yes, you read me right: poems as, that are, word search puzzles, as in the kind commonly found in newspapers, magazines, and books, as well as in kids’ educational materials.

I don’t know if Mosconi did up these poem-puzzle-homages by hand or machine (I assume it’s the latter), but it doesn’t matter. What a nutty-beautiful idea, not the least because these things are hot (and challenging) fun in the summer-time! Here’s a scan of the first poem in the book, Creeley’s iconic “I Know A Man”:

And there it is! A grid of 400 letters, with the 52 words of Creeley’s poem (counting the ampersand which here is converted to a lettered “and”) listed in random order at the bottom, and each one – yes, I can confirm, having solved it, with the help of my wife – findable in the puzzle, where they run letter-by-letter on the horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, and of course (in the manner of these puzzles) forwards or backwards.

This is an homage that hones serious attention on the language of the poem (click here to see it as written by Creeley). The first thing I did was look at the Creeley poem, to collate its text with Mosconi’s key words, to make sure it was all there (it is). And then, to solve the puzzle, my mind took in, gave thought to, every dang word of “I Know A Man” – from the big moody ones like “darkness” to the key verbs, contracted (“sd”) or not (“drive”) to the slangy edgy adjective (“goddamn”) to the pivotal prepositions (“against”) to the pronouns (also contracted and not), conjunctions, and articles, definite and indefinite.

In fact, as these puzzles go – and I must admit they are hard for me, and the one above took me a couple separate attempts – a total of more than an hour (plus as mentioned the help of my wife) – to fully solve (see image below, following the end notes at the foot of this post) – the smaller words can be the toughest. And so it was that the single “the” in Creeley’s poem, along with “else,” were the freakin’ last words spotted. They both run backwards on a diagonal, and may you have as much fun as Mary and I did finding them. But I’ll tell you what: next time I read or hear “I Know A Man,” those two words are going to pop like they never did before!

And of course, solving the puzzle not only puts the words in mind, but also each letter of each word. A standard technique for these things is to focus on any one particular letter in the grid, and then look first to the (up to eight) letters that surround it, to see if the combination forms or beings any of the searched-for words. As such, these poems can be enjoyed as a tip of alphabet to the principles of Lettrism.

And further of course, in its squared entirety, this here is a kind of visual poem too.

Although most of the poem-puzzles in Word Search are, in terms of complexity, roughly equivalent to “I Know A Man,” some are considerably tougher. “The Pool,” for instance (Creeley’s poem begins, “My embarrassment at his nakedness”) packs 120 words into its grid. Holy hide-and-seek!

Mosconi’s Word Search, unless the reader photocopies its pages, also fits into that small category of poetry books (I think here of Steve McCaffery’s Carnival, Panels 1 and 2, which can be fully read only by tearing out each volume’s perforated pages) that are more-or-less destroyed by doing what the poet wants the reader to do. Mosconi and his publisher even help the “it must die to live” process: every copy of the book ships with a custom-made pen, on which is imprinted the first six words (“Write a giggly ode about / motherfuckers...”) of Creeley’s “Citizen.”

The custom-printed pen issued with Word Search

“Giggly ode” is maybe the best way to describe these poem-puzzles, as in, once again, goofy-fun. But wouldn’t it be great if one of Mosconi’s Creeley things somehow made it into the back of one of those airline magazines “in the seat pocket in front of you”?

Speaking of goofy fun – and I am very serious about the following, natch – I strongly endorse Johan Huizinga’s idea, in his classic Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (1944, English translation 1949), that the “close connections between poetry and the riddle are never entirely lost” and that “[t]o call poetry, as Paul Valéry has done, a playing with words and language is not metaphor: it is the precise and literal truth.” Mosconi’s Word Search proves again the wisdom of those theses!

And so poem-riddle me that, Batman!


End Notes
Mosconi’s “I Know A Man” is also another modern-day translation of Creeley’s poem; I’ve previously written here about two others, by Rachel Loden and Douglas Rothschild, respectively (click here).
“Many may claim to have fathered the first modern word search puzzle consisting of a letter grid and word list. Pedro Ocon de Oro invented one he called “Soup of Letters” around 1960. Norman Gibat seems to be the first English word search generator. In 1968, he created a 20x20 puzzle of city names appearing in each direction and with overlapping letters. Teachers then began using word search puzzles to encourages learning. [ . . . ] Word search popularity continued with puzzles appearing in many forms including puzzle books, menus, magazines, newspapers, cell phone applications, computer games, and online in many web sites.”
Joseph Mosconi, according to what I find on the web, is a linguist based in Los Angeles. He co-edits (with Rita Gonzalez) Area Sneaks, a journal of poetry and visual arts, and co-directs the Poetic Research Bureau in Northeast Los Angeles. Mosconi’s pamphlet of visual poetry, But On Geometric, was published earlier this year as Parrot 4 by Insert Press (click and scroll down to see). Four sections from Mosconi’s “Personal Affects,” an ongoing poetic sequence that uses language drawn from obituaries in the Los Angeles Times, can be read by clicking here.

Joseph Mosconi - “I Know A Man”
(as fully read!)