Saturday, July 31, 2010

. . . the night time is the write time . . .

Christine Hume

(Denver: Counterpath Press, 2010)
[8.25" x 6" -- 87 pages]

Christine Hume has been word-sparking via poems for more than a decade now, and alas, the fire got to me only a few months ago.

Not that I blame myself too much. Heck, I don’t even know, or know well enough, the work of poets who live just a couple neighborhoods away. Hume lives and works in Ypsilanti, half-way across the country. The vastness of poetry, even just in America, is (to be circular) excellently vast.

But now I’m fully engulfed, white-hot, blue-tipped, five-alarm style, in Hume’s writing. I thank Andrew Joron, who this year included a paragraph on Hume in the seven-page Afterword of his re-published (and thus updated to include the most recent decade) survey, Neo-Surrealism: or the Sun at Night (Transformations of Surrealism in American Poetry 1966-1999).

Based on Joron’s heads up, I bought Hume’s new collection, Shot (see above). The book alternates poems in prose and lineated verse, and all of it blazes. Yes, its fires are wild (Joron compares her energies to LautrĂ©amont and Michaux). Here’s a scan (so please excuse the fuzziness of the image) of the book’s first paragraphic poem in prose:

This poem is of and/or from the night, as are many (maybe all) in the book. The night and the mind, the mind of the self, the psychological self. The first line here strikes me as an invitation to an adventure:
I looked in all eight directions then spread out my tiger’s skin.
Now that’s an expansive view, and a response to it (the spreading of the tiger’s skin), that is immediately alluring, and was even before I grokked the Buddhist allusions. Via this opening, Hume – the voice of the poem, which I take to be her – gets it going right away.

And where Hume goes, comes quick: by the second sentence, in which she orients us to what she’s looking at (“the inner shore”) we (she and her readers) are on the way in: deep in.

I hope you read the poem as I do, or at least enough to groove on the marvelous poetry that comes hot-across and off the page:
-- the repetitions (six) of “mental” that set an overtone, or drone-tone (think trance), especially early (see the third sentence);
-- the almost dreamy though more than a bit unsettling mix of its main sets of images:
          -- those centered on or related to water (“shore” / “lake” / “sea” / “wet” / “captained” /
             “tempest” / “harpoon”);
          -- those connected, or which Hume connects, to “the moon” (“that outlandish
              organ hanging in the sky” / “the distant human pupil”/ “that orb”);
          -- those connected to violence or confrontation (“muzzle” / “aimed my automatic” /
             “harpoon” / “quiver” / “heavy steel helmet” / “fist me” / “beat it” /
             “force it”/ “I battered it”); and
-- the way those main image sets are filigreed – is that right, or is “further jumbled” the better term? – with various other images ( e.g., disorganized hands, “tightrope,” “glass knob,” “diamond cave”), pivot points, including:

                                                                      The moment rotated,

(love how the line breaks there) and near the poem’s end a delicious surge of the sensual and playful that (just-like-that and more-than-a-little shockingly) turns frankly and even dangerously sexual:
                                                                      [. . . ] If I could tongue out
    its creamy mouth. If I could tickle it and bounce it on my knee. If I

    could dress it up. If it would fist me, if I could force it.
[. . . ]
And then there’s what “Self-Stalking” is all about. This hit me hard, maybe because I needed a reminder, a poetic lesson, of the importance and power of that which – yes I think it true – we all have within: the id.

Ah, the id!

Yes, let us page Dr. Freud here, and why not? For all that’s come down in the 70 years since his death, Freud’s ideas and theories, at least this one, are still vital. Sure, it’s Psychology 101 but then again 1 + 1 = 2 is even more basic than that (think kindergarten arithmetic) and yet there’s no doubt simple truth turns much of our universe, yes? The same’s true, I say, about the dark, unorganized, mostly inaccessible part of each of our psyches.

In “Self-Stalking” Hume tells of, shows, enacts the drive, the need that arises, perhaps particularly in the dark deep of night, to see, to know, to become, that hidden cauldron of the inner self. I love how the mix or jumble of imagery (detailed in part above), mimics the unorganized id energy, and how there is plenty else that one can match to classic features attributed to it.

However, the truly beautiful thing in “Self-Stalking” is the repetition, over the final eight sentence of the pronoun “it.” It’s pretty obvious, especially on re-reading and yet doesn’t seem overdone (perhaps because the earlier repetition of “mental” conditions the mind / ear to repeats). This is pretty incredible because there are a dozen uses of the pronoun, including the possessive, in those lines.

The referent of the pronoun “it,” revealed by Hume only in the first and last of the eight sentences that close the poem, are “that orb” and “that moon.” Of course, “it” – aka “that orb” and “that moon” – is the id, or so I believe. And the way that pronoun works here is, once again, beautiful. It’s perfect first because Freud’s German “das Es” (which long ago was and ever since has been English-ized as “the id” is literally (and perhaps should always be) translated as “the It.” I find the latter, literal term far more mysterious a way to refer to this dynamo of our psychic structure. Hume’s pronouns return us, repeatedly, to “the It.” She pounds “it” here, drum and even shaman style, and to me all the “it” and “its” alone are transportive.

But also consider the consequences of how the pronoun “it” so closely parallels in sound and spelling, but does not precisely match, the word (“id”) most commonly used to describe this key element of our mental world. The repeated pronoun in this way perfectly embodies what happens in the poem itself, with Hume trying to get to, to become, her id, but not quite making it. Both the “it” / “id” dichotomy, and the essence of what happens in “Self-Stalking,” reflect the psychological truth that self-stalking, the hunt for the id, can never be entirely successful. The id will always remain apart, its instincts, drives and impulses never to be fully held or embodied.


Shot includes approximately three dozen poems in total. I’m not going to light up others here as above, but must say they all burn hot from the deep night from which they come. I think here of “black fire,” the evocative term that turns up, among other places, in Paradise Lost, Jewish mysticism, theosophical speculation, Wuthering Heights, gemology, the poetry of Philip Lamantia, as well as the perhaps expected fire-science.

What I will do here is leap around some in Shot, licking flame style, so as to give off a bit of its brilliance and energy. The poem after “Self-Stalking,” for example, the unpunctuated 31 verse lines in verse “Induction” (think both initiation and the electromagnetic process) begins:
Stitches and liquid morphine cannot keep it closed

Lunar halo runs circles more hollow than forgot

Steel birds fly from clocks

Striking the same hour in rounds

A freak disease tears across the vista
and later includes the almost anthemic lines (at least if you explore the dark):
Between your deserts and escaped stars

Messes of radial spoils steal on you

Lunar halo casts your face in harassments
The language here is charged, with a neo-surreal unstoppable wound and then an epidemic, plus (even in these brief excerpts) the “circles” and “rounds” and “halo” (times two), with of course the image of the moon carries forward “that orb” of “Self-Stalking.” The poems’ other two dozen lines are just as memorable.


Five of the prose poems in Shot, located in the second half of the book, are written in clauses separated : like that : or this : with colons. I’ve come to learn (having picked up her two previous full-length collections) that Hume sometimes favors this device. It’s a good one.

Colons in punctuation, depending on context, can suggest different relationships between the words or phrases so connected (e.g., syntactical-deductive, syntactical-descriptive, segmental, for example), and the same is true of the similar sign used in logic and mathematics ( “such that,” “extends into,” and/or “inner product of”). And so in Hume’s poems, there’s a kind of rush opening up or unfolding in which you’re never sure of what the phrases might do, or not to each other, which of course opens them up even further. Here’s an example, the opening I’ll call it paragraph of “Continuation Room”:
Expect bewitched frequencies : a tongue to be there : bees bedded in
what we said : yellow pulls across the ceiling : twice sensitized : daisy
inside the bedside clock : tangent touches : flare at the window : one
greening itself
Love that – sight rhyme, is it? – “bees bedded” and for that matter the four times “be”shows up in the first line. And yes, here were are again in bed, with the bedroom clock a locus of mystery.


And now here’s a short poem-in-prose, one that I will let stand alone, other than to say holy Eve what an imagined animated (or is it animating?) anima, what a powerful representation of an inner self, or an aspect thereof, that deep in the night you may believe you direct but who actually seems to command you:


The final line of the final poem in Shot is:
I wake up missing want.
That’s one heck of an appropriate closing, I think, in that it correctly suggests that what has come before book-ending waking is of the nocturnal, and that what the dark of night was marked by were feelings and desires (“want”) as experienced in the mind.

I recommend Shot highly, especially for those times at night when you are too long awake or maybe oddly up, when the mind and you and the dark seem the only things around, and the mind and you and the dark get going in some sort of lacerating almost heart-stopping sometimes ecstatic sometimes lacerating rush of thought and beauty and language.



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