Archive for April, 2012

30
Apr
12

Abraxas Press

ABRAXAS Crow smallWe at Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose just began a subscription swap with ABRAXAS. For whatever reason the swap didn’t happen at an earlier time because of miscommunications and whatever. And, oh, I wish those miscommunications had never happened because ABRAXAS is devoted to poetry and in a beautiful way.

When I received my package, it blossomed open with these 2″ high x 1.75″ wide poetry books. Some had paper covers, some matte, and some gloss. Inside each was a poem from poets such as Ted Jonas, D. R. Wacker, Julia de Burgos, d. a. levy, Ingrid Swanberg, Jack Spicer, and Vladimir Mayakofsky. The micro books were released by poems-for-all.com, which I first assumed was an imprint of ABRAXAS Press. Poems-for-all has this to say about their tiny, portable poems:

They’re scattered around town – on buses, trains, cabs, in restrooms, bars, left along with the tip; stuffed into a stranger’s back pocket. Whatever. Wherever. Small poems in small booklets half the size of a business card to be taken by the handful and scattered like seeds by those who want to see poetry grow in a barren cultural landscape.

There are 1071 of these little poems floating around the world giving people surprises and tiny bursts of joy. I wonder what the print run for each micro book was, especially when you consider that they must have been put together with a monk’s like meditative attention to detail.

Also included are some well-made, numbered, limited edition broadsides from Costmary Press. Is this another imprint? Anyway, the broadsides vary in size and in paper stock, but they are all consistently well made and, if I’m not mistaken, they are the result of letterpress printing, which means love, care, dedication, and quality.

Then there is the grass/grasshopper green eight-page pamphlet anthology titled Suzuki Grass. When you look at the color of the cover and text pages, you just know there’s going to be this Zen quality about the poems. The saddle stitched pamphlet is about 8.25″ high x 4.25″ wide.  This was released from Black Rabbit Press. Is this another imprint? I’m starting to doubt these are all imprints, but there must be a connection other than the love and beautiful presentation of poetry.

And they also included a few back copies of ABRAXAS.

ABRAXAS Crow

ABRAXAS publishes contemporary poetry, with a special emphasis on the lyric mode. We also publish poetry in translation, as well as essays, criticism and reviews of small press poetry books.

Abraxas was the name applied by ancient gnostic sects to the Supreme Being, who was, collectively, all the spirits of the earth. The magical “abracadabra” was derived from ABRAXAS.

How about that?! A journal with emphasis on the lyric mode in a narrative-driven-poetry America. Ah, it’s love. Based on my previous experiences with this journal and just thumbing through the back copies, ABRAXAS has an eclectic taste and likes the poetry that explores language. All this poetry is contained in 6.25″ wide x 9.25″ high journal. Some covers are gloss and some are matte-like. I kinda like the matte more, but the gloss brings out the color cover images better. One issue even has standard paper for the poems and some gloss paper for the color photographs. Now, there’s an editor (Ingrid Swanberg) who understands the printing world. Oh, and on top of it all, issues are only $4. I have no idea how they can charge so little. I want to know who there printer is. (Ha, they probably print it onsite.) And subscriptions are only $16. It’s a deal. You can order here: http://www.abraxaspressinc.com/Order.html. I suggest you do. They are luscious.

To learn more about them, visit their About Us page.//

24
Apr
12

On Christopher Howell’s “Listen” – Line Breaks and Harmonies

     Listen

     Is it an empty house, the body alone
     with its weary old clothes
     or its bullet holes and severed arteries,
     last laugh still shining in its teeth?                         

     The road of answers leaps its ditch
     and descends a dusty hollow
     where nightbirds coo, Pass by, and the Angel
     of Nothingness does his nails.

     Often sky dazzles
     over the great breathing earth.
     Often of its own accord the grain begins again
     to simmer. Deep in the dark

     I find my wife's hand and listen
     as the blue trees bow and bend and I want my soul
     to tell about itself almost
     anything.

     And it says I, too, am a traveler.
     Wait for me. 

GazeI first saw this poem on Verse Daily, but it appeared earlier in Christopher Howell’s Gaze (Milkweed Editions, 2012). (I also post this poem without anyone’s permission, but I hope no one minds. If you do, let me know.)

The poem opens with the beginning of a question, which is followed by a comma. This comma acts as a pivot because here the poem creates a balance on either side. The comma also sets up a metaphor and establishes the tenor and vehicle. The first line also sets up some of the sounds that help accelerate the poem forward. Those sounds are the T, long E, and the long O. You’ll also hear the Z/S sound in “Is.” And the  long E sounds on either side of the comma yoke together the “empty house” and “body alone.” So what this line does, on one level, is to ask, “Is ‘the body alone’ ‘an empty house’?”

The poem begins by asking this, and then continues to extend the metaphor in the next three lines. I also hear this tug and pull between between the short T sounds and the long vowel sounds or just long sounds in general. The poem starts quick – “It is an” and then we get that long em sound that’s rounded out with the P sound in “empty,” and this followed by the T and long E sounds. You can hear this type of play here and there in the poem, and most effectively in line 8, “of Nothingness does his nails.” The effect there is that the line starts quick with all the short syllable in “of Nothingness”. This abruptness then allows the reader to hear the necessary slow down effect that would accompany someone who “does his nails.” Doing your nails is something you do slowly. It implies slowness. It’s like the Angel of Nothingness is just leaning against a wall, hanging out, watching, and doing his nails.

But to those opening lines. The first line, as explained, behave as a balancing act, and its long O rhymes with the long O at the end of line two. Lines three and four also rhyme with the long E sounds in “arteries” and “teeth.” You’ll hear subtle rhymes like that some more in lines 6-9 with the L sounds, and then there are the S and T sounds that rhyme at the ends of lines 13-15, and if you want to hear the “th” in “anything” as a type of S sound, then there’s an additional rhyme sound. And of course, there’s the long distance rhyme of the long E in “me” at the end of the poem, which recalls the long E sounds in line one. The long E sound also occurs in a few more places, as it walks in the cellar of the poem’s sounds like a ghost. You can hear those long E s in lines 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 14, and 16.

Lines 3-5 also establish or reestablish the L, S, T, and long O sounds that continually appear and accelerate the poem forward on an harmonic level.

By why are lines 2, 3, and 4 breaking where they are? I think it is because each line is an image thought. Line two shows the body “with its weary old clothes,” which is a single image or the conclusion to the image in line one. Line three has two images, but they seem connected as both indicate an abusive entering into the flesh. Plus, you can’t sever arteries without making a hole.  Or maybe the bullet holes severed the arteries. Anyway, the violence of penetration holds those images together as an image thought. Line four is tight in sounds: three L sounds, the two AH sounds in “last” and “laugh,” the three S sounds and a fourth if you hear “th” as a type of S sound, the short I sounds in “still,” “ing,” “in,” and “its”, the two N sounds, and the four T sounds. All those sounds certainly get stuck in the teeth, so they can be pronounced again later. The fourth line ends the question that began in line one. Still, I wonder about the “last laugh.” Since “laugh” indicates a plural verb, then I wonder if the “last laugh” applies to both the house and body. So while line one established a metaphorical relationship around the comma (which means body and house are the same or as one) the verb tense in “laugh” actually makes them act as one.

What stanza one does, then, is to tell us why the title is “Listen.” We need to listen to the sounds and for an answer to the question. So, let’s continue listening.

Evel Knievel Snake River CanyonLine five is a good example of a line break behaving in the manner of its content. When you get to the end of line five, you are forced to leap over the ditch in your imagination. The line turn is the leap. I kinda feel like Evel Knievel over Snake River Canyon on this line turn, except this leap is successful. You can also hear the L sound that echoes to line four and that may be acting as a connecting sound between stanzas one, two, and three, especially since the L sound rhymes at the end of lines 6, 7, 8, and 9. In line five, the L sound has the feel of a discus or hammer thrower to me. It’s spinning in centripetal force from line to line and adding to the final acceleration of the poem. The S sounds in lines four and five provide a connective sound between the stanzas and lines, too, but it’s effect is bigger as its sound is almost in every line, and it is in every line except the last if you hear “th” as a type of S sound. The S sound is more like a drawstring that pulls the poem together tight.

Line six is the continuation of the actions of “answers” in line five. After it leaps, it must descend, and so it does in image and sound, a “low” sound. The early sounds in the line are higher in pitch than the “low” sound in “hollow,” so it really is a descent. And the low sound essentially continues in the next two lines, except for the two high-pithced long I sounds, and those low sounds feel of despair until the upbeat of “Angel.” Wait. Maybe there isn’t anything to despair after all. An angel is hope. It’s a good thing. Right? Nope. Oh, there’s a brief glimmer of hope on the line turn after “Angel,” but then it’s abruptly taken away with “Nothingness.” The “Angel of Nothingness.” Oh, despair can only be made more despairing when hope presents itself but fails or is taken away. (I wonder how much the capital “A” in “Angel” added to the hope. The capital “A” makes it a proper noun, a specific angel, and not just a generic angel. More hope can come with specificity. Plus, the capital “A” points to the sky like a mountain. Maybe we will rise from “a dusty hollow.”) So line five leaps, line six descends, line seven describes the hollow and offers hope at then end, and then line eight takes away that hope with a patient angel doing his nails, which I’ve discussed above.

In line nine, we hear the last of the L sound for four lines, but as we hear it, we also hear it and the Z sounds in “dazzles” rhyme with the L and Z sounds in line eight’s “nails.” The movement is connected by sound, but the images in the lines eight and nine are contrarian in their meanings. Line eight is patient and chill, and line nine is dazzling. Is that why the line ends there? to juxtapose at-easness with something that dazzles? And in the dazzle, the rhymes stop for a while, too. Also, the dominance of long vowels that were in the first two stanzas fades a bit. In this stanza, the consonants take dominance. It’s more of that tug and pull I mentioned above.

Line ten, like like six, continues the action of the previous line as we see where the dazzling occurs. Notice how slow this line moves, too. I imagine the earth breathes slow, too. Line eleven starts a new action – the grain beginning . . . something. The line has six trochees and ends on a stressed syllable. It’s the longest line in the poem with 13 syllables. It has five N sounds and ends with three G sounds. There are also two “in” sounds – “Often” and “begins” – But it looks like there are four with the repetition of “in” in “grain” and “again.” The “in” was set up in the previous line, so it has its echoes there, but it also recalls the two “in” sounds in line four. And it sets up the two “in” sounds in lines 12 and at the end of line 13. But back to line 10. Why is it so long? Rather, since it is the longest line, it draws attention to itself. It must be significant if it needs so many syllables to say something. I think it is because the tone of the poem is turning. In addition, I think this is where the metaphor we thought we had in line one becomes real. It turns out, in fact, that line one wasn’t performing as a metaphor. It was being literal. In other words, is it an empty house if there’s only one alone person in it? But we need that metaphor, so we can feel the aloneness and despair that accompanies an empty house. perhaps, the metaphor is literal and figurative. Perhaps, he is an empty house with only one alone person – himself –, and perhaps the house and himself weren’t empty when his wife lived with him, in him, and in the house. So line 11 is a volta, a turning. Something is rising instead of falling. Something is growing instead of dying. Line 12 answers affirms that something is growing. The grain simmers “Deep in the dark”, or the logic of the line tells us that. That is the image we get. But “Deep in the dark” will act in two different ways, and it achieves this because of a line break. The line break, now acting like the comma in line one, also creates another metaphor between seed in the dark and the wife’s hand “Deep in the dark.”

Line 13 connects to line 12, as described, by the hinging line break, but it also connects with the D sounds. “Deep,” “dark,” “find,” and “hand” are now connected. Line 13 also begins with four long I sounds in a row. It’s an elation. It’s the high-pitch of joy sound. “I find my wife’s.” The high joy and hastened pace in those first four words and syllables, lower and slow in the next four syllables. The pace drops off after the “d” in “hand.” It’s like there’s a slight caesura there. One might be tempted to put a line break after “hand.” It feels right, but then the change in emotion might be lost or not as strong. By not putting a line break after “hand,” the poem goes from elation to concentration in one line motion. It goes from happy to serious. The transition in emotion is seamless when on one line.

Line 14, like the second line in each of the previous stanzas, continues the action of the previous line. However, it doesn’t continue the action of what was in the preceding line (such as “the body alone,” “answers,” or “dazzles”), but it does continue the action of the scenery and mood of the previous line. Line 14 is also the longest line on the page, but not in syllables.  Lines 13 and 14 are also dominated by long vowels sounds – the long Is, the OO in “blue,” the long E in “tree,” the OW in “bow,” and the long O in “soul.” Long vowels tend to emote, and there’s a lot of emotion going on here. There’s also some tug and pull with the B, D, S, and T sounds, just like there was in the transition from joy to concentration in line 13.  I kind of want to hear the beginning of line 13 and the end of line 14 as the speaker being selfish or overly concerned with the himself. Line 13, as said above, begins with all those long I sounds, so how can you not hear the “I” of the poet especially when coupled with “I” and “my.” And then the end of line 14 also has “I” and “my.” But line 15 tells us that it’s not that he wants his soul, he wants his soul to tell him something about itself. He wants to listen. So this stanza is about listening. It’s about the title.

Line 16 is the shortest line on the page, but it has three syllables just like the last line. Those two lines speak to each other just as his soul speaks to him. Line 16 ends on a type of gasp or last wish that is kind of like “just tell me . . . anything.” But oddly, he doesn’t want to hear anything, he wants to hear “almost / anything.” There are some things he doesn’t want to hear. The worst of them would probably be to hear nothing, or the sound of an empty house, because then he would surely be alone.

Line 17 starts with “And” to recall the “hand” in line 13. Line 13 has one or two long vowels, depending on how your pronounce, but it’s dominated by  the T, S, and L sounds that we’ve heard so often before. Then after the line turn, in line 18, we return to the long vowels with the long A and long E. So not only to we have the tug and pull between long and short sounds in this line, there is also some tugging between line 18 and the three syllable “anything” in line 16.

GazeThis poem now as I hear it and think about it is about the tug and pull between life and the afterlife, between aloneness and the company of love, and it’s between listening to sounds and hearing nothing. It’s about patience. Patience like the Angle of Nothingness has in lines 7 and 8, and the patience of waiting for the soul and the afterlife to be with the loved one again.

Once again, I first saw this poem on Verse Daily, but it appeared earlier in Christopher Howell’s Gaze (Milkweed Editions, 2012). (I also post this poem without anyone’s permission, but I hope no one minds. If you do, let me know.)

For more about lineation and line breaks in general, please read “Lineation: An Introduction to the Poetic Line,” a fun, conversational, an in-depth look at line breaks. //

20
Apr
12

The Poetry Integral

I made the following a month-and-a-half or two months ago for Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose, but what a shame to just keep it confined to those pages. So I’m sharing it here along with the note that appears in Redactions.

Poetry Integral

The poetry integral on page 5 [above] is something editor Tom Holmes created. It is based on the following lines from “A12” in Louis Zukofsky’s A:

I’ll tell you
About my poetics –


An integral
Lower limit speech
Upper limit music

– Louis Zukofsky from A (“A12”, p 138)

I had to add the “Poetry” else what is it an integral of? I can’t remember my calculus well enough, but it should probably be f(poetry) dpoetry, but that doesn’t look as good.//

12
Apr
12

Pablo Neruda’s Love Sonnet XII (Two Translations)

I am planning an assignment for my creative writing class based on something my friend does in his class. This assignment involves a Pablo Neruda love poem. So today I read some of Neruda’s love poems, and I found one I think will work well, Love Sonnet XII. However, I couldn’t find a translation that was fully working the way I think the poem should in English, and something that wasn’t so literal in translation. So I set out to make my own translation. I ended up doing two translations. First the poem original in its original language.

   Plena mujer, manzana carnal, luna caliente
   espeso aroma de algas, lodo y luz machacados
   qué oscura claridad se abre entre tus columnas?
   qué antigua noche el hombre toca con sus sentidos?

   Ay, amar es un viaje con agua y con estrellas,
   con aire ahogado y brucas tempestades de harina:
   amar es un combate de relámpagos
   y dos cuerpos por una sola miel derrotados.

   Beso a beso recorro tu pequeño infinito,
   tus márgenes, tus rios, tus pueblos diminutos,
   y el fuego genital transformado en delicia

   corre por los delgados caminos de la sangre
   hasta precipitarse como un clavel nocturno,
   hasta ser y no ser sino un rayo en la sombra.

Now my first translation:

   Full woman, carnal apple, hot moon,
   seaweed’s sodden aroma, mud, and shattered light –
   what shadowy clarity opens between your columns?
   What primitive night is touched by a masculine nerve?

   Ah, love is a journey with water and stars,
   in drowning air and squalls of flour;
   love is a battle of the lightning,
   two bodies defeated by a single drop of honey.

   Kiss after kiss, I recover your small infinitude,
   rivers and shores, your diminutive village,
   the genital fire transformed to delight

   races through the blood’s thin pathways
   and overflows as nocturnal carnations
   until it is and is nothing but a glow in the shadow.

I think I like this. “Full woman” seems a little off for me, but I’ll leave it. Maybe there’s something more going on in “full woman,” more than I know or know to translate. But the two bigger concerns are in line 6 and in the mood of  the poem. Why would Neruda use “flour” in line 6. That just seems to odd to me. I can’t wrap my mind around what “flour” is doing in this poem or what it wants to do or what feelings it’s trying to create. I left it in there for now. I did think about “dust” or “sand” to balance off with smallness and infinity in line 9, and it would balance with the smallness of salt in line 2. You know, because dust and sand are small but infinite. But I think the better word is “powder.”

The other concern is the tone or mood of the poem. I think this poem wants to be sexy. Below is a sexier version:

   Full moon, carnal apple, seductive woman, 
   seaweed’s salty aroma, mud, and shredded light –
   what shadowy arousal opens between your columns?
   What primitive night is touched by a masculine nerve?

   Ah, love is a journey with water and stars,
   in gasping air and squalls of powder;
   love is a battle in lightning,
   two bodies defeated by a single drop of honey.

   Kiss after kiss, I rekindle your warming infinity,
   rivers and shores, your diminutive village,
   the genital fire transformed into a delicacy

   races through blood’s thin pathways
   and overflows nocturnal carnations
   and endures in a glow in the shadow.

Here, I replaced “flour” with “powder,” but I almost used “moisture.” I wanted a hot, sweaty poem, and, again, the sweat would balance off the saltiness in line 2. You’ll also see I changed some of the first line. I liked the progression from moon to sinful apple to seductive woman. I also made the moon full instead of the woman. I think that actually might be closer to what the original wants, don’t you? You can also see the other places where I sexed up the poem. In the penultimate, I tried to create the sense of climax, at least more deliberately. In the above translation, I tried to do the same, but here it’s more deliberate. (I also like the closeness of “nocturnal carnations” to “nocturnal emissions.”)

(I just had a side thought. “Flour” might work better in this poem, cuz then it would enhance the food motif in “honey” and “delicacy.” Hmm. I don’t think it will pan out, though.)

Now, I’m wondering which translation I like better and would be better to use in class. What do you think?

Thank you for reading and voting.//

11
Apr
12

On Charles Bernstein’s Poem “12^2”

PythagorasRecently, one of my students expressed an interest in writing poems that had a certain number of words per line. I said that was cool, and then I suggested he write poems that had a certain number of syllables per line instead. Since he has math knowledge, I also suggested some forms he could use, such 3 syllables for the first line, 1 for the second, 4 for the third, 1 for the fourth, 5 for the fifth, etc. and following Pi out as long as he could. I think I might have also suggested using prime numbers as syllables: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, and 13, and then coming backwards. I also suggested that he try writing lines that only have four stressed syllables per line or three stressed per line or whatever number. Then I remembered Charles Bernstein’s poem “122”. Unfortunately, for the first time in about thirty years I blanked on the term “Pythagorean triple,” which is what Bernstein’s poem is built on. I also remembered something I wrote about it about ten years ago. I wrote it mainly for me, but I did send it to the original journal, Slope, who published the poem. They quickly replied that they didn’t want it because they thought it was a conflict of interest or something weird like that. I scratched my head. And kept the essay tucked away until today, when I remembered I had it. I sent it to the student, too. Maybe he will like. Maybe not. But maybe you will. So here it is. The poem first and then my comments.


122

   the swollen flotsam
   lies face down
   accordingly

   -----------------------------------------------------------------

   incident catches
   stolen cues
   when faces drift

   -----------------------------------------------------------------

   encroachment of care
   muffling shame
   hardened moment

   -----------------------------------------------------------------

   like flies in summer
   switching tenses
   touched absence

   -----------------------------------------------------------------

   totally wasted
   in shadows
   imperceptible

   -----------------------------------------------------------------

   uncertain future
   annoying
   complacency

   -----------------------------------------------------------------

   neither this nor that
   bombs away
   total fright

   -----------------------------------------------------------------

   unendurable
   even if it
   will also pass

   -----------------------------------------------------------------

   my elbow against your
   composure
   burns like wax

   -----------------------------------------------------------------

   incapacity
   telescopes
   endlessly fog

   -----------------------------------------------------------------

   counting now to five
   next to three
   then up till four

   -----------------------------------------------------------------

   going back to form
   a promise
   always broken

The Best American Poetry 2002“122,” as it appears in The Best American Poetry 2002 (shown above), is a poem in a form that is new to this reader. On first reading, it appeared to be something like haiku – tight and minimal. On second reading, I realized the significance of the title through a question: Is the title to let us know how many syllables are in the poem? Yes, 144. I also noticed another aspect of this poem’s shape and how it is born out of squares. It is born from a Pythagorean triple like a2+b2= c2  or, more specifically, 52=32+42 (the simplest and most recognizable triplet), and for this poem, the form is based on that numeric substitution: the first line of each stanza has 5 syllables, the second line has 3 syllables, and the third line has 4 syllables. This bears weight upon stanza 11, which seems to be telling the reader the form of the stanzas: “counting now to five / next to three / then up till four.” (Please note, there is no punctuation in this poem.) This is a poem of counting, this stanza implies, as one may expect with the “mathy” title and the “mathy” form.

As a result of this stanza form, each stanza should have 12 syllables, and as there are 12 stanzas, there should be 144 syllables in the entire poem, 122=144. However, as I counted the syllables, I kept tallying 145 syllables. In fact, there are 2 stanzas with 13 syllables (stanzas 5 and 8) and one with 11 syllables (stanza 7), which explains the accounting discrepancy. But why would the poem deliberately do this? It seems a fairly easy fix to get one of those stanzas to 12 syllables (if not all stanzas), but obviously there must be a point. I think it is best explained in stanza 12: “going back to form / a promise / always broken.” The poem lets the reader know it was done intentionally. It almost has an underlying suggestion that formed poems are promises and that they can’t be fulfilled, perhaps because of their difficulty; or formed poems are quite often almost close to being true to form, but they often don’t arrive in order to gain or create meaning. There will be more on this.

The poem also breaks the form in other ways in this stanza. But before I illustrate that, I believe there is another aspect to this form – no superfluous adjectives or adverbs (which is just a good rule in general). How many sonnets can we think of where there is an extra adjective or unnecessary adverb or an article? This poem’s form or rules seem to not want to have articles either. Just as some poets use an “a” or “the” or “and” to get an unstressed syllable, despite the fact that an “a” or “the” or “and” is not necessary, the same is true to this form and it can cause a loosening of the form. By eliminating articles, the poet must work closer with the language. That is, if the poet is to avoid an artificial “articleless” quality to the poem or the language. The poet must reinvent perceptions and ways of presentation. In addition, articlelessness keeps a lazy mathematician from just adding these small filler syllables to get from 11 syllables to 12. I believe the same can be said of “to be” verbs in this poem. There aren’t any.

However, back to form breaking, there is one article, “a”, and it appears in the broken promise stanza, but what does the poem gain by doing this? The form has already been broken 3 times (see above) and this is the fourth and as result turns into the fifth break, for it is the “a” that is the extra syllable. Without it, the “a”, the poem keeps true, at least on this point, to the form and the math: 122=144. So as a result, he destroys the biggest promise with the smallest syllable. As a result, he makes a certain theory of math come true. That is, some theoretical mathematicians have posed and shown that 2+2 doesn’t always equal 4 in certain constructs, and here is an example by extension. Further by doing this, the poem rids the algebraic approach to reading poems. I will expand.

For much of the 20th century, we were taught to read poems in a manner similar to solving an algebra equation. (This image represents that philosophical notion, the path less traveled is a metaphor/equivalent for life – or as a mathematician might say: a plug-and-chug equation for life –, etc.) What this poem does, then, is to invite that type of thinking, string that type of reader along, and then smash the reader over the head with the faulty math equation. The reader is then confronted with the poem as a poem, and the reader experiences each stanza. For really, each stanza is a place to meditate or laugh. Each stanza is a moment in time.

As for the lines that separate or isolate the stanzas, I refer to McCaffery: “Wilhelm Reich was to declare form to be frozen energy, opening a path to a new conception of form as the aggregate of departure not arrivals, the notion of the de-form as a thawing of the constrict, a strategy of release, of flow” (88). Thus, what we get with the separator lines is frozen energy, or potential energy. That is, each stanza has a form, the 5-3-4 syllabic form, and as the poem proceeds to the end it becomes an aggregate of potential energy, like a rock on the precipice of a cliff. When the poem reaches its end, the potential energy become kinetic (the rock falls of the cliff) and kinetic is released because the overall form/form has been destroyed. There is an energy departure with the 145th syllable. All energy is converted. The poem becomes ecstatic instead of enstatic. The lack of a separator line at the poem’s end also suggests and reinforces this idea of departure. The poem becomes liberated at the end. The reader, thus, arrives and departs. (A doubling of energy?—Potential energy becomes kinetic.)

This poem then presents a new form and breaks it a number of times. By breaking it, however, it does not create new meanings other than how to approach a form poem, or a poem in general. The poem teaches the reader how to read the poem. The form is the medium to carry the language or present language, images, and ideas, and to read meaning into the form is somewhat superficial at this point in poetry’s history, where each form has already been manhandled in numerous ways. Here, Charles Bernstein’s poem “122” is just ecstatic.

Works Cited

Bernstein, Charles. “122”. The Best American Poetry 2002. Eds. Robert Creeley and David Lehman. New York: Scribner Poetry, 2002. (7-9).

McCaffery, Steve. “Sound Poetry.” The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book. Eds. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein. Carbondale, Ill: Southern Illinois U P, 1984. (88-91).

On another level, however, the poem is teaching the reader how to read the poem. It is a bit paradoxical. Each stanza is to be its own meditation but accumulating to overall effect. That is the poem wants to read as exploration of its own form – be aware of the syllables, count them, note their structure – but don’t mind that, concentrate on the content between the lines.//




The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

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