Sunday, April 04, 2010

John Coletti, mum halo (Rust Buckle Books, 2010)

I feel close to John Coletti’s poems, not so much in terms of their content but in their way of moving. I’ve written a good deal in a mode that feels almost identical in its structuring of reading-time, its way of getting from one line to another and in the kinds of mild sabotage that the syntax performs on itself along the way. I’m really looking forward to hearing him in the Deceptively Wall-Shaped Reading here in Madison this Friday.

79 Pieces

Earshell stillness

all her friends were there

sucking on toes

French dalmatians

flicker by bedside

thick water sunlight curb

crushed re-crushed rock

The lines generally seem independent, beginning with the connotative and consonant strength of the opening line, not quite an image, and with its floating syntactic non-connection with the next line. That “floating” sense sets up an expectation that the third line will also not follow syntactically from the second, so that—when it does—its independence amplifies the character of both lines. The second line seems almost quoted, the third truncated (missing information; one wouldn’t say “sucking on toes;” one might say “sucking on each others’ toes,” or even just “sucking toes”). The capital “F” at the beginning of the next line again doubles the sense of which way the connections are going; is it the opening of a new sentence or not? The bedside seems to continue the scene, while “flicker” jumps the big gap to the penultimate line by connecting with “sunlight.” “Sunlight,” because of the implied grammatical parallelism between “thick water” and “sunlight curb,” ends up feeling like a partly adjectivized noun—though it’s resistant to that (a resistance that conceptually parallels the unlikelihood of “thick water”). That grammatical ambiguity is taken up in the first “crushed” of the final line. If we read the lines as syntactically flowing into one another, then we get the sentence “Thick water sunlight curb crushed re-crushed rock,” in which case that first “crushed” is a past-tense verb. If we view the line as syntactically independent, that “crushed” reads as an adjective. Either way, the rock has now been crushed at least three times. The ambiguity (which I find mighty funny) dramatizes the situation of the whole poem; every line (rock) gets “crushed” more than once, standing on its own and always leading into the next line. It’s that downward motion that makes “crushed” seem so appropriate. In almost every poem in this book, the movement is very powerfully stepped, from one line to the next, always to some degree independent and always retroactively pulled onward. The result is that, by the end of a poem, we’ve ended up in a surprising place, and can look back on how we got there—but we can never get from the second stage to the end directly. Perhaps a better metaphor is one of linked chains of lines.

To continue comparing and contrasting my April readings: George Albon’s work depends on linkages between parts that may be very distant from one another; the sense is of a constellation of parts. Steve Benson’s book is forward-moving, but in “real time.” Or without the quotes. The separation/connection dynamic is very different. All three of these poets deal with dailiness, though. That may not be apparent from this selection of Coletti’s, but throughout much of the book there are names of friends, addresses to pop culture figures, drinks drunk, days in the park, trees and weather observed. The shared formal movement of the poems allows them to accumulate in a way that suggests a world common to them. The person whose world it is remains blurry, glimpsed only in relation to these movements, objects, actions, names, and impressions. Perhaps that’s why I’m least attracted to the poems (most of these are in the second section, previously published in the chapbook Same Enemy Rainbow) with the most “attitude,” the hippest ones—they solidify a voice in the poems, and it’s precisely the “attitude,” which in “real life” is already less individual than part of the culture’s social games, that makes it a voice (something similar might be said about nearly all instances of “voice”). Even those, however, at least tend to be funny—and the rest (many of them very tender with regard to the people in or near them) convey a continuously disorienting sense of reality that I like a great deal, a way of experiencing the world that’s twisted up with a way of constructing it, both dizzying. I also suspect, from what I take to be the improvisational rhythms of a well-tuned ear in these poems, that Coletti is a musician.

Here’s another:

The Warlock

Thinned paper roses
burnt on top
mushrooms actually
on a sea walk for ice
hungry ospreys
dive hold then splash
search for wallets in high tide
moose horns line up
sucked in headlights
chill with the hill stubble
as gnomes pull back
their brittle nets

I can’t, especially having emphasized their similarity, convey the variety among these poems—the beauty of the last handful in the book are, on their own, enough to make it worth buying, and I’ll certainly be reading this one more than once.

My “imitation” follows. This one is actually less close than some stuff I was writing a while back, and certainly doesn’t measure up.

Square in

which a warp

roasted seams

see what

happens taps

the frame glow

off shingle

why does talk go

wrong language

becomes metaphor

for yeasty gunk

none of that is technically

reading about clouds


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