Moebius Poetry, Elisa Gabbert, Sommer Browning
This is what I like more & more lately about poetry: its ability to step through itself. To turn itself inside out, allowing for multiple solid foundations on which one can build meaning & understanding. I’m using these metaphors rather than the creation of a field or matrix, as I think it is something inherently in the text that allows for these things, rather than the public engagement of the text, language & image. It is in the prosodic craft that these moments of stepping & turning happen. This function for poetry is why I believe it to warrant a greater level of theoretical attention in regards to this kind of multiplicity. It is the text itself that is in play in poetry. And by poetry I mean, of course, poetry that I like. Not that other crap.
I was talking about this last week, off & on in conversation & in class. I kept being knocked out by poems & then when I tried to figure out what was knocking me out it was this action of turning itself inside out. Then I had a brief chat with my friend mark about a poem of mine & it made me realize that I was attempting to do this myself. So I thought I'd try to express what I'm thinking about--though that always leaves open the possibility that what I was thinking was interesting is in fact somewhat commonplace, which is possible here.
Certainly the poetry of Armantrout, Howe & other such poets who are actively working toward a new aesthetic of multiplicity is an example of this in action but it is a move that is not limited to willfully avant-garde writers. I think it is my love, my childlike & childish love of Larry Levis that also makes me look for this kind of move. And that’s what it is, not a mindset or an approach or an ideological approach. It’s like a dance move you see someone doing at the club & then you notice that everyone is doing it & then you notice that you’re doing it. And it is this is the part of poetry that I think can be usefully taught, though the writing of good poetry can not be taught & only reasoned. You know, when you’re at the club.
Elisa Gabbert is doing it via the epistolary in her poem “Blogpoem for April” that originally appeared on The Steinach Operation, then was further extended through realpoetik & is now the first poem in her very cool chapbook Thanks for Sending the Engine from Kitchen Press
You can’t invent a color, only name it,
like how I just named those contrails Benjamin
and then the sky behind them Benjamin II.
Now, retronymically, I refer to Ben as Ben I.
If he becomes famous, they’ll stop calling
clouds “clouds” and call them “nonlinear
clouds” or “pre-Benjamin” for clarity.
I can think about fame all day, and
compose apologies for my friends’ friends
who I’ve variously snubbed, write them
into emails with personalized P.S.’s:
P.S. My love for you extends forever
in all directions, or sometimes seems to.
P.S. I include a swatch of Yves Klein blue.
P.S. If the sky is a piano store and clouds
are baby grands, we just hang out in the back
and listen to a Casiotone’s preprogrammeds.
P.S. This P.S. is my email’s last will
and testament. It’s leaving everything
to you. P.S. Like my love for you,
like the infinite crystalline watchface of
God of the sky, my email will never die.
The epistle form seems to set up the idea & then the extension of the idea, but it is the second PS where I start having to renegotiate my whole relationship with this poem. The line “P.S. I include a swatch of Yves Klein blue.” makes the form of the poem collapse, pulling the self-aware meta-move of the poem’s first half into a thing, a concrete object. Free, floating, objectively correlate, it somehow becomes a moment of complete honesty in the otherwise rangy poem. After that there are multiple tones working at the same time, each one of which I have to negotiate with individually.
Sommer Browing does the dance move through metaphor in her poem “Mechanics of Deformable Bodies” that is in the latest issue of Free Verse:
There is a rest in our conversation. So I breathe
loudly, roll down the window to hear what it's like
outside. It's like
noisy. A kind of noise accompanied by leaving. A kind
of leaving noise. A door slam. A coffin. Imagine
a man signing a check, his pen stabs a decimal point, the number 34,
scribbled small above
black spider waiting in the corner.
The poem steps through itself at the moment when the metaphors for leaving sounds extends into the narrative of the man writing the check. Prior to that we have a somewhat standard emotionally grounded narrative. The “like” turn is clever, but works to disrupt the tone for me, though it returns quickly to the more melodramatic examples of the slamming door, the coffin. Familiar & if the poem ended with those I would not have thought about it much. But the parallel structure has us expecting the third example of the noise (and the familiarity of lists of threes in things, which is a different discussion). It provides a noise, the scratching of pen on paper, but then the poem enters this world. It is no longer a metaphor, instead the poem has moved into the metaphor. That delights me, but what I think makes this poem really special is that it leaves away from even this action. The stanza breaks, the syntax fails & we are left with a spider. Metaphor for the decimal? Sure. But also an innocuous detail in the room where the man is sitting paying his bills. And then the final period closes the sentence. That same dot.
I think that part of the game in this Moebius move is in the establishment of a stable form & then the forcible renegotiation of it. So it has to be a move that shakes the whole work of the poem but also creates more connectivity through the shaking. When I think of the rhetorical situation of a poem it seems to me that there is a point at which the reader & text interact that is fluid. Some poems ask you to look at a scene with them, some ask you to look at language with them, etc. These poems ask you to look at something that transforms in front of you. And ultimately, this is something I want out of poetry, a space that can accurately reflect the churning set of lines of flight in my lived experience.