Sunday, November 15, 2009

The urge to convert the unruly undulations of our collectivized speech into a hard, condensed verbal thing that makes the dull, if loud noise of lazy inference has crept it's way into a few poet's habit of phrase. We come to Wyn Cooper's poem in Slate, Daily Threads. I liken this to the way my younger brother treated radios, battery powered toys and alarm clocks when he were both the ages of 7 and 9 respectively. He would take the devices apart, typically toss out those pieces he seemingly didn't like the looks of, and then reassemble , to his own liking, what it was he'd dismantled. It didn't matter the radios or the toys didn't work as their advertising promised, my odd and brilliant brother preferred his own idea of this things in his world. Cooper looks on his narrative stream, in turn, and rids the sentences of any phoneme that doesn't make a grating sound. In surer hands this technique works, if only because the writers I'm thinking of--William Burroughs, WC Williams, Rae Armantrout-- intend their works for audiences who live in this world.

Thepoem, is Twitterdism incarnate, and it's most striking accomplishment is that it's taken brevity beyond the conservative deployment of articles, adjectives and other connecting tissues that made Hemingway the still-pilloried genius and made the style a crabby, grandstanding assemblage of barking alliteration and crash-dummy conceits. Some of this might have been effective had it suggested another medium, a painting in the style of Stuart Davis. In his canvases, a city scape on a typical walk does seem to pile on you, which makes his best work a nicely clustered terrain of icons to walk through. But Davis hasn't the curse of feeling required to be literary. Cooper boils the sentences down to the grunts, but what remains isn't believable as speech

Backstreet barricade, arcane
balustrade, hidden kingdom of wing and prayer,
details too fine to miss or mess with,
skinny escape from a netherhood
of parapets and puddle soaked oaks.

He might have veered closer to the old WC Williams' notion of writing to the rhythm and bluntness of speech as it's actually spoken, without a bookish filter to bring the impressions through. Sonnet like? Maybe, but the best sonnets get to an effect that makes you consider the technique and limitations after the emotional content registers and becomes felt by the reader. I can't get beyond this poem sounding like someone attempting a unique way of expressing itself. That is exactly the problem--it does sound unique, and it's the kind of singularity you hope remains a single instance.

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