Thursday, March 31, 2011


David Ferry is among the least interesting poets I can think of. He does, though, come with an interesting premise on occasion, although the result is predictably disappointing; what you thought me might capitalize on he instead fumbles, makes dull witted. "Soul", a poem  now on Slate,  is his  attempt here to convey the worries and woes of getting older through the persona of a lobster is flat, humorless conceit that is not helped not at all by the poet's hurried pacing. The punchline seems to be a variation of an old  12 step group cliche about wanting one's insides to match other's outsides,that one wanted the ease and comfort others appeared to have for themselves. Ferry's monologist feels his body falling apart and changing for the worse and  desires a hard shell, something that both protects what is left and which also hides.
All thought, and all digestion, and pornographic
Inquiry, and getting about, and bewilderment,
And fear, avoidance of trouble, belief in what,
God knows, vague memories of friends, and what
They said last night, and seeing, outside of myself,
From here inside myself, my waving claws
Inconsequential, waving, and my feelers
Preternatural, trembling, with their amazing
Troubling sensitivity to threat.
Ferry isn't addressing anything , isn't discussing any points of contradiction, is not attempting to embrace a dialectic in his experience, that is, witnessing conflicting reactions to what his life has come to and witnessing the facts that result from the conflict, the new ground he'll be standing upon. This is  a man reciting a list of talking points  which hastily connects a crustacean attribute with an elderly human foible .  This reminds me  of nothing less than someone reciting aloud key points of an exam they are about to take or an address they are give.  This is not a lobster speaking, but instead a narrator who is musing why a lobster's body would be better for him than the one he actually has. The metaphor, as I said, is an interesting one and has potential, but Ferry doesn't make it work. The tragedies and set backs and declining physical prowess make the poem poignant, but do not, of themselves, make them poetic.
David Ferry hasn't engaged his idea--this is the writing of someone trying to describe in detail the things they see from a moving car's passenger window, the result being a series of quick summaries and ad libs that cannot avoid their essential inanity. Kerouac had written that the first thought was the best thought ,that one ought not refine their "ah-ha!" with refinement, an attractive premise that has , in fact, ruined countless poems. The poet's job, I think, is to put in the work, apply the craft and, like good actors with a superb director guiding them, don't let anyone see you sweating the technique.Empathy is easy for all things related to getting older and feeling less vim and vigor ; I understand Ferry's interest in the topic. Empathy, though, does not by itself grant quality. He had an interesting at the start when he suggested that lobster's body is better suited to a human one since he is feeling less human the older he gets. It 's just too bad that Ferry's resulting poem doesn't rise above a rambling list of aches and frustrations.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Put Your Ipod in the Microwave

I neither own an iPod nor wish to get one. As a user of public transportation to work, it's an expected sight to witness row after row of collage students , gang bangers and men and women in various states of middle age creep sitting or hanging on to rails with the earplugs in, long white wires filtering down to the nearest pocket, staring off into some spot on the bus where there is no gaze coming back, looking nothing less than already defeated and depressed by the day ahead of them, there thumbs dialing the volume of their 85,000 song list up and down. Contrary to what the expectation of solitude they think headphones assure them, they are in fact sharing their music with everyone on the bus; muted bass lines, screaming guitar solos, muffled vocals, thudding drums, sounding as if the iPod were in tin can at the bottom of a storm drain,
blasting away under the batteries went dead. Not a pleasant sound. On one ride a passenger trying to read a newspaper had had enough with this ugly sound and stood up to lean over the aisle and poke a student wearing the device to turn the music down. "Fuck off," said the punk, "I will fuck you up".

"Turn your shit down" the newspaper reader repeated, and at the point I got off the bus to get to work, thinking that it was a low irony that music hadn't soothed the savage beast, but rather only pissed him off royal, all before 8 o'clock in the morning.

I'm not an erstwhile   Luddite,  but I would venture that folks hunched in a seat wearing iPod headphones don't look as if they're having a "more active, enjoyable inner life " as a result of technology. To a man and a woman, they look withdrawn, wan, depressed, and for all the joy having instant access to every song ever recorded is supposed to confer upon them, they, as a class, fidget and twitch. More often than not their music is simply too loud, and the muffled hizzzzzzzzzle of music is forced upon all seated near them while they damage their hearing, oblivious to the rights of others. Music is then merely a garish or inane wallpaper that puts the world in a position to talk to the hand, speak to the fist, mumble into one's Styrofoam cup rather than interact with the world. This isn't to say that each of us needs to greet and discuss their issues with those they don't know in some mistaken idea of participatory democracy; iPods, cell phones, anything form of  headphones frees one from the common courtesies that make life in the city bearable; the small things that keep us civil--the nod, the thank you , the excuse me, the small things that keep our hands unclenched and our limbs relaxed, are taken  from our  interaction toolkit, leaving little else but blunt, stumbling, aggression. As with the cell phone yakkers who fill every public space with the blare of their voice detailing every inane detail of their day , iPods are
evidence that what technology makes it easy for consumers to do is inoculate themselves against the world and convince themselves that there's no need to give a flat fuck about whether others think you're a jerk for imposing your gadget-happy fetishes on their fellow citizen.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lola Ridge claws her way out of the dustbin

I can't imagine anyone considering Lola Ridge a good poet; spare as her images may be, they come off to me as suffering a dual deficiency. First, her language is flat and prosaic, ordinary in the sense that Theodore Dreiser is prosaic, even clumsy in his phrasing. A latter-day generation of graduate students and their topic- starved faculty can easily fall in love with her poems and even generate claims for quality using specialized and wholly incomprehensible criteria, but this fact does not convince me that my horizons are too low.

Ridge sounds like just another tone-deaf poet; I think she is frankly as posthumously overrated as the splintery metal shavings that Mina Loy claimed as her poetry. Even considering the period style, a quality where we're supposed to suspend our notions of fluid, economic expression and accept as an aesthetic plus we've yet to accept in our preferences, this strange mixture of styles just seems like someone who is dedicated to making their work striking, noticeable, singular--there is a perceivable straining toward original style that succeeds, basically, in subjugating interesting material to serve a self-conscious artifice.

Ridge is notable, I think, for having the still-current curse of demanding that you get her drift; writing for the day when centipedes march over false prophets "who will have their hands tied" is one of the worst political tropes I've read from any poet, period. It's a groaner, a gas passed that rips out during a stagnate, soul-killing poetry reading, a cut-doll of a trope, flimsy and blatant.At this point you are reminded of being compelled to  listen to someone go off on a rant about  one injustice or another , weaving a tale that converts the entire fabric of  reality as one streaming conspiracy of bad bad juju , bad faith and paranoia and wickedly ill-executed metaphors making you feel as if someone had just pissed on you, you powerless to respond, to argue or reason with, all you can do is nod, smile, nod, harbor thoughts of violent revenge against what you don't know. I would pray a compassionate God would give me a cardiac arrest on the spot as a blameless way of getting out of this person's presence. Ridge is that awful. You can appreciate, I suppose, why she was popular in her own day; you can understand just as easily why she was forgotten. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Dredging the memory swamp for  a glimpse of how you used to conceptualize the world as a very young person who hadn't, as yet, been incorporated into the tough neighborhoods of  group think and bitter fear  is often times an activity that will suck you down to the  bottomless ooze of wishful thinking and  regret that will, if you're lucky enough to have held your breath long enough and clawed your way back to the rutted surface, convince you that you know nothing of the essentials that make up the meaning and direction your life took on. That can be depressing; for poetry,the matter is better served if the writer realizes what it is they cannot answer; the vague outlines, the nuanced shapes, the sounds and smells that get the mind swirling are all textures to recollected experience. The past is an impressionist painting and the art of it is in the Not Getting It Right. I rather like Kimberly Johnson's poem "Catapult" for that reason --her sonnet promises to capture her object memory in a set of metaphors, but  comes away only with what the images suggest .

The intent appears to be to make things that would other wise be mere remains and relics on the ground on which they were found into heavenly creations by making them airborne, momentarily free of gravity, suggesting that they could ascend directly to the next level just before they reach their penultimate height and give into the call of the flat, hard ground below. It's a fine idea for a poem, I think, bringing a child's idea into view and to capture both the expectation of miracle graces meeting an inevitable fact that gravity always takes its toll; even better that poet Kimberly Johnson has the child blithely ignoring whatever lesson adults might reasonably expect to be learned instantly and instead try the endeavour over and over and over again, until the agent of arced aviation is satisfied with the results, or, in other words, merely bored with her game.  

Bored or not, the child's devices and desires were to see things in transcendence, in flux, exhibiting the glorious suggestions that a light of God might shine on them; I sense a childhood fascination with flying, sensations of weightlessness, the exhilaration of being freed from the grasp of mundane earth with it's regimen of cause and effect and perhaps, as a result of that liberation, becoming empowered to transform the world one sees; this has much to do with magical thinking, I think, a child's cosmology that deals with the dark mysteries about why life is the way it is, hard, without joy, abrupt, the creation of private myth making as to why things are the way they are, locked into position, beholden to arbitrary laws of nature.

Our catapult operator here desires a peak behind the wall that separates her world of neighborhoods, driveways, schools, traffic lights and the higher realm where everything that matters is a manifestation of grace; this could be a child's version of Wallace Stevens lifelong poetic task, to imagine beyond the cruelty of appearance and to get at the perfected state of Things In Themselves. The difference, I think, would be that the intent here isn't as baroque as Stevens' ruminations were; Johnson, young Johnson, perhaps, wants only a glimpse of what things might be like if solid, material things were closer to God's breath, just an idea of what it would be like to tap into a source of great power. Just a glimpse, mind you. Like Stevens, Johnson's young catapult operator wouldn't know what to do with the transcendent state for too long a period; Stevens seemed stunned into awed immobility and, I suspect, our protagonist here might have gone where ever else her curiosity dictated.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A poem should be, criticism should mean

Someone recently broad-shouldered their way into a decent discussion of a poem by David Blair in order to achieve little else than suggest that those present were taking themselves too seriously with all this high=falutin' nonsense. Predictably, he concluded with the stale bromide Alistair MacLeish that a "poem should not mean but be." That, he supposed , would be the end of it, but those who know MacLeish and his Modernist cousins can sniff a misreading when the aroma seeps under the door. It should be noted that what MacLeish intended (or, let us say, meant is that poetry itself ought not mistake itself as an adjunct of philosophy and render what otherwise be formal
arguments in verse form; the modernism he was apart of, along with Pound, Eliot, and especially WC Williams, was to slough off the preceding Romantic tradition , with it's habit of heroically trying to wrestle the existence into order.
Yesterday, 1:15:10 PM PDT
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The general concern with the early modernist poets was to treat the poem as if were a hard, malleable material and to write poems that , like paintings , sculpture, photography, would get across human perception, with words and phrases that adhered to the cadence of the speaking voice and which used no linguistic buttressing. "The thing itself is it's own adequate symbol"
I believe how Williams put it. This wasn't , though, a proviso against detailed interpretation of poems--Pound, Eliot, and the others obviously wanted their audiences to see the world in new ways, free of the burden of the past. In keeping with their general desire to improve the language and how it can be used, their aim was also to inspire a more vigorous discussion of the work and, in doing so, about the world we live in

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Charles Simic's wake up call

Charles Simic's poems appeal to me for the same reason you might like a wisecrack someone makes as they recall an incident that  turns into one of  life's little lessons:  whether lost car keys, spilled milk, or walking around a department store with you fly open, a terse, casual summary, vaguely self mocking, with an odd detail tossed in for texture, makes the phrase memorable . We can each supply our own example of things a friend has said we wish we could claim as our original wit. Simic, here, has a poem, The Red Alarm Clock, I wish I'd written.

Red Alarm Clock"I want to sail down the Nile
At sunset
Before I die,"
You said once, Cleopatra.
The room, I recall,
Had a plank floor,
A narrow bed, and a window
Facing a brick wall,
Plus a chair where I kept
A pint of bourbon,
The coffee cup we used as an ashtray,
And a red alarm clock.

This is a perfect snippet of a longer conversation, the start of something that makes you lean closer for the juicier parts, the contrasting accounts of what was said and done and how both the narrator and the "you" remember each other's response. It is a vivid, brief, alluring tease of a poem that does not drift off as would a conversation between two people fade as the couple walked further up the sidewalk from where you stood. It is cut off, rather, bright, loud, full of hard things, a tangible place. A room with a skinny bed, a window that gazes upon the grain of brick wall, a chair used as night stand to hold pint of bourbon. Simic has the particulars of a James M. Cain novel, he all but suggests a lustful reunion before and the beginning of a bittersweet dissection of an ended affair in the rumpled afterglow.

 It's not unlike some smooth camera work; you can feel the lens slowing panning the stark room,  ending up in on the coffee cup --the additional bit of it being "used as an ashtray" is a precisely brilliant fit for the situation evoked here--and the red alarm clock,  uncluttered with poetic language, it's color alone setting the tone of  an urgency both these characters would rather ignore. The clock, though, is enough to bring home the fact that the clock is ticking all the same and that  time runs out for everything, even regrets and reunions. Simic  concerns himself with neither the back story nor the tale that continues after the last line, he focuses on this slice and creates, I think, a set of particulars that create a mood, if not a meaning.

The feeling of  that time has expired is made more tangible even by the way the narrator says, lastly, at the end of his sentence, as throw away detail "...and a red alarm clock ."  Unfreighted with meandering metaphors or latch key similes to ham handedly imbue the object with intangible qualities, Simic prefers the physical over the literary and lets the situation as described create the mood from within it's parts; the phone is mentioned,the color is emphasized, like something remembered , suddenly, brutally, an intrusion of truth that seeps into a conversation that reminds you that yes, whatever was the case before is done with and now is the time to move into respective horizons

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What and Why is Hip?

Greil Marcus is obsessed with secret histories as manifested in inchoate habits seeking to amuse and distract themselves. His decades-worth of rants, ruminations, and reiterations wherein he tried to wed his foremost concern with rock and roll as an inevitable countercultural force that galvanized various energies that would, finally, transform the world in the same Hegelian way with the larger aims of politics and social theory, we are met with decidedly mixed results; lots of insight, extended bits of associative brilliance that only a word-drunk can manage, but a thesis, as an oral examination of what is happening in our world typified by art, music, demonstrations, technological upheaval, the excellent author falls short. Lipstick Traces, of all his work, is the best example of what he does. I would recommend it to the reader who is interested in reading the poetic extrapolations of a writer who thinks that he's found something significant in the rock and pop album he bought --things as substantial as the books he read in college--who cannot, or will not, stop microscopically examining the examples he brings up and construct a theory on which his metaphors can rest. Marcus seems to assume that the idea is implicit in the instances he pulls from the dustbin, but he makes the mistake of forgetting that he is supposed to be writing criticism, not poetry. Implicit is the idea that there are discrete but discoverable bits of spontaneous resistance in the arts to the dominant ideologies that control the money, the armies and navies, the cops, that are leading civilization to blind-sided destruction; that it is human nature to reinvent the world informs and concept that attempts to break an enforced world view. Marcus links Cabaret Voltaire, Dada, Rock and Roll, French Cinema, and, of course, Situation-ism into this scheme, but he never makes his case convincing beyond the apparent need for him to believe it himself. It seems a beautifully rendered bit of what might have been.

Marcus might have made his task simpler if he simply asked: "what is hip?" John Leland did that with better results. John Leland's Hip: The History is the sort of book I like to read on the bus, the portentous social study of an eternal essence that makes the reader of the book appears, well, Hip. This is the perfect book for the pop culture obsessive who wonders, indeed worries, and frets over the issue as to whether white musicians can become authentic blues musicians or whether Caucasian jazz musicians have added anything of value to the jazz canon besides gimmick. 

What we have with Hip is what Greil Marcus has been attempting to do for decades, which is write a coherent narrative of the margins of American culture, descendants of slaves and the children of immigrant parents, coalesced in ways in which each other's style and manner intermingled even if the respective races did not. The grace moment in history is that some beautiful things emerged from all this borrowing, posturing, and tension, the jazz, rock and roll, and a genuine American literary vernacular; the tragedy is that it took generations of racism and violence to produce the historical conditions for these vital arts to emerge. The question of Hip furnishes the theme that brings Leland's sources together--what appears is the story of two races that cannot live together and cannot be apart.

Leland, a reporter for the New York Times, has done his research and brings together the regular doses of cultural anthropology, literature, and, of course, music to bear on this sweeping, if the unsettled account as to what "hip" is and how it appears to have developed over time. Most importantly, he concentrates on the lopsided relationship between black and white, each group borrowing each other's culture and suiting them for their individual needs; in the case of black Americans, rising from slavery as free people in a racist environment, Hip was an ironic manner, a mode of regarding their existence on the offbeat, a way to keep the put upon psyche within a measure of equilibrium. For the younger white hipsters, in love with black music and style, it was an attempt to gain knowledge, authenticity, and personal legitimacy through a source that was Other than what a generation felt was their over-privileged and pampered class. Leland's range is admirable and does a remarkable job of advancing his thesis--that is the framework of what we consider. The Hip is a way in which both races eye each other warily--and is sensitive to the fact that for all the attempts of white artists and their followers to cultivate their own sound style from their black influences, the white hipsters are never far from blackface minstrelsy. For all the appropriation, experimentation, and various perversions of black art that have emerged over the decades, there are only a few men and women who've attained the stature of their African American heroes, people who, themselves, were the few among the many. 

It would seem that an especially troublesome tract from the recently belated Norman Mailer's writings will be his essay The White Negro, published in Dissent in 1957 and later included in his landmark 1959 collection Advertisements for Myself. In a rough paraphrase, Mailer argues that whites need to emulate some of the jazz-inflected styles of black Americans, whom, he said, had developed an attitude, a lived philosophy in the face of the violence they face daily solely because they are black. Mailer placed a good amount of hope that the Beats might evolve in the Caucasian mind. Authenticity,
a self rooted in primal reality and not lodged in a language-locked template was the goal. Mailer's assertions, to be sure, came under attack, not the least of the asides being that he was taking something of an exotic and racist view of the lives of black people. The misgivings are understandable.

Some of what Mailer said in the essay was embraced by some in the black community. Eldridge Cleaver, another man, obsessed with the metaphysics of personal violence as a response against Institutional violence, cited him favorably in his book Soul on Ice; Cleaver, though, was doubtlessly trying to rationalize the rapes he was convicted of as being political acts rather than demonstrations of pathology or, further, that the pathology itself was a result to being oppressed. It's a slippery slope, as Mailer realized. Horrible as it was, Mailer never used his stabbing of his wife Adele as an example of How-To-Be-A-White-Negro; his treatment of violence in later books was more measured, weary. All the same, the ethos of hip-hop and rap culture endorses Mailer's assertion that black Americans have authenticity and knowledge that the white community cannot have because of the fact that they live with an intimate, daily, as-is knowledge of violence as something that saturates their existence, that it might be visited upon them at any instance merely because of the color of their skin; many rappers, in principle, might agree with Mailer as well that the edgy style of hip hop is a result of their being forced to exist at the margins of the culture. Mailer writes that a significant reason that black American culture developed the way it did was in response to the racist violence that might befall them at any moment on any day. This was knowledge of violence whites did not and could not know. Mailer argued and postulated further that the cultivation of the style he wrote about, complete with its violent elements, was a canny response to the brutality that faced them. Mailer thought that whites ought to emulate the style of black culture to live more "authentically"; in either case, what Mailer talks about in the essay is that one is confronted with having to make a conscious choice in how one confronts stultifying conformity and Statist oppression. He does not argue for anything "intrinsic" in human beings and argues through the essay that one must deal with the consequences of their action.  What he saw in the urban black culture of the time was a particularly acute style and manner that could accommodate and hone the violent impulse and use the energy to a more creative purpose. This presents all sorts of problems for intellectuals and gullible whites (and blacks) attracted by the flashy density of Mailer's writing. Still, it should be noted as well that Mailer modified his pronouncements. Mailer, believe it or not, matured.Mailer, I think, though he had found a magic bullet of sorts with black style and how a younger, urban youth had adopted it and used it as a means to achieve a truthful existence in a violent world without the need of pure abstraction. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Should poems be beautiful?

I like ugly, imperfect, ambiguous art, especially poems, but I also love form, elegance, an ordered pairing of opposing things that once, brought together, gives us a sublime thing indeed. What gets to me is a poetry that gets across what the poet attempts with a mastery of techniques that are true to themselves, not an ideology.Beauty is something that is limitlessly subjective, and as much as a protracted discussion about what constitutes a beautiful object can be, I'm inclined to think that poetry ought to be interesting on its terms, the best effort a poet and his or her craft can create with their talent and personal inclinations. The problem with insisting that a poem should be "beautiful" according to a standard imposes limits on what the poet can do with a work and, in effect, implicitly dictates that a work adhere to requirements that are ill-suited for an emotion, an idea, an event, an experience that would motivate a writer to compose some lines.

The beauty of the best poems I read comes less from their adherence to formalized structures and strategies as it does from those elements that seem to break away from the phrase-making one expects and combine with a writer's honed instincts for developing a rhetoric that allows a poem to stop you for a moment, ponder the phrase, parse the image, appreciate the shifts in tone and sound as layers are added, and appreciate the unexpected places where the stanzas stop, where they jump to, where they land. These are elements achievable in any number of ways. I care less for the aesthetic choice a poet selects from the outset than I do for the results he or she gets when they're finished with work and judge it ready for a reader's appreciation and response. The validity of any idea is in how it works. Henry James said that, in better prose.

"Interesting" might be a mild word, but I used it because I think it encompasses more things for discussion than whether one goes by whether a poem is "beautiful" or not; beauty, I think, is a banal consideration since it funnels one's concentration on the surface qualities of a work. You can discuss only so much about the heroic efforts of writers who desire to make their experiences--or the experiences they would like to have had--stand out because they've mustered up a High Rhetoric and a line of striking, fussed-over images. Beauty, more often than not in my readings, comes down to how well the world is made to harmonize in all its shades, hues, and tonalities, the conversion of notions into ideal types; what makes a poem interesting, the elements that bridge the gaps between experience, a philosophical position and the word choice which produce, in turn, that effect, the irony, the unexpected perception, gets glossed over. Interesting poems for me are those that get at the exactness of particular states of mind, shifts in personality, dissonant situations that are uncomfortably linked, and an understanding of what makes these written expressions fascinating makes for a fuller discussion, or debate, as it were. Beauty, for me, is a vague and useless term when applied on such a broad scale--as I mentioned before it's more compelling to discuss how successfully you think a poet is getting across those inexpressible things in terms of the unforgettable.

Too much of the time "beauty" represents a conservative, repressive and reductionist set of conditions that, at their essence, seek to contain whatever socially provocative or critical aspects a work of art, a poem, in this case, might contain and which could be delivered to a readership. Herbert Marcuse saw "beauty" as having become bankrupt a term in the late global capitalist formations after World War 2, and argued in his book "The Aesthetic Dimension" that the role of art is solely to produce joy, that state which comes from a liberated, enlightened condition, and that society's obligation to the artists was to leave them alone. I would agree with him, since what he wanted was a population that could uncover the wit and wisdom of a piece (in a manner of speaking) by considering the particulars artist's obligation is to be truthful to their gift, their talent, and to apply it fully so that the particular sorts of truth they're capable of sensing and sussing out from the dissonant happenstances that, presumably, are not readily gotten by those of us who go to work, have families, struggle with daily things rather than ponder the big questions.

This is Marcuse's point, in that he believes, quite beyond any political or philosophical predisposition regarding the default job and obligation of being an artist, that they are definitely the antennae of the race, that their senses are enhanced by their being poets, novelists, painters, architects and have the ability to make us aware of nuances and intrigues, truths usually not told nor considered. I would agree with Marcuse that the culture would benefit far greater from the work these folks undertook if the rest us changed the conversation about whether the poems, the paintings, the books , the buildings created by these folks adhere to a shackling set of imperatives and instead considered the work on its own terms--what is that the poem, for example, might be saying about a set of contradicting factors, and is the language adequate to the goal of helping you go further than the received reactions a duller aesthetic would have you settle for. It's a dialectic, to advance a singularly unoriginal idea about the process--I don't think the artist delivers a set of redecorated cliches about affirming life that experience proves to be patently false. Yes, the artist ought to challenge expectations, and the audience would need to argue how well the craftsperson succeeded in the attempt.

Friday, March 4, 2011

David Blair's Argument with Heaven

In some sense most of the poems we read tease the edges of a death wish, not in the sense that the poet desires to merge with the molecules and greet the large dark before him, but rather more like a curious soul daring the unknown and the unspoken dimension of human experience, the end of one's life, to reveal some knowledge. David Blair's  "A Poem About Heaven" poem seems something like that, a fragmented, giddy swirl of associations that have been triggered by his mother's death; what this mind creates isn't a metaphysical speculation on ideal associations remaining permanent while the flesh fails, or an autobiography to where another's mortality furnishes the punch line to one of the chapters, but rather a rush of sensation, of images, associations that bump, careen and otherwise swerve around one another.   As with the issue of rage, unleashed anger, overwhelming the mind to the degree that the world is presented as linked in a sequence of irrational targets that have misery to one's life, the shock that precedes the onslaught of grief is full of sensations of being whisked around a gallery of past events, significant and inane details dovetailing into one another against rational association. The silly and the sublime are not so much linked as they are twined and untwined in what seems like pulverizing vortex.
I am such an impressionist.
My legs get cold;
my arms get cold,
weird thinking of my mom dying
in my old bedroom, now the den.
And kneeling is weird. The northern lights, 
weird. Arcade lights. Wildwood, New Jersey,
weird, inside my eyelids. But I'm not thinking
of Poe again and the dance of colors.
I'm thinking of the hierarchy
that my mind wants Heaven to be.
A house keeping is suddenly in order, a reinforcing of what one knows in their world is required; Blair gives is a hurried desperation of one examining the things of their world, their experience, their accumulation of habits, talents, material things, in an attempt to repair the gap a family death creates. What he does here with the fast jumps between stanzas, the giddy and the reserved clamoring against each other to set the tone for the young man's attention, is create the sensation of being in free fall. It's not unlike being thrust into the reality of an old cartoon where the coyote, during his chase, missed the bend in a mountain pass and finds itself in mid air, falling only when it realizes that there is nothing supporting his feet; I think the feeling of spiraling down, clawing at the air for anything that might be there to grab onto, is unmistakable.
Why else
these figures
from a deck of cards,
kings and queens kneeling down to Jesus
in the neon shoreline,
tunnel of love, of horrors, boardwalk
only these
are blissful religious figures. They kneel 
because they are weak in the knees.
So much goes through the mind, combinations of shock, anger, denial, fleeting relief; the narrator argues against the concept of heaven and assigns the kneeling tribute to a Jesus figurine not as an acknowledgement to divine presence but rather to weak minds or merely fatigue, insist instead that the things in the world he has grown to know, his family, friends, his community, have a significance that provides him with everything with everything Heaven was promised to be. The doubt is palpable, and the argument Blair's narrator tries to make lacks coherence, but this is someone trying to regain their balance, to brace themselves for the inevitable rituals he knows are coming.
<i>I go back downstairs
to a house full of the voices
of all my family, my whole life,
sure, we are going there.
There comes the point in all of this frantic self-scrutiny where one the dissonant, radio like static of doubt, denial, anger becomes white noise of kind and fades and one is left numb, finally, alone with a stark
set of facts that makes the best lyric poetry and most inclusive philosophies seem no more than an archive of chiseled sophistry; there is the irreducible fact that whatever one thinks the meaning of their life happens to be, whatever one thinks about how things should be or how they should turn out, that however high or low one climbs or descends on the scale of measurable things , we all, finally, going to the same place. Blair's protagonist, it seems to me, isn't at this moment convinced that it will be place where they will all meet again; he is convinced, though, that it will be a situation when the arguments stop and there is a peace only eternity, by any definition, can provide.I think of the last lines as a paraphrase of Samuel Beckett's famous line " I can't go on, I'll go on." The whole enterprise of living becomes an intolerable burden, and yet one pushes further and deals with what's in front of them--family, job, friends, --because one cannot simply resign from their commitments. It's not that one cannot resign, of course, only that it's not simple. Blair's narrator by poem's end appears to come out of the conflictied swirl of sensations and decided to return to the family that quarrels, cries and banters, thinking , perhaps, that in the meantime, the time before one's own demise, it's better to be amid the clamor of the irresolute than be be  self-sustaining and isolated.