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Hello? Is anyone out there? This notebook is a strange place to be playing around. In case anyone has wondered about this whole hybridization of poetry and porn,
not that anyone reads this blog, but the idea that it's being sent out into an immediate, unseen, audience--that audience is itself a product of an echo in space--that somewhen, dear Friends and Strangers, you are, and you are reading this in your hyper-windowed version of now, synaptically
here I am, basically unedited, in my intellectual and emotional pornographies. If porn is the staging of intimacy, and if poetry is the effort to achieve pleasure by means of baring Self to Otherness through the serious difficulty of language,
then here are my bare attempts at speaking to you roughly, privately, and partially through the lie of personality, as I work through my loves, in lines broken or sentences wonderstricken, trying to enact how certain poetries leave me, as Willa Cather has written, "deliciously, yet delicately fired."
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One of the most compelling aspects of Ralph Angel's work is his monstering of syntax. In my last post I considered the synesthesia at work in his consciousness, the crossing of sensory information as he intensely and actively attunes to multiple details at once. He senses, or divines, his own existence from the crossing of emotional moods with physical incident. We see this, for example, in the first poem of his new book, Exceptions and Melancholies:
Whoever has a quiet mind
up on the roof the season turned the bath towels purple.
Quiet is the demolition. The neighbors got to know eachother
Boys pull the apples to the ground. Clouds
keep the sky together. And the hardest-working part of it steps
. . . . .from the window scenes
into a pair of jeans, wouldn't you?
I said I found lakes there
and odd pieces of meaning that have nothing to do with you
and wink back.
. . . . .
I cite the first half of the poem, which is grammatically striking, in a way that other poems of his are. Is the first sentence an address, stating that "whoever has a quiet mind" will notice the effect of the season on the bath towels? Or is this person actually on the roof, where the bath towels are purple? There is a syntactical confusion here reminiscent of E.E. Cummings, both playful and compelling. Is a pronoun our subject? Is a prepositional phrase? Further down, our subject is just as ambiguous as "the hardest-working part of it" (if "it" refers to the sky) steps down out of the sky, from the windows "into a pair of jeans." Here is a figure, bodiless, undefined, without sex or identity, that still "steps" and climbs into a pair of pants. And if that displacement of being weren't too much to comprehend, suddenly we are forced to acknowledge our own "bodiness," as Angel asks, "wouldn't you?" There is an intense conciousness driving these poems, and the rigours of his syntax are themselves the anchoring of his voice.
In the third sentence, the tense itself is confused by "someday soon." Really, it's the word "soon" here that distracts us, forces us to question meaning itself. Time wormholes time. Without warning we're suddenly in the past, or the future. This gives us a portraiting effect, of a place, or an experience of knowing-a-place, which happens at all of our points of knowing it at once. His sentences are trains that fly past us, as we glimpse ourselves in their momentary windows: "I said I found lakes there / and odd pieces of meaning that have nothing to do with you // and wink back." Now the you is uncertain. Is this an address to you, Friends and Strangers, or to the figure in the "window-scenes", and is this to whom Angel will "wink back"? Again that confusion of tenses, the past and the present happening simultaneously. Angel demands of the sentence everything possible in his meaning. He confronts our linearity, challenges how we read consciousness.
Sometimes the distance between the subject and the verb in a sentence is overwhelmed by the image-laden phrases it contains. In the poem "Inside Out", for example, the first sentence separates the second subject from its final action:
Outside the summer heat was shimmering
and after resting on the beach
I walked until the bay
grew saucer-shaped again
and blue, and so the bowl of pears and even the binoculars
were painted there, and from every
room pushed the land
The phrase that strikes the bell of the ear is the final one: "and from every / room pushed the land / away." "I walked" he writes, and "pushed the land / away." But this isn't the meaning we comprehend. Instead, we're overwhelmed by the world between. In fact, this is the effect of a syntax that distances the body from the sight. The visible world here fills the space between the "I" and its actions, the EYE overwhelms the consciousness with its gaze of "the bowl of pears and even the binoculars". The rest of this sentence, "were painted there", adds to the confusion between perpective and time. A poignant example of this kind of displacement is the poem "Soft and Pretty," an 18 line sentence in which both the speaker and the reader experience the distancing of experience from feeling, mind from incident, body as a relative consciousness. On the one hand, we're confused about what's happening to whom, and on the other, we realize that we are the whom and the what's happening too.
Notably, line breaks in Angel work to emphasize parts of speech, and in some cases, to personify them. In the last citation he writes, "room pushed the land", a phrase that displaces the meaning of the sentence, but adds to our poetic wonder. In his poem "The Coast", there are lines that recall William Carlos Williams' isolation of parts of speech:
. . . Alongside
a warehouse a palm tree
hillside is about to open. At the edge
of death the earth
turns. A child
goes singing by.
These line breaks condense nouns, highlight prepositions, and by enjambment compliment subjects with multiple verbs. Notice lines like "a warehouse a palm tree" that help us to itemize objects, or "flares" and "dances" which pronounce action, and in turn recall "turns. A Child", a line that helps to center the playfulness of this poem, that exists "at the edge" where "the wind / goes singing by". Or consider the simple density of the line "of death the earth" in which the preposition evokes a double meaning in the relationship of these two nouns: "the earth of death", a phrase that implies an inherent nihilism--and "of death the earth", a phrase that implies resurrection, implies that about death we might reference the living planet.
I'd argue that this attention to syntax is a result of Angel's voice, as it listens inwardly, a netting of the sensory, as he minds the world and his relation to it. I don't think he strives to be complicated, but he's whispering to himself these prayers of attention. Like Williams, the cadence of his line is meant to clarify, to bless, and this blessing is an engagement of sorts, and this engagement is the remnant of his existence. His poem is his evidence of experiencing a complex and nuanced and delicate synesthesia of mood and moment. His poem paints his voice demolishing the distances of time and image, as they are rapt with perception and certain feeling.
on the tilted lawns, a child,
the lions of repose smoothly sculpted
from the first steps
of a civilized but unrelenting
the babble of the run-off.
When I'm in doubt
I am the sound that separates itself
from a leaf-blower
that comes inside with its flock
I think my body's breaking down
where a good friend isn't
. . . . .
Friends and Strangers, Angel's is a poetry that in its directness is almost easy to discount. His syntax forces us to slow down, forces us to read again, demands in fact that we learn how to read his sentence, reminding us that reading is an act of comprehension. Like poetry, it is an act of awareness. His poetry asks that we enter a consciousness not unlike our own, but one we've neglected to consider, one that must filter the storming variables of existence as our relation to them falters and feels.
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This is a an imaginary diary of facts, confessions, or messages. This is a notebook of working but broken ideas, lines, images, notes on books I'm reading, writers I admire, and brief fantasies of language. Here unfiltered all mannerings pseudo-private, publicized, ur-. Here I am art and unrevealed: poetic, political and pop. These are my moonlit rough beginnings and should not be taken literally, directly, truthfully, reliably, and none of it is legally binding. These lies are all choreographed, but only haphazardly. Beware.
My work has been awarded the Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets, a Swarthout Award, and has twice been nominated and shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize. My first book, A Book Called Rats, was selected for the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry (Eastern Washington University Press 2007). I'm curating editor for the online journal of poetry: PISTOLA and my poems and reviews most recently appear in Massachusetts Review, Beloit, Ploughshares and RAIN TAXI. I currently teach writing and literature at Santa Monica College in southern California.
FRIENDS AND STRANGERS
- ► 2008 (28)
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- CRUEL DIARY OF THE MANSUCRIPT
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- THE ANGELMONSTER OF SYNTAX AND SYNESTHESIA
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- MY NIGHT JOURNAL AT THE RED GARTER
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