The title of this entry is from a few lines of an early poem by Beckian Fritz Goldberg,
I tell you there is no red
at night, and in the rose only a place
where the eye blows out.
I might be misquoting here, or dreaming it up, but I swear I remember reading this in an old apartment building as a student. My late nights caught with an oreo cookie half eaten in my mouth and some poem I couldn't get enough of. I remember the moment of re-reading this, and then re-reading it again. The negative attention that enacts a sensual image and simultaneously erases it--the way these lines forced me to see a color while they told me it never existed--was particularly powerful for me as a reader. Subtle irony, but more importantly they focused my awareness onto a kind of psychological drama. Enacted within, these lines said something about what language could do. The spotlight wasn't on the poem anymore, but on my own perception of things. I was seeing with the poet's eye. The poem taught me to read, but it also read the world from within me. There are lines in Jean Valentine's work, I think, that echo this kind of negative capacity: "there is no book and my name is written in it." I can't remember the titles of these poems, but the lines are in my head for years. I love the negative space they illustrate, the intuitive, poetic place, the otherside, the underlanguage, their intimation of death, body, and loss.
In Fritz Goldberg's newest book, THE BOOK OF ACCIDENT, she returns to her old themes--things we see in her first book BODY BETRAYER--and accomplishes something new with that old narrative approach. This is a book of stories, post-modern fairy tales of 20th century children, children that get tattoos and tongue-piercings, children who are dangerous and lovely. Immediately I think of a poem in her first book "The Children Dream Death" and remember that it is a child's imagination that can be cruelest. Right now on t.v. a commercial for marine recruitment: a young 19 year old marine is holding a toy airplane, commenting on the importance of technology and spyware to save lives--I'm reminded that our childish insights are simply forgotten, but they hardly disappear. Our dream cruelty shows up, ends in real disasters, murders, wars. Those old sci-fi movies with all their hidden political commentary are evidence of a way we predict our own destructions through play. So here is Fritz Goldberg telling stories, both fairy tale and sci-fi thriller. In the tradition of the narrative, we have the stories of Skin Girl, Wolf Boy, the Torture and Burn Boys, as well as poems that allude to and caricature the Holocaust and the dropping of the atomic bomb. In the end we have a commentary on memory and dream, real violence and imaginary horror, as well as our attraction to the sexgore of the television age, the videogame era, in which we are desensitized against vulgarity in all its forms.
What interests me stylistically about this book is the way narrative takes shape. We might think of Dobyns CEMETERY NIGHTS, Popa's WOLF SALT, or Hughes' CROW as precursers to a book like this, except that Fritz Goldberg's meta-narrative takes narrative into the 21st century. There is a departure from her early work here. Even though she's pursuing a narrative shape, her poems begin to hybridize lyric abstraction with traditional story. Take for example this poem:
Finally I gave up and became the rose,
all those treacherous peaks of my sleep
around me and only one eye
in the fold . . . Such time,
flouncing its dress, rests, essence--
inhumanly sweet. Green serpent head,
tongue flame, blood-lettuce, easing
bodice, breasts on the balcony,
breasts on the balcony. No one
to say where I came from
wasn't good enough--
My lips of many mansions,
gorget upon gorget, slit
upon slit where the blade pulls out
and the plush rushes up--
No one to repeat
what I said when I was drunk.
to object to the recounting and recounting
of the fragrances of the tower of you--
no one to be a woman
in the life that had already
the look of pure attachment,
fire to the stalk.
Remarkable first for the confusion: Is this a dramatic monologue? A confessional poem? A poem of praise? To some extant it's monster of all three. I think of Neruda's early poem in which he writes
The parracial rose devours
and climbs to the peak of the saint:
with thick claws it fastens
time to the wearied being:
it swells and blows in the hard veins,
it ties the pulmonary cord, then
lengthening it listens and breathes.
This strikes me as a particularly erotic masculine language, where a rose "swells and blows in the hard veins / it ties the pulmonary cord, then / lengthening it listens and breathes." What the rose enacts here is masculine orgasm. Fritz Goldberg's "Absolute" is embodied by a different langauge, something akin in tone to Plath's "Letter in November" where she writes,
O love, O celibate.
Nobody but me
Walks the waist-high wet.
Golds bleed and deepen, the mouths of Thermopylae.
Fritz Goldberg begins a kind of ode to the rose which becomes an ode to womanly body, and to body itself that swoons: "green serpent head/ tongue-flame, blood lettuce, easing / bodice, breasts on the balcony // breasts on the balcony." But the praise becomes witchcraft as the speaker offers us confessional material: "no one / to say where I came from / wasn't good enough" and later, "no one to repeat / what I said when I was drunk. . . absolutely / no one to be a woman." The spirit of the poem is inhabited by a new surrealism in which the mirroring of two objects is not complete. The speaker and the rose have the same life. The speaker is half-woman, half-rose, and we understand this beauty in the eros of its sadomasochism: "my lips of many mansions / gorget upon gorget, slit / upon slit where the blade pulls out / and the plush rushes up." Iambic, these lines also employ something of a sprung rhythm, enacting the rush of the bleed of being, alive and falling, alive and unable to be anything but the flaming repetitions of a sight that is human, desirous, deathbound. We might think of great Russian heroines, that threaten and allure. Of course, the fact that the rose is described in metaphor that recalls the female sex is new as well. The idea of a "pretty" rose is abandoned, and much like the language of say, Mebdh McGuckian's CAPTAIN LAVENDER, female sexuality is here afforded imagistic violence. We might say this poem re-writes that stereotype of the lovesick schoolgirl. Here the rose is standing in its own vision, rapt with itself--and isn't this the nature of desire? That to see is to feel something, until we're coming undone from within? Don't we need a woman to tell us about it? Don't we need a woman's body to dare to see, to dare to desire with the flesh--until it changes us? Doesn't a dream like a desire change us? To swoon alone, to "the recounting and recounting / of the fragrances of the tower of you"--the "you" addressing both the desired-after and the Self. Rose Self. Death Self. Self longed for with Pleasure. Flesh-petal, because we see and we fall apart with our longing. And as we fall apart we love our deaths, because our body is speaking its dark orgiastic vocables, its un-coming-dones, the language of "only one eye / in the fold"--our consciousness in the "those treacherous peaks of [our] sleep." Yes, since pleasure in Fritz Goldberg is always linguistically awake. Pleasure that imagines through a sculpted sound, until what we see is what we are when the "eye blows out." Until we have ourselves become the negative selfspace of her poem.
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.
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