March 15, 2009KR BlogUncategorized

A Letter to Susan Parr

Dear Susan,

When I got this fever, I was hoping for fever dreams. Instead it just meant more bureaucracy in my dreaming head: paying a credit card bill online, taking shorthand at a meeting of specters, crawling down a dusty fluorescent-lit hall clutching my students’ field-trip paperwork. Today, bitter at my own weed-strewn coldhouse imagination, I stumped out of bed to drink Throat Coat tea and read your first book, Pacific Shooter.

It’s better than my head. Pacific Shooter is a fever dream, or a phosphene– a pattern elaborate, mutable, weirdly self-explanatory. My head gets full facing it. Where is the idiomatic in contemporary poetry, poems of rough-diner talk tightened and turned up? C.D. Wright’s Deepstep Come Shining and Shanna Compton’s Down Spooky tip this way, but these poems sweat their material out hotter. “Gardener 666” bursts open:

Her beast is a bland dobbin,
drifting comestible tundra.

So she hits him. Sings, “breakaway–”
he becomes a butter cloud,

a gelatin Biscayne.

Phew! So did you name your book after the Playstation game Battle For the Pacific (a shooter)? After the Pacific Shooters Association, disbanded by the Canadian government? Or is it a mere briny ocean-bullet? –At first, this punning materiality of language (feel like soot / (and say it ‘sooth’)) and bright perplexing surface (cancelled bruit, shooting down / into the stacks– fading to an eerie // ciceronian babble) looked like “experimentation” to me, the way a key rock looks like a rock–

–but I revised my impression. The language isn’t weird-declarative, speaker-rupturing and paratactical, like, say, Ben Lerner. It isn’t polyglot like Cathy Park Hong. But it’s at another extreme– a great extreme, its “key”!–, of the happy musical choke: Still ??lan in the collapsed Cinerama– / a zing of glass and buckled edge.

Reading these, Medbh McGuckian occurs to me, or Gerard Manley Hopkins or even, hell, English’s oral poetries. The poems I’ve read this year that best prepared me for your “Swooping Actuarial Fauna”–

They blow downwind.
Quivering bulletins,
Details in a coil,
A many-thing,
Chosen by by-paths,
Shadows falling,
To statistical stalls–
Whistling wherewithals.

–are the riddly leavings of those great vernacular language-engines of British Isles folk poetry:

Hickamore hackamore
hung on a kitchen door
nothing so long and nothing so strong
as hickamore hackamore
hung on a kitchen door

I like poems that make me gurgle, poems that pack too much (life!) in for whatever era’s Parnassian airiness. And– In a last favorite here, desire is a dreaming Melvillian schoolboy, and the poem he stars in would still sound right read aloud through a shut door.

Yes needy–yes adolescent–
Eros blurts in his schoolbook
about a telegraphic eel.

One with a russet tracery
of scales that jolt
in magnetic radio-rime.

In his schoolbook, too,
Eros rides a hectic schooner.
Which nearly–no, clearly–flips.

So Susan, on my apartment’s awning lives this family of nesting blackbirds who screech like toddlers. I’m going to go drink some tea and cough impolitely– mendingly– next to them.

Best,
Jay