Paths to the radiant abyss: Tomaž Šalamun almost ends one of his poems with the simple line “My hands shine.”[i] Another such jewel arises from a poem which, being very brief, is easily quoted in full: “A book of photographs:/ A tale of the perfect lover.// Learn from the eye of others.// God is my reader.”[ii] Thus the poet makes friends with readers of his poems. I would offer this next poem, beginning but if i offer you, a missive, in the spirit of such work which would allow a re-thinking of the ground of connection and time:
but if i offer you
make for the little seam
& it’s true,
if only because
a flag of your blood
on your palm
i heed you
with a feather, on
any: a queer creature of two-syllables. Any used substantively is commensurate with a certain evasion of description proper to the transfer of energy that the missive must entail as well as the particular efficiency of this two-syllable word: bright as a small flag of blood itself and pluridrectional in its potential travel down the lip of the poet. As something offerable, the energy of two tiny syllables is potentially immense, for “It would do no harm, as an act of correction to both prose and verse as now written, if both rime and mater, and, in the quantity of words, both sense and sound, were less in the forefront of the mind than the syllable, if the syllable, that fine creature, were more allowed to lead the harmony on. With this warning, to those who would try: to step back here to this place of the elements of and minims of language, is to engage speech where it is least careless—and least logical.”[iii] For Charles Olsen, the syllable is the product of the incest of the brother mind and sister ear.[iv] any any any brother or sister breath listening any as offered the thing itself issues from the little seam: as the very tiniest beginnings of the abyss—the seam or split in the fabric—perhaps here even still stitched together so close, so there it is. The little seam: a little leverage for the horns growing in the breast of the human, ready to take on the cosmos as un-mixing with h/er/is proper person, as confined into the correct syntactic slot and the slip where those creatures—yes, even creatures consigned to hell in Dante’s Commedia—appear and verify the urgency of the missive: “How uncertain when I said unwind the winding, Chiron,/ Cross of Two Orders! Grammarian! from your side the never/ healing!/ Undo the bindings of immutable syntax!// The eyes that are horns of the moon feast on the leaves of trampled sentences.”[v] a flag of your blood: “It’s that when I see you/ I bleed a little,/ into the teacup and into the wren’s nest”[vi]; this is what you might say when the energy of the syllable bursts up through the tiniest seam, when a tiny bit of a medieval poem bursts into your own present through the cracks in the surface of the syntax. It is thus as this flag blood that famously, Beatrice can speak as her own missive or signal within the poem such that the speaker might heed her famously. Beatrice: as for Dante, a warning as if a storm warning flag, poking up through the seam through the centuries. A little flag of a syllable beats out its queer warning. Olson teaches that “I say the syllable, king, and that it is spontaneous, this way: the ear, the ear which has collected, which has listened, the ear, which is so close to the mind that it is the mind’s, that ir has the mind’s speed...¶ it is close, another way: the mind is brother to this sister and it, because it is so close, is the drying force, the incest, the sharpener...¶ it is from the union of the mind and the ear that the syllable is born.”[vii] Thus, be-a-tri-ce, four syllables, compacted by the mind and pushed out from the heart into the breath of the projecting line, at just the right moment, from the past, makes for the queer warning to any Dante of the 21st century, flagging down the ear with the single syllable blood, and then the single syllable heed. The mind, getting medieval, becoming syllabic, hearing its own incest with the past crack the surface of a syntax and allow the effects of the line to arise, wherein “the descriptive functions generally have to be watched, every second...because of their easiness, and thus their drain on the energy which composition by field allows into the poem. Any [and there is that word again] slackness takes off attention, that at crucial thing, from the job in hand, from the push of the line under hand at the moment.”[viii] on/ the hunt: Beatrice, hunting boar, like Bertilak in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Beatrice is unlike Bertilak’s lady, who hunts the knight Gawain. The push of Beatrice’s line should be likened to the energy of Bertilak’s dog’s, pushing up enough air for breath that in her wake (for, consider the syllables at play in such a line as this: “The howndez that it herde hastid thider swythe”[ix] [the hounds that heard it hurried there forcefully]) that we might—in the space of the commentary on her bright and forceful flag—“much speche” here “expoun/ of druyes greme and grace.”[x]
[i] Tomaž Šalamun, “a ballad for metka krašovec,” in A Ballad for Metka Krašovec, trans. Michael Biggins (Prague: Twisted Spoon Press, 2001), 65
[ii] ibid., 66.
[iii] Charles Olson, “Projective Verse,” in Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology, Ed. Paul Hoover (New York: Norton, 1994, 615.
[v] Robert Duncan, “The Structure of Rime VIII,” in The Opening of the Field (New York: New Directions, 1960), 70.
[vi] Kane, “Suppose What Is Left Behind,” 48.
[vii] Olson, “Projective Verse,” 615.
[viii] ibid., 616.
[ix] Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, line 1424.
[x] ibid., lines 1506-1507.