Saturday, 10 March 2007

A Note on Bird Bird

I recently finished off a short piece on Jeff. Listening to him read at Runnymede, I slipped into a kind of nervous mum mode, “OK Stretchers, just like we talked about . . .”.

I was reading the work through a “multiple or possible worlds” critical framework, and listening out for invitations to so do. Forget about that.

I was also listening out for vulnerable or injured language forming collectives. The birds themselves – oddballs, principled, noble, queer, English, extremely delicate – began to allegorise many of the scraps Jeff likes to use.

To a lesser degree, they also allegorised how they interact – the pattern of non-coercive cues which language sends itself in both Stretchers and Bird Bird becoming flocking behaviour.

In the pub Elizabeth James or Harry Gilonis pointed out that the birds appear much less fragile on the page. Locked into blocky full-justified body armour, they are perhaps even a little menacing. The two are of course not incompatible.

(The doubleness of birds is pronounced because their arms are flatter than ours. Since many of these birds could be designated by half their name (Troglodytus as a way of saying Troglodytus Troglodytus), the doubleness of each name suggests a fractal. This is one of several moments in which Bird Bird deepens Stretchers’ preoccupations with space, placing / arrangement, and emergent order).

"Cutesiness" is one way of formulating an amalgamation of threat and helplessness. Consider for a moment the role of the silly, the cloying, the infantile, the bestial, the bathetic, the cartoonish, and the high-pitched, in the work of Tim Atkins, Helen Bridwell, Coupons Coupons, Daniel Kane, Jeff Hilson, Redell Olsen, Lanny Quarles, Sophie Robinson, Keston Sutherland, Alan Sondheim, and Iris Watson. An infatuation with innocence could develop out of an obsession with minimally-complicit lyric. Cutesiness is one of the equillibria an intelligent infatuation with innocence could thereafter tend to. The cutesy does not automatically contain its own critique, but its chances are good. I’m not really connected to Jeff’s stuff as I think this. I don’t know – Stretchers or earlier work may concern itself with minimising or logging complicity. The moral repugnance of lyricism, and of any broadly linguistic end-in-itself, is a grisly toy-dilemma that comes with any poet’s starter kit, so it may well. It may instead relate to the fact that I first came across Stretchers at the same time as stuff which indubitably begins with these concerns (Andrea Brady’s Vacation of a Lifetime, Keston Sutherland’s Antifreeze). What do you think? Or perhaps it's uninteresting.

I'll take a moment to characterise the cutesiness vector in Jeff’s work. (1) A tiny little mouse had HAD ENOUGH and put on her Zorro mask lowered her head and charged ooooooooooooooooooooooooo at London. Jeff had to leave “The Happy Man” early, but with the plan that if we all held on to a bit of London and jumped, she would zoom harmlessly underneath. Helen True refused to do Hackney and the ollie came down early and this passionate rodent was cropped by the edge of Romford (Jeff had planned for her to escape by a whisker).

(2) When Jeff tore away a piece of Royal Holloway’s Founder's Building, he found it to be made from marzipan.

(3) Pillow chat. All that’s secure in my mind is a homology, as follows. The cutesy subgenre of sweet nothings is a particular kind of language – it is marginal and unofficial, secretive and allusive, full of flesh and shit, it intimately knows macronic, malapropism, neologism, and deformation, it probes the limits of the sayable, its metaphors are overconfident, their inner semblances are often dark, its sounds are dense and promiscous, its denotative protocol is improvisational and iterative, it plays ball with fictionalist and antirealist philosophy). This is a language which poets – especially those on modernist or experimental kicks – are usually interested in. (One way to take the homology further might be to think about the ways in which sweet nothings are and are not baby talk. There's a sound poetry angle to this too, obviously). UPDATE: Lo!, Stephen Rodefer's Mon Canard now up at Onedit.

(4) Jeff often remarks, “I see the end of your baby is twinkling.”

(5) When a commotion was heard in the corridor, Jeff was first through the threshold. Americat batting Minimaus paw to paw. “What have I created?” Minimaus in the thrashhold. “Unhand-me-down?”

Jeff noticed me smoking. “Help her, Crot!”

“As my abs suggest, love is normal.”

Minimaus in the thrashhold, slipping loose, making for the mousehole. Americat done toying, a nail through the tail & scra-a-a-a-a-tches Minimaus out from le mur infernal & lifts her. Wee limbs windmill – these movements will be recorded in equity as a currency translation adjustments, and the minimauscles whirling them, as about two calories.

Minimaus’s “tail” autotomises! Earth for her spinning limbs; honey, lifegiving friction, and she zips to safety! Lo.2! The Zorro mask tan-lines are there when you look for them! For it was she and no other, no Big Smoke without Hell Mouth, she, Minimaus, who dared London confront! We are of course in a fashion of gasping! Jeff of chortling! Minimaus is stood where light will reach but claw cannot! She is waving her clasped paws in the whiskers to the right, the whiskers to the left, crotchets in deranged staves, pricking out ditties of ecstasy and survival! We can hear the thump of her mote heart! Brava! She shakes her bandaged booty to its beat! Americat, incensed, steals away, two tails between her legs, one prosthetic of spaghetti.

Jeff lifts her by the scruff. Jeff puts them together, Americaught-in-the-act and Belligerat, like broken language. Then they are best of friends. Zorrat and Kamikrazee Kat. When the only supercrime worth fighting is Global Capitalism itself, even Maximus comes across as Medium Mouse.

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