Monday, 5 November 2007

Note on Mortar Penne: Ha Ha Ha (1/4)

I’m not sure if Jefferson Toal’s poem, “Mortar Penne: Ha Ha Ha” will repay the kind of sustained attention I’m going to give (a bit of) it. “[...] no criticism, only anecdote and enthusiasm [...]” (Andrew Duncan about Tom Raworth). “[...] heartscuff [...]” (Sophie Robinson, about “[...] skinnybeast [...]” perhaps).

It is like the poems by Keston Sutherland. I don’t know what to say about that except to log it – all the poems in the Brighton Quid are like them a bit (but see note 1). The features this poem shares with loads of Keston’s are its mesmerising unpredictability, its weird funniness, its weird beauty, and its weird pathos. I mean each “weird” as predicatively and as non-redundantly as I can – if you like, picking out the subset of weird funninesses from the total set of possible funninesses; whereas weirdness is usually implicated in an explanation of how a thing comes to be funny or beautiful (perhaps less so with pathetic – though you hear “weirdly moving” a lot), I have in mind a weirdness which is not constitutive in that way – so, a weirdness which doesn’t get overdetermined by the fact that “. . . but it works!”. My suspicion (which I’m not getting into here, see note 2) is that such weirdness happens through anarchist not marxist instincts – emerges on poems through their “wanting” to be the culture of anarchist counterpower.

The syntax of “Mortar Penne: Ha Ha Ha” inherits from Jeremy Prynne’s stuff via Keston’s. The first part of that transmission is not quite “influence.” Keston’s syntax sometimes solicits a tactic which Jeremy’s often leaves you no option but to adopt (note 3). There’s a kind of flip-filter which makes influence-talk disingenuous.

This last ditch tactic is to consider all the poem’s language – words, word clusters, letters maybe (see note 4) – as particles with definite histories and potentials within Total Discourse (justly weighting their comparatively insignificant appearance in this text). This exhaustive “consideration” is clearly not possible, so syntax generates prior priority, the authority of which is resisted to a different degree and in different manners by each atom. Some words can’t quite be put. See note 4.

The syntax in “Penne” is not actually that fucked. But this might be an example:

[...]oats in the air;

could you...? / or perhaps you’re barely there
anymore, just a mortared wet snore fuck’d
with tape escapes my child a shit-in; [...]

The last bit is an archaistic (cf. "fuck’d") version of the sentence “a shit-in escapes my child with tape.” Or (and/or and/or) it’s saying, Oh yeah? Now think this motherfucker: "just a mortared wet snore fuck’d with tape" (subject) "escapes" (ditransitive verb, see note 5) "my child" (primary object) "a shit-in" (secondary object). But it’s more a limb unclaimed, hermeneutically perfuming the room, so that for example “wet snore” more securely recalls “wet fart.” To the unprejudiced eye.


Note 1: I mean you could say oh such-and-such a poem is an exception (Luska’s, Michael’s, Maura’s . . . the list is endless) or so-and-so’s bequest, while conspicuous, has little to do with how that poem really works (Toal’s maybe (this figure is called occupatio apparently)), or protect the proposal from its risked cattiness by reasserting the death of the fine Author, or in some other way commend the separation of powers in matters of value and of possibility, or remark that folk theory about literary influence tends to resist input from its paid theorists, excepting perhaps a wee don in the direction of Harold Bloom, which paid theorists are in turn insufficiently alert to post-Kuhnian philosophy of science, possibly also speculating as to the half-life of such a dynamic, with and partly via pondering re the capacity of the afterlife of such a system of resemblances to retrospectively undo the self-sameness of its originary, like, columna ceruli, perhaps you could hold up a superstructure to nature, and glory that the IP law of science shits on that of art, and perhaps you could wallow in them, in that turd of compartmentalism confounded, that golden professor, but my reluctance to do it is because it would not be ending up gathering together the fragments of the good life that are still possible in the conditions which obtain. Duck it (food), let’s “bo!”, goaling.

Note 2: And I’m sort of working on fleshing out that suspicion with respect to Keston’s stuff, maybe. But I should be doing work for my course or writing Dog Puke or Xena or Hax not this tapas. Eek. Weirdness also kinda jockeyed for irreducibility in Sean Bonney’s talk on his Baudelaire poems on Wednesday. Sean was talking about Baudelaire monging out in his room feeling a bit weird and going around like a semi-respectable hack and feeling a bit weird then too. More on this in part two I think.

Note 3: Cf. Ben Watson's chapters on Prynne in Art, Class & Cleavage.

Note 4: Of course, syntax is already decisive respecting what atoms there are. A kind of hermeneutic sphere, is what I’m describing. Yo, did I mention this tactic is a mother-fucking-father approach? If you volunteer it to, syntax will put the “care” back in “careful” . . . but all that appears where Language poets or their strawmen put “readerly freedom” is “best practice.”

Note 5: Ditransitive, meaning takes two objects, e.g. "Charity gave Prudence AIDS."

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