amongst books

amongst books

Monday, December 19, 2011

Best of 2011-poetry: Circles within Circles: Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic by Jake Kennedy



Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic. Jake Kennedy. Book Thug.

In his BookThug interview, Kennedy says that the first part of the book is object studies inspired by the mid-20th Century French writer Francis Ponge, who bridged the gap between the essay and the prose poem with meditations on everyday objects; the 2nd section, Light & Char, is, according to Kennedy, a goofy way of trying to think thru some abstractions. Kennedy is fascinated by metaphor because it brings together two seemingly dissimilar things in a kind of magical way, which is thrilling, perhaps part of the inspiration for the book.

I think what fascinates me about the book right from the first poem, "Study of a Claw Hammer," is how image laden it is…the way Kennedy presents ideas in ways i hadn't thought of. & juxtaposes very unlike objects: "the opposite of the claw hammer/is the lapsed will,/a yolk that tears itself on the shell's tooth/and globs outside the pan". "There are a bunch of pronouns now, flashing. They live on a screen in the middle of the night." (The drive-in is Real); "lake of cigarette tinfoil/lichen of psoriasis…mud of a Datsun's interior/beehives of winter exhalations" (Forest Studies). "That's the pestle grinding raspberries for the passion; the lopped leg of the rabbit and the neck of the chicken, dripping into the offering bowl" (Blood Study); "the flies have the nature of asterisks spinning in turpentine." (On Death (Paint)). "the pitcher pored an absence into the glass while the shadow couldn't stick" (On Justice (Rooms)).

also the work tends to be very visual. & there are many references to visual art. i can imagine these studies as surrealist paintings or collages. "…the motes glide in on their incandescent beam - they drift between the spaces of the garbage drums." (The drive in is Real). "the moon comes through the eyes and courses down the black hill of the throat." (History of a Tiger); "the moment when a school of fish scatter in order to demonstrate shattering glass." (Displacements).

I am also thinking when I read this book about Jean Cocteau's Orpheus film trilogy, particularly Blood of a Poet, its mirrors & darkness, rooms of surprises, bells, a hand with a mouth & moving lips. this book is full of surprises, surprises of image, of motion, of geometry, of emotion.

& then there is the humour, for which Kennedy makes use of form poetry. take for example "Bushestina" with its short & simple declarative statements in the form of a sestina & you think to yourself, "what a good idea": "Texas is good./I love the place./You can barbecue./You can golf./I like dogs./I feel safe." or "Pantoum for Standard Keyboard"

the endings of the poem are sometimes dramatic, sometimes understated. you get the impression that Kennedy can apply a hard brake to a poem or a gentle tap. I get the impression of control. of fine pacing. a poem can be very fast all the way thru & then move into slow motion toward the end. take a look at the motion of this poem, "Study of a Dog Print in Snow":

Study of a Dog Print in Snow
the sun going down
teeth of the miter saw

explosion
in a prison wall

having been to a place
and needing to go on,

well, do it: exit
despite the bad-ass years

under a crown of shadows
with four drops of rain

falling into the mouth
of the stone well

the spatulate leaves
around the manhole

silhouette of the carnival wheel
before an eclipse

Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic contains lots of shapes & motion, particular the cycle, a circle, broken or unbroken & the nest, the notion of containers & objects inside other objects, ideas within ideas:

"a yolk that tears itself on the shell's tooth" & the pan (Study of A Claw Hammer);
"within the acorns there are lanterns" - a nested image (Study of a Bowl of Squash)
the bowl, the squash, "here are the skulls/in a bowl made of apple wood."
"the mouth of the snake," "the mouth of the pot" (Study of 'Black Snake Pot')
the circle of argument in poems such as "Sea Study": "and so there is no solution. And so --",
the rotunda in (Newly Free Translation);
bike tires, coins, chalk (Study of a Subdivision Sidewalk);
" and the boat that turns on the anchor's axis also turns the/big and little hands of the clock" (Pallid Sortie, Sure);
"Wanting, seeking, and finding, we know, is not a linear enterprise. As the morning rises in the shape of an eyeball, all beliefs are new. The sunlight offers a version of the way the world used to see itself yesterday -- one way of illuminating the future, over and over again." (History of a Tiger);
"Luke and Hans both at a loss in site of a loss/as if working inside the irony" (Study of Town Dump).
"as in a cuckoo clock/that explodes its doors/with a boing of wires:" (Study of Steel Wool).
"it takes a turbine to animate the bodies" (Pastoral Poem);
the zero of the prime meridian (Study of Nail-Polished Toes): (always knew) how to walk barefoot/against the prime meridian//and all intimations/of immortality";
the screw, the red apple, the knee (After John Cage);
"That the owl knows exactly what will occur/merely by believing in circularity," the 360 degree spin, the feeling of déjà vu, "to look with scavenger eyes" (Nature Study);
"in order to experience panic, the tornado stills itself" …"there is a tenderness/according to the movements of the field//and according to the hours/that drum the moon across the sun" (After Viewing Cy Twombly's "Fifty Days at Illiam");
Tree Ring Study;
"a crystal bowl on the pond's floor" (Peace Talks);
"to put a hand on a circle/in order to feel like a god/wielding an ideal form" (Study of an Iron Frying Pan);
Nest Study;
"death amongst cornflowers" (Study of Butterflies);
"thought bubbles/ in want of text" (Sheep Study);
"one day the bullet will grow its own skull/and reside inside it" (Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic);
the sun in the Preamble to Light & Char;
"And when the mother saws the rope from the son's neck…" (On Difference (Knots));
a cloud, a cyclone and the everyday swirl (On Linearity (Bridges)).

sound: a clinking streetlight, a runaway alley can (Lung-Beckett)
"the blocky voices" of hungry children (Open This Door)
"'not this, not this' being the sound of crows wings/worked against sugar air…"
"a clucking of rapids against rocks" (Study of Abstractions)
"Study of the Sound of Ripping Grass/(Handfulls)
"the rocks of the inukshu/clacking in the wind" (Sore Throat Study)

& then there is language, the speech act as unsatisfying, the gap between word and action, there is pain, there is grief & there is emotion. running thru all of the poems. Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic, a bullet inside a skull, words within poems, inside a book, hurtling & nested inside the brain.

On Pain (Funerals)

for Georgie and Don Summerhayes

Cross-section of the ant farm: the Franklin Gothic in a
book set by a drunkard. It reads, uh, "What tree does the
blood fall from today?" Is that right? Out of a maple and
into a maple. Scooped, conciliatory as a canoe: use me,
because this coffin travels…Or, clicking off the Orpheus
radio. those who are expecting to be floating on gusts of
supremely good karma consider that even the darkest of
poems will never save the corpse from the rot of light and
air. So how does this work again: look up… stars tighten
into fists -- and they too can't hold on.

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