amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Best of 2011: poetry--Erín Moure: Belonging to Bliss

Pillage Laud. Erín Moure. republished by Book Thug's Department of Reissue in 2011 & first published by Moveable Books in 1999.

in her Book Thug interview, Erín Moure describes her book as a pillaging and a praising, selecting from computer generated pages to create lesbian sex poems. sentences used as the unit of composition. back in 1997. rhythms. limited structure. emotionally compelling yet generated by machine. phrases that appealed underlined. text passing thru my human apparatus & i'm making a gesture, performative. combine phrases but used in the order in which they were generated. chapters come from place names, including an area on the dark side of the moon. ideal reader is anybody who hates clicées. the computer program is incapable of generating a cliché because it has no culture.

as someone who is driven crazy by clichés, by the wholesale swallowing by the masses of programmed convention, i am very happy about Pillage Laud & other attempts to avoid such. what i find in this book are surprising juxtapositions, a sense of play & transgression. Moure's work is always very daring, & this book is no exception. to attempt composition from computer-generation, to derive from it emotion & fun, even the idea of lesbian love / sex poetry. evoking Sappho. the work gives us a timeless quality of the modern & ancient eras.

what i enjoy about these poems is the unique & memorable imagery. the rare & beautiful gems are mined from text generated by machine. how the personal can come from the impersonal. "Her white pearl earring so base shimmered/Making daylight a realm of incandescence//I wanted to be that daylight/It was night & an earring was enough for me" PILLAGE 1 ("Oakland")

The book appeals to me in particular because for a long time now I have been interested in the poetic practice of chance operations, practiced by such poets as Jackson Mac Low in 22 Light Poems. He began with names for light & cross-matched them with playing cards & women's names. In Pillage Laud, Moure combines systematic method with intuitive choice, keeping phrases that appealed to her.

I love the sense of fun & whimsy in this book: "Don't violas count as vulva zombies?" PILLAGE 9 ("Burnside").

Language is a snapped yoyo, a dilemma between the pain and a failure, breaks out of restrictions.

There's so much in each poem, in each line, so much to ponder, so much that arises from the unusual combinations, that I find myself lingering. "Vocabularies were those empires./Wit inside wounds." PILLAGE 1.

The book is a lovely combination of depth & playfulness: "She is their watcher during the rules' restriction when/the clarinet is dreamed, the noun would surrender." PILLAGE 2 ("High Prairie"). I think about the role of language in society, the arbitrariness of naming, fixed expressions. how this work unbuckles, undoes convention. "Time travel meant: small indelible birds./ Until some were nothing, a dialect belongs to bliss."

There is so much sensuality in the book. & that sensuality is juxtaposed with the phrasing & vocabulary from various disciplines as art, psychology, music & science. "Certain theorems are the libraries of bitterness." PILLAGE 1 ("Oakland"). The vocabulary of narrative, libraries & the grammar of the text. "The muscle of her flesh was heat; my vagrants/are senses." ... "While you drank me, museums vanished." PILLAGE 3 ("Roselawn"). "My lover bends. No, means to bend. I tarnish her. This escapes. PILLAGE 4 ("Bowness").

The final two sections "In Tenebris, or The Gate" & "to exist is reading" are different from the rest of the book, outside of the vocabulary grids listed in the front of the book. "to exist is reading" is one block of uninterrupted text generated from the computer program, while "In Tenebris" feels like an afterword, a love poem, not a rationale or explanation but a kind of apologia.

I could spend this entire blog entry just quoting from the book, from individual & evocative lines. The whole work accumulates to create a symphony, or a collage. I am perhaps guilty of hyperbole here, but I can't help myself.

rob mclennan offers his own excellent engagement with Pillage Laud here.

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