Kit Robinson's new Selected Poems has hit the bookstalls. It's a beautiful book, a paperback original from Adventures in Poetry.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Kit Robinson in the News
I was in at the beginning of this news, so to speak, having obtained a copy of Kit's first book, Chinatown of Cheyenne, soon after it was published in 1974 by Whalecloth, and The Dolch Stanzas (1976) published by Barry Watten's This Press (a copy of which Kit sent to me at the time).
Over the years, Kit has published collections with some regularity, every two years or so, while holding down a full-time position as a public relations specialist in the computer industry.
Kit has always written with confidence and a sense of the synthetic technocracy of language; he's totally at home with the dry ironies and bizarre formalities of the post-Modern world.
This book offers me the opportunity to celebrate and deconstruct one of my favorite poems of his, from his book Ice Cubes [Roof Books, New York, 1987].
It's actually a part of a short sequence entitled "Thought"--a poem in five sections, of which this is the second. For me, it functions discretely and is completely self-sufficient as a descriptive, analytical movement; though the title, Thought, subtitled "contains/non-contiguous/blocks" suggests something of the slant of the intention. The poems in this sequence are all set one word to the line. This linear monotony is certainly not an original form, having been used freely by dozens of writers over the years. But in Robinson's hands, it lengthens out the time of the unfolding of the drama of each poem, and gives the sense of a kind of weird dislocation for sensory data, a mechanical quality.
Here's the poem:
Superficially, this is nothing more than the most simplistic description of an event, not in the least mysterious or unfamiliar. Sitting out in the open, on a breezy Spring or Fall day--the poem's casual, opportunistic, accidental, relaxed, attentive positioning puts the narrative voice at a vicarious remove, contemplative, patient and exacting. It's a meditative poem, albeit in a minimalist mode, sans commentary, sans any interjected editorial additives. If the poem works, it must function at the level of implication, or irony. It will signify through the kinetic ricochets of its changes.
I like to think of such poems as this in terms of the game of pool. Angles and forces, relative weights of collisions at defined speeds, intermediate transfers of energy, reflection. Crisp enactments set into motion with confident propulsion.
We're watching an empty, or near empty, white paper (or styrofoam?) cup, blown off a surface (ledge), light as a feather (or a kite), nearly valueless (since it's now become trash, having been used?). An industrial object, one more in a countless, innumerable knock-off (the template of uniformity).
I read two kinds of contrary motion in this poem: Delight...and frustration. Delight, in the clarity and deliberateness of its unrestrained eventness. And frustration, in the sense of the viewer's (speaker's) impotence (inability) to effect an alteration of reality. Observation is a passive act, limited by the ground-rules of the game. Description, in this instance, implies a kind of inevitability, an inevitability reinforced by our assent: Through shared assent: We've all seen this kind of thing, experienced a similar kind of dramatic banality.
One of the experiments you always find in kids' science and hobby books is pulling a string taut between two paper cups. By speaking into the open cup "phone" the person at the other end can hear the "transmission" of sound through the string conduit. A paper cup has a characteristic audible tone, when tapped or tumbled. The "scudding" of the cup against the concrete is a literal sound, familiar and distinct.
Conceptually, the poem is framed by a progression, starting with "wind" and ending with "concrete." For me, it's sort of like an updated "red wheelbarrow" poem, a benchmark re-statement of principle, depending totally on naked fact.
The predominant sentiment is one of distraction; an event precipitated by chance, as defined by Duchamp, commands our attention as an unique accident of fate, whose meaning is assigned by the absence of intention, but which is privileged by our recognition of it, our annotation of a disparate occurrence with the focus of artistic regard.
The cup is a toy of destiny, blown about by a capricious wind, neither providential nor pathetic. The cup doesn't care what happens to it; and neither do we. There is no deeper eventuality to which we can assign it than oblivion; it is destined for the trash bin. This seeming superfluity, obsolescence, triviality, is a dominant thread running all through modern life. Mountains of detritus, expended of meaning and use, piled up or tossed aside in the relentless inertia of industrial mass production: Existence demeaned, devalued, discarded.
The human poignance of isolate disregard is ironized in the static spastic motion of the paper cup as it rolls, skids, tumbles towards its pointless end, its wide slipping arc precisely equal to the circumference of its two circular planes, plus the scudding distance of its abrasion.
There would be a calcular equation precisely defining the degree of resistance and distance travelled by the cup in its passage across the pavement. Variance as the surface friction, expressed as a value.
I'm not sure what inspired me to meditate on this poem as a mathematical formula, unless it's the precision and inexorability of its technique. I must admit to a weakness for highly reductive poems. Not the tiresome fascination some people experience with word games, or crossword puzzles, or rubix cubes; though I might metaphorize the poem as a kind of formula built out of words. Syntax itself is a kind of formulation of relationships, defined and expressed as meanings assigned to different kinds of signifiers. The poem refers to phenomena the way our constructed mental narrative of the poem's event mimics reality. It's exacting, and poignant, and real. It echoes in eternity.