True grace is perhaps the most difficult quality to capture in words. One doesn't mean religious grace--a reward for the virtuous performance of some duty to a body of faith--but a state of awareness and responsiveness to the most delicate apprehensions of perception, of a sensibility attuned to the intuitions of being intensely alive, to the phenomenological streams of forces and influences which comprise our sense of being in the universe. That awareness may imply big entities, or very tiny ones. Sometimes they may be both at the same time. The best art works, like science, through the very big and the very small in scale. A grain of sand or the Andromeda Galaxy; in one sense they are manifestations of the same forces, just expressed differently.
The amazing thing about David Gitin, is how subtle he's managed to stay, all the way into old age. The first word that always occurs to me in relation to his work is delicacy. I can't think of anyone else, male or female, who is able to convey the breathless spaces between the merest tendrils of feeling, from one moment to the next, one perception to another. Gitin's latest collection, just out from Blue Wind Press [Berkeley, 2010], The Journey Home, is a surprise for me, given how few of the poems I remembered having read (and talked about) before, seem to have found their way into this selection, which is subtitled Poems 1962-2010. At only 57 total pages of text, this seems an inordinately short run of work for the bracket of years it claims to cover. Am I selfish or unreasonable in wanting a much larger mass of work from this most fastidious of lyric poets?
I suppose I must have read nearly all of David's books over the years, none having escaped my relentless scouring of the used book universe. My abiding impression was that in every case, my expanding expectation of what he was about was invariably confirmed--few poets, in my experience, have been as consistent and finished as Gitin was, and continues to be. How did he come by his voice, his style, and what did it say about him? I hear Eigner's fluid slippages and a-lightings in it, and maybe Kelly's quick displacements of address from line to line, each cluster of words and phrases both independent, but still linked-in to the flow. As an analogue, I couldn't think of a better one than John Marin, those fleecy, pale pastel fantasy-landscapes of his--
Related to the Sea
Homage to John Marin
mark where the eye
a village the face of sky
Deer Isle a church and sails
"paint wave a-breaking
on a paint shore"
Deer Isle is located in Penobscot Bay in Maine, and this (I think) is the painting Gitin's referring to in the poem (or at least it might be--Marin painted a lot of pictures at Deer Isle, and many of them look similar)--
It's a little hard to see, but the edges of the scene have abstract shapes and textures suggestive of certain qualities in the landscape. Marin's work had a "sketchy" shorthand quality, which is reminiscent of Gitin's approach to composition. With a few deft strokes, you might say, to suggest qualities and textures and senses without necessarily filling in all the detail.... Artists who share a similar approach.
What a lovely turn the first line break makes--"sea/mark"--where the navigational term seamark is made synonymous with the artist's eye as it "collects form"--a metaphor for the symbolic shapes brush-strokes make on a canvas. "red/ored peaks"--ore becoming a verb!
"paint wave a-breaking
on a paint shore"
--enclosed in quotation marks, the phrase is like the tromp l'oeil (Cezanne) of paint as matter as paint, where the literal vision is subsumed within the transparent sign.
moon frozen like some giant
watery cell of speech
What amazing distances he's able to cover in so few words! Lots of poets can make sharp descriptive turns, but implying (much) larger contexts like this is of another order entirely. Is the "cell" here like a germinative seed of meaning, out of which propagate vocabularies of connotation? The turtle is rich in symbolic associations--creation myth, images of stability, longevity, inscrutability--or more recently as Gary Snyder's shorthand term for our North American Continent. In any case, the mysterious cosmic-ontological code of poem is like a gratuitous hieroglyph of a visionary moment, brimming with mysterious energy and hypnotic allure.
onto passing cars
Again, I'm thrown for a loop here in trying to draw connections that lie hidden so deeply in the unconscious that they're unplumbable in a waking state. Is this a statement about language, or a quad erat demonstrandum of the power of improbable leaps inside speech? Or perhaps a metaphor for the tension between fixed meanings (preserved in museums) and the flow of the traffic of change, time's inertia, the inexorable pull of mortality? Matter evanescent, way-stations of presumption, brush strokes on water?
The world in Gitin's poems is astonishing, layered with multiple suggestions and significances, fleeting and awesome. His deceptively simple seeming technique is built out of shrewd connections among contexts.
slopes of light
To my estimation, this comes right out of Duchamp, the "delay/in glass" a straight reference to The Large Glass, and might have multiple interpretations. For Duchamp, the delay referred to the eternal frustration of the bachelors, who, unable to attain the bride, spin emptily in space. The door might be the glass window, or another door, its angled shadow(s) framing a real woman, caught in the frozen regard of the poem's moment--the artist's desire to fix the very image of his desire thwarted by the static resistance of form. The best small poems like these may suggest riddles, but the "solution" is rarely reductive, or a trickery. Think of a gemstone which receives rays along varied spectrums from different sources; the poem could be the defraction of those rays of different wave-lengths; add to these, other kinds of radiation, and you have a really ingenious metaphor: Mind bombarded with data, sifting and selecting, in thrall or in the service of a higher dynamics, universal events.
Many of the poems towards the end of this collection signify or celebrate physical love. Is the perfect ending to a commingling a poem, or the silence--eyes linked across the isthmus of separateness--that passes understanding?
deep sensuous flesh 'n' soul
bright lips breasts thighs dark
music a pod at dock
all the masks glow
story dance of he and she
space like the attic
room star high squirming
trumpet of Miles