Thursday, December 2, 2010

Minimalism Part VIII - Mark Truscott's Magic Numbers



The Coach House Press, for those of us in America who may not know, has a long tradition of publishing avant-garde writing. They published Mark Truscott's first book, Said Like Reeds or Things in 2004, a book which I missed, and haven't yet read, though I got a preview on Ron Silliman's site in the year it was published. Truscott was born in 1970, which makes him 23 years my junior, yet I feel an immediate kinship with him, based on the work I've just read in his latest (new) collection, Nature [Toronto: Book Thug, 2010].

In attempting to place Truscott within a linear tradition, I'd have to mention Aram Saroyan, Grenier, Corman, Creeley, Coolidge (his "Tiny Messages" - see L Magazine 4-5, 1974 on Craig Dworkin's Eclipse site), Tom Clark, Samuel Menashe, Geof Huth, Simon Cutts, as well as yours truly. For quirkiness, I'd say he's most like Cutts, but for precision and sharp-eyed acumen, I'd put him right up there with Grenier, and like Grenier he's working on a sensibility "way at the back of the head"--where feeling forms/words are born. There are mysterious connections in our language, hidden beneath the layers and folds of presumption and quotidian use; and Truscott's among those whose grail is finding them.

Work & play. Try too hard and it becomes elusive; get lazy and it goes away bored. In my experience, tricks like these--but I should say, of course, that tricks is the wrong word to describe what these poems are, and how they work--come at unexpected times. You can't exactly "figure out" how to make them, they may appear randomly, or in the corner of your field of vision, fleetingly, vaguely, elusive. But they're there.



if branches
s branch

.

BODY

One meets one
on the line
one is on.

.

TREMBLER

out of a
loud soft hat

.

on and on toward and on

.

It's like it's going to try to run it.

.

One two
and one
more.


[Interjection: Did he read the Creeley?]

.

that that
that that
that that
that one
sells down

.

what if
the words
were to
be set
off kilter

.

then the
grid would
bleed and
the thatch
shine out


[Interjection: these last two clearly function as a pair.]

.

This, here.

I think
elsewhere.

No (correction), not
really.


[Interjection: Taggart?]

.

this word
points to
that shows
connection and
apes it

.

a drop
falls the
surface that
catches it
fills in


Lest I copy out the whole book, I'll desist here to remind myself that as easy as such poems often look, their apparent adroit nonchalance is not simply attained. I like the way that the concentration upon a few words begins to imply the building up of architectural metaphors out of the letters themselves, as if the literal fact of the oscillation of certain phonetic/visual associations becomes a part of the process of the eye's progress across, down, through, under, and diagonally athwart the poem's ostensible setting.

if branches
s branch

--where the noun branches is literally apostrophized by the missing possessive dangling s, turning branch simultaneously into an/other branch and the verb [to] branch. The delicate hesitancy we feel at the threshold of the line-break is an astonishing queue to the mind, of the underlying structure of our apprehension of the word branch/branches. Branches branch. The mere addition of the propositional "if" and that dangling s link the repeated phrase in a magical illumination of structure: Trees, branches, branching, diagonal V's of intersecting lines, crossing and criss-crossing, a matrix.



Creeley had posited in Pieces [New York: Scribner's, 1969] a reduction of the lyric to its smallest elements. Philosophically, this meant that, taken to its natural limit(s), language, or poems as (the fewest) words would yield up their essence(s) under the sharpest scrutiny that could be brought to bear on them; thus defining the limits of the writer's insight and apprehension of language. That gambit was successful, in Creeley's case, to the degree that he was able to exploit the emotional tensions in such basic linguistic relationships, a preoccupation that had always been paramount in his poetics. But that heavily emotional dimension was only applicable to his own approach to composition. Working at the level of fewest possible words had other historical streams: Haiku, for instance. And as others tried their hand at it, it became clear that divergent masteries of the short, minimalist form were not limited to the ways in which Creeley had employed it. Saroyan, after all, seems to have come by his own minimalism on his own, anterior to Creeley's efforts beginning the mid- to late 1960's. And Grenier, whose worship of Creeley's work is well-documented, saw in minimalism a more expansive, metaphysical field of possibilities than his mentor had imagined, opening out into his own intense minimalist development, culminating in the so-called S C R A W L S.

Truscott's work seems more linked to the Objectivists' sense of language, almost a scientific testing of its elemental, discrete particles--


This, here.

I think
elsewhere.

No (correction), not
really.


This is really very close to Oppen. Zukofsky, of course, would find the poem bereft of an ample matter, since it doesn't refer to any other thing than itself. This "self-defining artifact" aspect is one that has occurred to me, often, in thinking about Creeley's work in Pieces. The poems are scaffoldings for nothing but their own isolate energetic dance. In a subsequent post, I'll address this aspect as "Creeley's Edge."



In the meantime, I salute Truscott's honest, honed efforts at definition. He's starting, as it were, at the beginning, which is the correct way. You don't step into an opera without the requisite voice and dramatic training. The difference, here, is that Truscott isn't fashioning predictable sonnets and quatrains and rhythmic clich├ęs, he's building meaning on a firm foundation of testing and choosing, judicious steps on a pathway to fulfillment. Pretty corny sounding, huh?, even from me! Creeley started with the Renaissance English lyric, and worked his way backwards to a full-scale de-construction of his own poetics, ending up circa 1972 or so at a kind of artistic dead-end. Truscott is unlikely to end up writing poems of the sort that filled up RC's For Love, and that's just as well. It's already been done.

1 comment:

Kirby Olson said...

Think less about lazy, and more about laziness.