Monday, October 09, 2006

Allan Peterson V

Lavish and The Nick of Evolution(s)

Peterson’s use of the theory of evolution is Zen-like. The theory of DNA is in his DNA. The world is numinous, the octopus is as smart as a dog, which is as smart as an etc etc. In a Peterson poem, I get the sense that there are always many connections, and in this particular instance, this particular connection will be made and presented as a mental “best fit”. The otherness of the accidental can tilt into the occidental and oriental, the very casual-contemporary mixes with the courtly-medieval. But our human response is still to make and to wonder. To make images and wander in the processes of meaning-making seems a reflective capability we should in turn, reflect upon.

Previously, we looked at nature to find God. Now we look for so much of ourselves in the world, we paint our faces there among the processes of nature. Build gods in our own image. The knowledge of the Null is Thanatos itself. When faced with the processes of evolution, its brute indifference,

we gather the animals dressed in flowers and music
we open their throats since they do not pretend higher purpose. This is how far behind we are. Our mysteries. Our little ignorance.

There are

Rituals made of nothing but surprise
as when gardenias burn in one’s presence just by touch.

I am not sure if this image refers to the blood on ones hands coming off on the flower after the ritual of killing the calf, or perhaps a mental tautology as in Stevens “Rubies by rubies reddened”, perhaps even Elliot of “roses that have the look of being looked at”. In the general image making endeavour, I also wonder if there is a buried reference to the ritual animal garlanded for sacrifice. And I wonder if it is any wonder that this animal is “missing/absent/abstract”. Also, a classic example of a scene stalled. (and all in the shades of Keats perhaps)

The Trial of Understanding Within An Unknowable Process

If our lives are lived within the “godless aesthetic” of evolution, then what “reason” can there be for our need (sic) to care for one another as human beings? In a very astute positioning, Peterson alludes to three things in the title of one poem “Trial”. I believe this to refer to (1) trial as in to test out, see if it works, takes; (2) an ordeal, (3) Kafka. It is the tone that sets the idea off for me. It is a prayer as Kafka or Beckett might have intoned, it is a waiting on mercy. A lengthy quote is perhaps required to illustrate the point:

Nothing more poignant that a being trying
to understand itself;
than a being helping another with no understanding
other than need, nothing more
than a being knowing something, caring for something
incapable of care,
than one caring for knowing so that care might be
available when needed,
when need is not wonder but a being itself.

The poem goes on to review the idea of economic progress, building larger farms, yet ruining nature, even to the idea of building a nation upon a misnamed indigenous people. In an ambiguity typical of an overall aesthetic that abhors closure, Peterson ( I think) refers to tarring and feathering in the name of profit:

A man covered in bird feathers, a field covered in corn

yet this may also refer to those self same mis-named Indians, or/and perhaps a more “earthed” way of living that might have brought us elsewhere, but that too we defeated. Although we have a ‘moral’ obligation to nature, as we are co-dependent with it, we ignore causality, and in turn we ignore reason, and in the end as always, nature in an almost comical way, will overcome us,

Black water would argue against us
Enter the alkaloids.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Allan Peterson IV

Lavish in The Nick in Theory

I think it was Auden that said it was the poets job to “detoxify”. Peterson’s mind seems to want to work within the "new metaphysics" of science (sic), these being (broadly speaking) the theory of evolution, cosmology, and chaos theory. But these theories have implications, ones that are wide and deep. A scene has no close, a poem should not end in some predetermined manner, contingencies can (and should) occur in the process of observation and in writing.

Peterson wants to write in the Lavish Nick in Theory, as Wallace Stevens might want to “wink at that wink in the design”. For Plato there is unity within difference but for Peterson “a theory works if it answers accretions” (Swallowtails); it is never final, it too is evolving. There will be fruitful results if the poet does not stray into fancy, but remains in the hardcore centre of imaginative capability.

You remember poets those that write tangibly, about the intangibles
the way confident water softens read beans overnight
just by conviction


We have seen earlier in Peterson that making tangible the intangible is an aesthetic concern. After all, electricity is abstract until it buzzes up your arm. But Peterson is also concerned with defining, as in “to define is to limit”. In the poem “Viscosity” the onions shed their skin in layers, losing some part of their essence, and ‘something goes missing’. This dark matter is always within what we consider the final, finished object. Indeed, the dark matter that completes the object. Perhaps, he theorises, this is why sketches are so compelling, often more so than paintings, because the ‘unfinished sketch’ can ‘induce’ the final painting, it still contains all future possibilities, all future endings. This is how it sheds its dark matter. It sheds its dark matter (it’s exclusions) by maintaining the possibility of their return. Likewise the poem ended, contained, air-proofed in its jar, is a poem of ‘desperate messages/ turning yellow on the shelves/ whether handled or ignored’.

Where the word and poem might exclude in order to define itself, yet remain essentially open, the device or spirit of this theory is itself in operation in the human spirit, in kinship and conscience, in the human affirmation: “yes to prints”, “yes to innocent ginkgoes’”, yes to

Even in December it is summer by the lamps
and we linger there
the dust like diatoms in the salty ocean falling slowly
hanging suspended

and the myriad-hands of possibility within each cell, each dust mote, holds them, unfallen for an eternity in mind and resemblance, the remembrance of the time he first saw Francis in her studio, the aroma of printmaking that even now has not yet reached the ceiling. The image or scene is not ended, it is connected to the ocean scene, and that connection is fired in the brain and forever. What is interesting here on a structural level is that the dust motes falling in the dark of the ocean are buoyed by a forest of hands in the molecules themselves (and I take these to represent “blind process”), and the aromatic print particles ascending in the daylight studio, in labour, in love are likewise always ascending, and (by parataxis) also perhaps a similarly “blind process”. Both scenes are impregnated with the dark matter of absence, as dark is by light, and light by dark.

It is the scene in light that thickened in memory, time chemically slowed, attains viscosity in cross-sense memory, sight, smell, solidified, yet like glass never fully settled. Even though we are falling in the dark, in the blind hands of process, there are cross currents that connect, and in themselves become a living thought, a cosmic synapse.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Allan Peterson III

Lavishly Looking Into Nature

From speculations about evolution, its implications and repercussions, Peterson never strays far from the nature outside the back door. It is a nature laden with his processing, heavy with his look. Pay impossibly close attention to what can only be seen in the mind like “the ciliated tufts in the oviducts of a mouse waving like grass/ seasonal variations in salinity” (From The Heart) and “Since I am of nature, my speculations are of nature” as he puts it elsewhere, and it is the property of looking deeply into natures empty spaces, into its strange relations, that is “like seeing the sky twice, one birdless and empty, one almost metrically alive”.

Lavish and Language.

In the heat of writing, Peterson feels the numinous behind and within each letter. From the physicality of how the ink was made, to the language of words and metaphor, to the fact that the relatively simple combinations of 26 letters should be made to represent all these. Yet “feelings outnumber flies”. In emotion it reminds me of Wilde, in image Eliot, but the guiding intelligence, to my ears anyway, seems to be Wallace Stevens. Imagine a Stevens pondering the index of refraction on a sea surface full of clouds, throw in a reference to the fact that the dog by your side does not see the sea, but a surface of pheromones’, introduce the poem with some wonderful aphoristic line, and resolved in a cumulative image well worked for.

Thoughts and Things: Lavish Words In Extemporised Structures

Saying what he means is often not enough. The form must show us that this feeling is a thing in itself, that could be turned around in your hand, be physically experienced. It strikes me somewhat related to the idea that the plant or animal “fits” its space, is adapted to it. Peterson wishes (I believe) to ensure that the form is adapted to the idea, yet as is the way of things, sometimes structure attracts its own meanings. In “Today The Swallows” the relationship of form and content is a kind of compromise with the structures of reader expectation, with the semiotics of everyday things, the ceiling, the roof with its wings on downstroke, the home symbolically leaving. Peterson wants us to see that he sees the binds, the seeming walls of an idea, and by looking closely, by associating, will show us that this too is always a partial understanding, that in the gap there is more to be seen, a pulse to be felt.

Of course with Peterson, the opposite course of action simply must be explored. Instead of giving us the image-structure outright, he buries it. In “Ample Evidence” the overt reading is a kind of peon to just being civilized. But the true structure is the material (bones) and rational, versus the “abstract” (word, song) and fundamentalist. The buried narrative given through references to place, and glimpses at objects (timepieces/detonators), places (NY), and ideas (fundamentalism) to build the background of “a likely someone in his off-hours/ that might travel from the Newark Clock Shop to the Apollo”.

With regards the priests and mullahs that call others to die, be martyred, to appear in paradise, and typically of Peterson, he places his attention on the “disparity in theory”, “disparity in history” and the abandonment in logic that that this fundamentalism raises. Even though the martyrs will be flown to pieces (sic), leaving their bones behind, their summoned bodies would appear in paradise”, and for this, “there is ample evidence”, which of course there couldn’t be. Note the use of summoned, followed quickly by ‘helpless’ and ‘obeisance’. Without their bones they end up, yet again powerless, before yet another throne. This from a people that ‘made time a common province for machines and music (i.e. a rational, scientific, civilized people), that created the devices that were like a backbone for music. The bones here, are surely the bones of a secular society. But labour of all kinds is also blessed, “something accomplished elaborately is devotion” and refers to the hours it takes to lavishly engrave the wheels of a timepiece that no one will see, much as the old stonemasons used to do in cathedrals.

I am guessing that another oppressed people, the black Americans of the 1950’s might also have taken to blowing things up, but the four live harmonizers at the Apollo, who stood together, shovelled the air, sung and recorded as if

“music could be wound up be sewn to the living air

to make it last and whose audience chimed like clockwork”.

It is not the only poem that refers to bones. In “Bone Structure” examples of parallax images and inversions abound.

“Fish bones, a puzzle that shatters like broken glass

A clock impossible to wind or rebuild without parts left over

Mirror images of no and on, a spine cascading like a flight of stairs.

Every bone with its dark-finned shark process swimming

Relentlessly through daylight”

Peterson's joy is in showing how the idea can be made fit in fit objects, and in negative spaces, and other times, in the play between the two.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Allan Peterson Part II

The Devices and Desires of Negative Ions

Peterson is at all times aware of these devices, and in true modern/post-modern traditions shows us his tools at work. He uses his just slightly arcane or scientific vocabulary to stud the lines, to jewel them, to flavour the tone. It reminded me a bit of some of the poems of Robert Hass where he puts green peppers on a white dish. As I was reading I thought of some of these poems as being a bit like cream sauce with black pepper, capers, and with a twist of lemon zest. Then in “Blackout with Herbs” Peterson has his own food-synaesthetic moment where

Light behind clouds is like corn starch

That thickens gravy

The effect of this moment in metaphor is so delicious, that Peterson takes the energy he has created from it, to leap into another register of reference, where we forget the calendar also “needs extra days like a pinch of cilantro”. There is always the missing and the unknowable in Peterson’s poems and in this poem the realization of the many potential types of gaps leads him into narrative, thinking about a story about how many things would have to go wrong with a system, in sequence, for a bird in the rafters to set off a concatenation of events, that takes down the power supply all down the west coast. But that’s life, a butterfly flaps its wings. The impossible happens all the time if you know where and how to look. In a structure that Peterson uses quite a bit, the second stanza of “Blackout with Herbs” takes the basic premise of the first stanza, and then either goes back into it a different route, or speculates on the principle established in the first stanza. Here he takes the evidence that the impossible does happen (almost inevitably) and then speculates on “the impossible”. In this case he speculates that the earths minerals came from meteors, that they are harvested like oregano, which reminds him of a trip to Italy, in a dream, where the souls “in the treasury, the impossibly lonesome bones, are arranged like salads”. This is not one of the best poems in the collection but it is a clear example of where Peterson weaves with negative capability.

The idea of negative space, negative capability is hugely important to Peterson and he is not afraid of making the reader reach for the dictionary to find out what “muon and meson” are (momentary, negative, sub atomic particles). In “Elementarity”, a man who discovered these sub-atomics, and lets face it, it must have felt that the world could be entirely re-imagined at that point, years later goes scuba diving

“though a school of silversides off Santa Barbara

large as a car lot

watched how they formed around him a thinking rose

so he added the singular

hard factors of astonishment to his basic elements”

From here Peterson goes on to imagine a world where veniality is not rewarded, where pleasure is deep and without guilt, where the silver fish forming (the shape of) an aster suggests the appearance of a single mind, and the conjecture or roaming goes on until it take a comical (and perhaps self depreciating twist) until a police officer in Clearwater pulls over a car that an iguana was driving, it could have been just another weird incident, but of course that Iguana was a Kennedy, and “the charges of which are neutral though nonetheless electric”. Yes, veniality. We have truly returned from our land of speculation and discovery.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Opening To Allan Peterson Essay

This is the opening to an essay I am writing on Allan Peterson's work. I thought I would post it piece by piece because I got so carried away writing it. Hope you enjoy it.

All The Lavish In Common: In The Nick of Time and Theory

On Taking a Line and its Dent for a Walk Until It Becomes A Fissure

In one of his poems from this collection, Peterson says “my bags go on without me

labelled density and pressure”. The same could be said for the poems themselves yet you never have the feeling that that the poet is striking out on new “big idea” poems, or that he is delighted to present ‘a telling detail’ for your delectation. It’s nothing personal; he does not feel diminished by his place in the world, or surprised by what goes on in it. After all, many things are possible, and frequently the impossible is too.

With Peterson the poem occurs in the telling, a telling that mirrors the process of reflection, where some aspect of the poet is at sea, and can almost be seen in its process of thinking. His journey cannot take everything in and knows it leaves something out, a lot out. It will thus never be a whole telling, “I cannot finish I mean”. What is important is thus to understand the process of selection, what is included in the poem. They pivot upon objects of memory and thought, but they must have adequate force to be selected, and followed. At first reading, you may think that this is a poet following the a line of thought, or taking a line for a walk, but on closer inspection, there are deep structures at work here.

Recent books by James Longenbach on The Resistance of Poetry, and the essays on poets like Bishop foreground ideation and the presentation of ideation as one of the major achievements of modern poetry. A part of its attractiveness is seeing how the poets mind moves, and to be brought into that movement by them, and thus, have our experience of experience enlarged. To better illustrate this point, I am going to linger in detail on an early poem in the collection called “Private Lives”. Many of the image structures, and poetic strategies are present here. The opening lines,

“How orb-weavers patch up the air in places

like fibrinogen, or live in the fence lock”

Well, the orb-weaver is an American bird that can apparently make its nests in locks. Much could be said of this: there are no locked fields, nature will inhabit all, your separate fields are but one field. But there are three word connections that just draw your attention in to make these lines happen in the mind: ‘orb’, ‘fibrinogen’, and ‘lock’ (supported by how, or, and live). Orb, is an unusual general word, associated with the globe, or the world, it has connotations of the old, the regal, the medieval. Fibrinogen, is a scientific term for the growths (fibres, materials, texts) that grow and thicken in the lung, they cause shortness of breath, they darken the lung, they would appear dark on an x-ray, as we can only see our lungs in negative. Yet the orb-weavers in their physical flight, seem to metaphorically patch up the air with their traces, and in very “real” physical terms they patch up the available space inside a fence lock, a space perhaps as impossible to live in and patch up, as the air itself. I think this is a very neat use of modulating vocabulary, negative space, metaphorical space, and analogy. I could go on to say that Fibrinogen carries fetid, morbid overtones, that the transmuting of the imagery from such negative spaces as “lungs/air”, “bird-trace/morbid-growth” stretches the reader, until the image cluster lands in its completely physical lock. (The image cluster repeats later in :”you will see moth clouds/ that are moving breaths”). In the next lines,

“How the broom holds lizards.

How if you stand back you will miss them

afflicted by sunset,

the digger bees mining in the yard,

birds too fast to have shadows,

the life that lives in the wren whistle.”

Here, a little playfully, we are told that the broom could/does/ potentially hold lizards, as presumably the air could hold the traces of bird flight. But observe, the digger bees at sunset, forced underground (interestingly, and ominously, “afflicted”, thus perhaps forced under), and birds that move so fast they don’t leave shadows (because the sun is perhaps too low, because they are in a hurry, because the world does not need these birds to have shadows) and observe too that life (with a big L) is contained in the wren whistle, that smallest of birds, that smallest of details. But in the background here, are ominous forces, shadows, relations we may miss. There is urgency in the lines. Having drawn up a nature-scene, having had us metaphorically “look down” at the birds in the lock, the broom in the corner, the bees on the ground, the no-shadows of birds flying over, he next directs our gaze back upwards, look…

“You will see moth-clouds

that are moving breaths

and perhaps something like the star

that fell on Alabama

through the roof of Mrs. E. Hulitt Hodges

and hit her radio, then her.

No, you must be close for the real story”.

Perhaps its me, but I think this is going from the general (the star) to the particular (Alabama) to the general/particular (the house of Mrs. E. Hulitt Hodges, a general house of a very specific woman, with a very specific name), to the really particular, to the comical Radio. This is a surprising “turn” in the poem, in both style, theme, and image-structures. We might have turned left and ended up in another poem entirely. But wait, the last line is a hinge of memory “you must be close for the real story”, close to the bees, the birds, the dramas of the barnyard floor. From where did this impulse come; why from childhood, from schooldays:

“I remember being made

to stand in the corner for punishment

because it would be dull and empty

and I would be sorry.

But instead it was a museum of small wonders,

a place of three walls

with a weather my breath influenced,

an archaeology of layers, of painted molding,

a meadow as we called them then

of repeatable pale roses,

an eight-eyed spider in a tear of wallpaper

turning my corner.

The texture. The soft echo if I talked.

If I said I am not bad if this is the world”.

It’s a rush of. recognition, or revelation. It occurs to him now as it occurred to him then: there are no small places. If you pay attention, in a place of three walls, paying attention and being open ‘disappears’ one wall of this metaphorical prison. History and time can come off in layers, where even though the observer influences the thing observed, life has a lavish texture, and if you listen and observe the world echoes back your deeper delving with further revelation. This opening up of the world saved him. Do you remember being in a corner and speaking, and hearing that soft echo, playing with it? I do. For me the poetry is in the remembering of that small soft echo coming back to him, and the reader connecting to an early, near atavistic sense-memory.

So much has happened in the poem, so many “happenings” have occurred in us as the revelation of relationships has been opened up to us. We made those connections as readers, we didn’t just join the dots. Yet we seem to have walked through a simple narrative. This is Peterson’s great skill. We walk through simple-seeming narratives, albeit at times with strange turns into unknown registers, through modulations in tone, in scene, in aspect, but we are made beings that bear strange relation, and we bear it unknowingly, into the known.

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