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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