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Ron Silliman's Blogspot on Wanders
(Copyright © 2003 Ron Silliman)
Imagine Billy Crystal doing his Ricardo Montalban impression for a one-sentence review: “This book is wanderful, dahling!” This book, of course, being Wanders, a cycle of poems written in ping-pong fashion by Robin Blaser & Meredith Quartermain & published by Quartermain’s Nomados Press. Quartermain, in a preface to the volume, refers to them as parallelograms. Blaser would fax a poem to Quartermain, who would respond following “the stress patterns and numbers of syllables per line.”
Here is a Blaser poem, complete:
“like money in the gutter,” David said.
That was the best of luck,
pink petals stuck to the car’s
tires, noted when we parked
near Dead Write Books
and the intense blue shirt
I wanted turned up.
a banner on a book in the window
read “exciting as John Le Carré,”
rushed to the door, but Dead Write
Books was shut. “5 o’clock,” I said
And here is Quartermain’s reply or “translation”:
a magpie in a midnight rule of thumb
back to the beast of time,
fleet fingers hang till the next
lapse, tempoed by the talk
of dark bronze space
and the just now melt
it echoed tout de suite,
a tiding from the tide in the crystal
read “outspreading” as philharmonic
rings in a pool, and dark bronze
space resounds, passing ships to gape
The nerve endings in my brain tingle at all the little connections made in pieces like these – I will be contemplating the reiterated bronze space as well as chuckling at the droll “exciting as John Le Carré” comment for some time. (Heaven help the poor author to whom that faint praise was given.) The poems don’t reproduce one another, nor do they
necessarily carry forward themes – the “beast of time” remark is something of an anomaly in this sequence in that regard – so much as demonstrate the absolute range of what might be possible following the relatively simple rules of the project.
These are, for both writers, remarkably playful works and it seems to me a major achievement for Blaser to have, at this point in a long & fabulous career, shown what really strikes me as an entirely new side of himself as a writer. I’ve tried to think of another first generation New American Poet who has shown that capacity for ludic collaboration. I know, from having participated in some of these sessions, that Phil Whalen & Michael McClure could do so through improvised music, but you don’t particularly see it in the written works themselves. Ashbery & Schuyler’s collaborative novel comes closer in print, and maybe some of Ginsberg’s musical ventures or – am I stretching it here? – in Spicer’s aggressively active collaboration with the long dead Lorca. But this is a Blaser who might have shared bean spasms with Ted Berrigan. It’s an amazing, even jaw dropping performance:
my piano collapsed into
a bonfire and wept – I’m
young again return
to the curriculum – how
to open a bank account
I don’t think that any New American has done something so radically different from their previously published work since Ashbery published Flow Chart in 1991.
If all she had done was to evoke this new effusion from Robin Blaser, Meredith Quartermain would have earned a permanent place in the history of our hearts. But her poems absolutely stand up to the challenge of Blaser’s own. And he does what he can in places to make the possibility of it damn difficult, throwing out multiple lines of French, whose stresses & syllabification are as far from English as you can get in Europe:
dans l’expérience vécue
du Même, recalled
here in Nietzsche’s
Perhaps it’s her background as an attorney, but Quartermain never blinks as she returns the volley with every bit as much force & wit:
kind to the trance of state
for the cohere
one is zero’s
Poetry has a history as a competitive sport that predates the evolution of the slam & it’s fascinating to watch hints of this gaming flash across these twin texts. The sum of it is totally exhilarating. There are, of course, elements of this active in any two person collaboration, but, in general, it’s a dimension that Lyn Hejinian & Leslie Scalapino – just to pick one example of a work I love – don’t explore in Sight. Nor any North American text-centric poets that I can recall – not even in the later revs of the New York School. In the next section, Blaser, if you can believe it, raises the stakes even further & Quartermain still never misses a beat. I can hardly think of an instance in the New American-slash-Post Avant tradition in which this aspect of the poem has been so out front, performed with such glee & mutual pleasure. Pleasure, in fact, would have been a perfectly good name for this book.
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
 How might a post-Oulipudlian have pursued the same project? I can imagine a collaboration in which writer B (Quartermain in the present case) reproduced not merely the syllables & stress patterns of writer A, but also used the very same vowels, and in which writer A then replied by reproducing the same sequence of consonants, but with none of the same vowels, of writer B.
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