Where are the readers?
i.m. Russell Edson
At first glance the most we could see—partial shins, bare feet, long arms wrapped around an uprooted tree carried so only four or five inches separate the lowest roots from ground. We step aside. Legs and hips appear charred, without sanctuary, back bent to uphold a water oak, forty feet tall almost, its rounded crown gently reminiscent (dull blue-green leaves). Dirt sprinkles at each step. The weight: too much for legs to bear alone, stride necessarily uneven.
What a sight…this projection—an offering? Appeasement? Extended arms transporting a choking mass of leaf, limb, and root. What arbitrary admonishing? Its weight some kind of awkward counterbalance, perhaps. This giant passes, grotesque, straining, then a second figure—
A shadow man, attached back to back to the front man, but not by much, a slight conjoining (pale, inflexible) about the diameter of two hands placed thumb to thumb, fingers likewise. This shadow man, hardly two-thirds proportioned, leans forward conforming with the giant’s bent back, facing the opposite direction, running backward in so many quick little steps to keep up. Each known to the other, no less. A remote sound: slight breeze working the leaves. Or the leaves shaking with every footfall. It’s not the tree.
The shadow man whispers to the giant staggering ahead blindly (face smashed against the trunk)…whispers how grateful everyone will be. He wants the praise to exceed the giving, but that no one should know. The tree’s anemic—we would’ve heard its complaint. Don’t ask what they represent. We recommend chipping on site.
Address to the Unsuspecting Graduates
Unfit stewards, we point out paradise regained—persistently excluding sound judgment. Our reasoning: insulated. So much yet to be had in “minute discrimination,” lessons upheld in the deviant trance of the Upis beetle, unquestionably featureless, to all appearances
no less of earth, torpid,
Must avid study (in the field) be limited solely to scientist and prospect? We’ve allied ourselves ever closer to demands strictly endorsed by machine—only to take away a fraction as miner, logger, poacher. Convinced that possession and the coveted brand somehow elevate to unique, unmatched status. Neighbors by default. How far “a very little of anything goes.” Testify: the brief display of a bird can alter lives.
How often in reviews and promotional plumes lyrical reflects the flimsiest arrangement of sound and sense—as a descriptive term recurring as easily, as commercially, as love. And formal now stands for an overbearing, dominant metrical grid. The unanticipated result of deaf and dumb reading: voice sunk in the inner cavern of the cranium, relegated to a distant second or third behind sight—as swift images usurp our attention, precariously linked (somehow, according to the writer)…words that do not demand to be read twice, shamelessly forfeiting remembrance—indeterminate, trendily incoherent.
How to judge lyrical minus investment, without applying voice? As G major (open chord) on a guitar, which may be fingered correctly, accurately—only struck and vibrating strings allow us to identify and contrast dispatch, determining richness and fecundity. Unless, by definition, music has been fully discharged, sent packing. If only a private exchange, language intended to remain fixed internally…kindly omit lyrical as a criterion.
“A sound magician is a mighty god…” A tight match, or else…
Generosity in Sturgeon’s measure, encompassing 90% of any given crop. Competency fails to secure a spot in that elusive 10% bracket. Complacency easily dislodged. This frantic, infantile rush to publish. Adequately presented (occasionally)…largely unremarkable…“as direct as true works of art are indirect”—
Today’s poem winds up and That’s it?—its jagged edges, imprecisely drawn, corresponding too closely, too exactly: “Unfortunately, the modernity of its terms does not guarantee the truth or even the modernity of an insight.” We get plenty foreground, immediately pressing the senses, magnified and focused until background no longer plays any part—preferring “too much language chasing too little of an idea.”
No longer much accountable, our poems lack far more than just the news. Individual, ceaselessly contemporary, unadorned epiphany—farewell to the old order, to communal concern, bardic admonishings, crucial employment. “Everything written is as good as it is dramatic” extends equally to utterance: tossed back and forth, stirred and called forth in sound waves—completing the circuit from one person to the next.
Scorned apprenticeship. Why marvel at something shoddily, hastily, haphazardly scribbled? In abundance, this gross proliferation…innate ability (language acquisition) conflated with artistry…we find little tackling with ancestry, little itch for etymology and subsequent usage. Like a bogus lottery ticket: scratch the surface and nothing to behold—no matching number, no lucky icon, no winner to announce.
Why rejoice at the toddler swiping his finger across a flat screen? Rather than encouraging direct contact (unfettered, unmediated) entering this world? Lockdown, shakedown. Denotative. Aiming for convenience, we want our maps to last, whose shorelines (we’re disinclined to admit) constantly need redefining (always less than as they appear), whose accuracy depends on exploration and deepening discovery.
Sample as we go. This remains foremost:
You are made of almost nothing
But of enough
To be great eyes
And diaphanous double vans;
To be ceaseless movement
What day is it? Not Adam’s. So much else, currently esteemed, falls short.
My first book, Apparent Magnitude, is now available from Aldrich Press.