Thursday, May 3, 2018
THE SWEATING LAKE by JOHN M. BENNETT
JIM LEFTWICH Engages
The Sweating Lake by John M. Bennett
(Luna Bisonte Prods, 2017)
Francis Poole on The Sweating Lake:
The warehouse of language turned
upside down and contents shaken.
Poetry written with legs and forks.
Rips the lid off a buzzing suitcase full of words and lets loose a cataract of "meanings." Distinctive determined and defiant.
The poems in The Sweating Lake were written between October 2013 and April 2014. Some were written while John and Cathy were traveling in Mexico and South America. The book was published in 2017.
On page 17 we find a poem entitled "the speech." Appended to the end of the poem as a post-snippet is the following fragment, attributed to Rene Char: ...les objets le fuyant... Could one be aware of the word "fuyant" and choose not to use it? It is impossible to imagine such an outcome. Objects, then, in speech, or in words on a page, one or two steps away from us experientially, have fled, will flee, and most importantly, are fleeing, “even as we speak”.
as the neck cloud shut
,when dripping ,the shirt
What instructions are we being given, as readers of lines, of clauses and sentences, of grammatical and syntactical sequences, in the placement of the commas in line two? Judging from the placement of the empty space it would seem that the line should be read backwards:
shirt the, dripping when,
followed by the third line, also read backwards, as per the instructions of the comma:
what, eye damp window's
with the fourth and fifth lines read forwards, left to right, like the first line, so the first five lines are as written, but also as follows (with lines two and three read backwards)
as the neck cloud shut
shirt the, dripping when,
what, eye damp window's
saw the hair-crocked sk
ull across your time lung
The instructions of the commas continue in this manner: lines 6 and 7 backwards; line 8 forwards; lines 9, 10, and 11 backwards; line 12 forwards; and then we come to line 13, and our entire understanding of the instructions of the commas will no longer stand up to scrutiny:
line 13: pill sings ,and the throt
line 14: tled dog under the linty
If line 13 is read backwards, as the placement of the comma would seem to instruct, then the two halves of the word "throttled", which is divided by the line break, do not reconnect across the break. The poem ends with a cautionary tale, alerting us against the hazards of endeavoring to read two poems at once:
,so my mind was
severed ,a dream in its sw
eaty blades ,or throat of its s
We are given a map, a language-map in fact, with perhaps too much information, or possibly only shards, fragments, pieces of a puzzle (who can know it?), not a map at all, in any case even while an excess (or, more precisely, a potential excess) of possibilities (in each piece, but also in the all-but-infinite recombinative possibilities for the pieces) of information, still not enough for us to know with any certainty exactly how to carry on. (Cf., page 15, "the chirination" -- "with sherds from Jim Leftwich's Six Months Aint No Sentence, Book 54, 2013:
bald collab / oration off the sneezed / rockslide
). We are given a territory, and are expected to provide our own map. If we are unable to bring a map with us, then we will need to become cartographers of the poem. Once we are in the poem, it will show us where we are, and teach us how to navigate its defamiliarized terrain. As a beginning, we must be willing to be lost. And it will do us no harm if we remain willing to be lost, in a cartographical ongoingness, experimenting with the recombinative possibilities of making sense, the recombinative actualities of making collaborative poems as a practice of reading. On pages 26/27 we find the following lines in "the toil", "collapsed from Jim Leftwich's Six Months Aint No Sentence, Book 55, 2013, & various tales by H. P. Lovecraft."
in certain grotesque / semi-semic by products
where, if I am not mistaken, the phrase "in certain grotesque" is taken from Lovecraft, the phrase "semi-semic by products" is taken from Leftwich, and the combined poetic instantiation is by Bennett, left to his own devices for reasons known only to him. Thanks to Dr. Bennett's misleading by example (in many directions at once) we are beginning to discern the ghostly shape of a poetry being born. The ghost of post-writing past meets the embryonic pre-writings of the future.
Atlach-Nacha resembles a giant spider with a human-like face. Its intimate clothes (page 36/37) control the toxic biscuits. Their high rolling diablo island flits carbon across the shark coffers. Exhausted meat bells expanding gargled necks. Poetry follows itself around, stalks itself, installs secret cameras and microphones in its kitchen and in its car. I write a book of the Six Months series and send it to John. John writes a hack, publishes it in The Sweating Lake, and sends a copy to me. I rewrite his hack and include it in an essay, which I will upon completion send to him. Varieties of this exchange have been going on between us for the past 25 years. The only reason they will not go on forever is that life does not go on forever.
Of course all poems are about death, because all love songs are about death, and, yes, that is the best we have to offer after all of these millennia (and, yes, it is good enough -- and, no, it does not go without saying).
Turning now in our text to page 96, we find a poem entitled "the egg" -- from Jim Leftwich, Six Months Aint No Sentence, Book 60; Ivan Arguelles, "the Hymn to Clio", "from the Hymn to Persephone"; and John M. Bennett, from nothing.
decipher pursued the tw / isting hole
a code jaw teleph / one hammers through a pl / umbing event my shorts and / wasps ,ceiling books
ineffable photograph / ,a maddened moth in a cave or / scented pool of shoelettuce
Beginning again with "ineffable", but this time reading vertically:
ineffable moth of slugs
where the crushed fossil
opens the sea
[one variant reading has in the first line "mouth of slugs"]
From nothing, comes everything. Kabbalist tsimtsum as poetics, if not as praxis. Are you making up the world and yourself in it as you go along? Affirmation of this is not as easily dismissed as it might seem on the surface. First thought leads to second thought, second thought leads to the big bang (the current scientific term for tsimtsum), red shift, background radiation (noise music requiring deep listening), the expanding universe receding into the distance, the heat death of the gnostic cosmos.
I find myself, fleeting images of my selves, peeking out from the cracks in these broken mirrorpoems. Some selves I have seen in earlier lives or years. Others I am only now discovering. Where have you been? How is it that you find yourself only now being born in the ongoing interactions of these poems? How is it that I find yourself... Twenty-five years ago I wrote a series of poems entitled The Synonymous Pronoun Poems. I knew the phrase meant shifting and multiple, and an end to the possessive singular. I only suspected, then, that it also meant "endlessly malleable". Ongoingness, then (then and now, and next), maybe that was what Tom Taylor was telling me, twenty years ago when he talked about the cosmic war.
The poem entitled "the circular skin" begins on page 101. I invite you to ruminate (for the rest of your life) on the idea of "the cyclical same". The idea of the snake sloughing its skin. Ouroboros, sloughing its skin. Human skin cells live approximately 2 - 3 weeks. The passage of time refutes the proposition of repetition. The circular skin, then from Jim Leftwich, Six Months Aint No Sentence, Book 61, 2013; Ivan Arguelles, "chaos", "what is a poet"; "Valum Votan, a childhood", 2013; and John M. Bennett, from Nothing.
"destroy this" chalk / leg chewn the night skin walked
seated in the public library / oh nihilist sph incter
The passage of time denies the proposition of repetition.
destroy this blubbery public modernism
the sphincter of the night
Collaborative poems talk back to us. They are confrontational in their questioning. Did you write this? I want a straight answer! But there are no straight answers! The lights get even brighter. We are sweating in our own lakes. No I didn't write it, I've never even thought it. Yes, of course, some of it, but which parts, who knows? Some parts behind, beside, or inside the words. Between the words. Each one of us has written some part of what is semic in each em space.
We are interrogated by our own collaborative poems. ("Our own" is not exactly what we want to say. We go on.) We interrogate ourselves, using collaborative poems. I want a new set of pronouns. Someone we can trust. No, I am not writing to you, for you, or about you. I want a pronoun who understands the dangerous necessities of ego. I have already called myself arrogant, thank you very much, else I would not have survived to say so. Versions of Thelonious Monk playing "I Mean You" are available on 28 recordings. That is how you handle a shifty pronoun.
Page 144, "the maps"
With spatter from Ivan Arguelles' "those were the days" & Jim Leftwich's Six Months Aint No Sentence, Book 65, 2014
extracting one word per line, beginning with word 1 from line one, word 2 from line 2, word 3 from line 3, and word 4 from line 4; then word 1 from line 5, etc (with improvisational wiggles, to taste)
monday lint ruins reversion
drenched swirling your mem
ory's the behind of
ursive switchblade artery jet
aspirin's of returned fire
plagued carrot sinking tube
monday drenched the cursive aspirin
plagued lint swirling behind the switchblade
returned carrot ruins your artery
reversion meme jet fire tube
Page 166, another map, this one entitled "the steep"
With chunks from Jim Leftwich's Six Months Aint No Sentence, Book 67, 2014. I am walking through the world backwards into a futurist book. They are asleep. They are the sleep. Steeped in dreams. Poetry leaping off of a precipice into an abyss, silvered, with a tint of chickens, on the off-chance of some guidance in the language.
aspects of off off chill off slivers
the war off language off hints
off dynamic asparagus disturbance
off chance sheet guidance chickens
eye off dogs off
Scattered throughout the book are examples of Bennett's calligraphic vispo. On page 18 we find at the top left-center a smeared 'O' with tendrils sprouting from its center. The 'O' appears to have been made with an alphabet stamp, one which is slightly malleable to the squeeze. Held between thumb and middle finger, it has been pressed onto the ink pad, then pulled, quickly and briefly, from left to right against the paper.
On page 22 we find the same 'O' shape, and the traces of a similar process, but one which has left a very different record of its passage. The 'O' stamp has been inked, pressed onto the paper, then pulled from left to right, leaving a smear between the dark image to the left and its lighter replica to the right. Atop the 'O' to the left is what looks like a tiny, cartoonish tuft of hair, made with a single quick jerk of the marker against the page. Beneath the two 'O's, centered, is a sample of Bennett's polysemic calligraphy. I am reading it at the moment as "tic"
but in my experience Bennett's calligraphy has a history of shape-shifting, insisting on different readings during different times and mind-sets. I have never been able to see it as asemic, quite the opposite in fact (with the significant exception of Meat Receiving).* Semic of some sort, yes, of course, but the prefix it demands of me is not a-, it is poly-. Polysemic, then, (with the suffix -ic, to differentiate from polysemous, already in widespread use, and to resonate explicitly with asemic), a working definition of which might be "having an unstable, unpredictable excess of content, some of which is contradictory, some of which is swarming, and some of which is tangential and/or rhizomic." A definition which is intended, quite specifically, to be an opposite of the definition of asemic, which was, circa 1997, "having no semantic content."
On page 173, in the right margin, is a beautiful -- one might even say elegant, if we will permit ourselves to think "elegant" and "anarchic" simultaneously -- combinatory glyph. In the center are two stamped 'O's. For the top one the stamp has been squeezed from top to bottom so the stamped image is slightly elongated horizontally. For the bottom image the 'O' has been squeezed horizontally so the imprint is elongated vertically. The process for achieving the bottom image also included pulling downwards while applying added pressure with the thumb of the right hand. Perched atop the upper 'O' is a calligraphic 'M'. The tail of an exaggerated ascender snakes down the left side of the lower 'O', and ends, fully within the smear of the image, as an 'n', giving us "Moon" -- a morphing moon, a full moon, perhaps, giving birth to a waning gibbous moon.
It makes me dust off my Norton Anthology of English Literature, to check against a Google search for the following, from "Sir Patrick Spens"
"Late, late yestreen I saw the new moone
Wi' the auld moone in hir arme;
And I feir, I feir, my deir master,
That we will com to harme."
Wikipedia gives us the following, from Atkinson, David (2007). "Editing the Child Ballads". In Van Mierlo, Wim. Textual Scholarship and the Material Book. "Francis James Child collected some eighteen versions of Sir Patrick Spens. There is no one definitive version of more validity than any other, because the song continues in oral tradition and it may be interpreted in both the singing and the transcription."
The great game of poetry is always played by rules similar to these.
* There is no point in calling something writing if no one anywhere is ever going to attempt to read it. The power of asemic writing resides in the agon of a thwarted reading. In the second issue of Asemic Magazine (labeled Asemic 1, the first issue having been labeled Asemic Volume ~1), published in 1998, Tim Gaze included a piece by Bennett entitled Meat Receiving. It is the perfect example of what was meant by the term "asemic writing" during the last few years of the last millennium and the first few years of this one. It was made in 1977. On a sheet of graph paper Bennett has scrawled, from the left margin to just slightly beyond the right, an illegible quasi-calligraphic "phrase" which is so semantically seductive that I am still trying to read it. I am looking at it right now, twenty years after I first saw it, looking at it for perhaps the hundredth time, and I am still making an honest attempt to read it.
god to sin
god to sir
sod to gin
I am making this up, and I know it. But the attempt is irresistible. The sense of failure, the tension and the frustration -- solicited, evinced, evoked -- is irresistible. It is the strongest piece of asemic writing I have ever encountered, and I have encountered tens of thousands of pieces (including the many thousands of pieces I have made myself).
This is a little closer to what is actually there:
5od wlboh uuuih
What's the point in claiming to be reading this if our best efforts over twenty years yield a relatively uninteresting letterstring?
Bennett has called this writing "spirit writing" (a term he also used for my earliest calligraphic efforts, some of which he published in LAFT in 1997, and many of which Tim Gaze published as a small chapbook with that term as its title). "Meat Receiving" always makes me think of electricity, a graph of a very erratic wave pattern, perhaps a graph of electricity moving through a body, after that body has been struck by lightning.
Meat = body
wave pattern of electricity = spirit
The poem is finally quite readily readable. Once we know that Bennett called this "spirit writing", we know exactly what the "meat" is receiving.
Jim Leftwich is a poet who lives in Roanoke, Virginia. Recent publications include Volumes 1 , 2 & 3 of Rascible & Kempt (Luna Bisonte 2016, 2017, edited by John M. and C. Mehrl Bennett), Tres tresss trisss trieesss tril trilssss: Transmutations of César Vallejo (Luna Bisonte, 2018) and Sound Rituals, collaborative poems by jim leftwich & billy bob beamer (mOnocle-Lash, 2018, edited by Olchar Lindsann).