Monday, May 09, 2005

Report to the Academy

A lovely reading at SOON the other night, if I do say so myself. Huge thanks to Josh, Karen, Theo and especially Aaron Tieger (formerly of Fishblog and editor of Carve), who produced an incredible broadside of Karl's and my poems, the front of which features various flarfish anagrammatizations of our names--reparable spank, preplan, rearbran planks, sparkler lark, sabre barrels. But all so violent? Thankfully, Aaron was kind enough to pull "rape" and "raper." You've got to take the whole onomastic name-as-destiny thing with a grain of salt, even some lithium carbonate, but I'm always thankful that, after the pot wore off, my parents decided against naming me Cosmos.

Karl read beautifully, with a Berrymanian application of precise and accurate pressures to individual words. Tempo, volume, a circumpsection before silence, all of these came together so that you could hear each and every pun, or in some cases hear yourself not quite getting it, which is the feeling I get and enjoy getting and not getting, incidentally, when I read Matthea Harvey's zany, delicious Sad Little Breathing Machine.

The humor in Karl's poems--by turns delicate, Kaufmanesque and then body-blow hilarious--primed the audience to pick up on the less frequent and less overt humor in my poetry. A truly great night, one to enshrine in increasingly fictionalized self-presentations for sure. I think I may have learned, finally, to accept and even enjoy compliments. Insults are next. And I found four people to look at mss.!

Here's the intro that I wrote for Karl:

One of the most annoying things that you can ask me about is audience—that is, to and for whom I write. Partly because I’m not sure I believe in audience and partly because like most good American-style humans with a persecution complex, I want everyone to admire me. But when I’m doing the work, when I’m writing the poem, if there’s anyone listening in on the process, anyone in my study, it’s probably Karl Parker.

When I first came to Cornell to do an M.F.A. in poetry writing seven years ago, I was keenly aware of how very little literature I had read, having subsisted on a Spartan diet of a few dozen creased and stained books. With Karl, I found an intensive-learning-program in literature and a sensibility and a mind that I could put faith in. I read Wittgenstein. I read Joyce. I read Beckett’s Trilogy. I could trust his sensibility, because I knew that for him this wasn’t a day-job, that literature was where he lived, that it was as necessary as air. Perhaps our connection has to do with the fact our given names both have similar derivations—a Karl is a person of common or low-birth, a churl if you will, and a Jasper is a rustic simpleton or hick. Our names can both take an indefinite article. For example, Wordsworth has the following lines: “He was a carl as wide and rude /As ever hue-and-cry pursued.” Or this one from 1898—“there were a lot of ‘Jaspers’ sitting around the stove, chewing tobacco and telling lies.” So, I could trust my inner hillbilly to his inner Scotch peasant. [Insert essay on the philosopher and psychologist Karl Jaspers here] Neither of us, I think, felt at home in the barrenly empirical world, and we recognized in each other this shared transience

I would rather read Karl’s poetry than just about anyone else’s, One of the virtues of these poems, one of their many immediately appealing qualities, is their humility—a humility that risks humiliation, and homelessness, and which realizes that only by admitting to such can it allow for the home-making, transformative powers of poetic thought. The speaker of these poems—a Karl or, if you will, a Jasper, whose inner autobiography belongs to any of us willing to suffer its little children and animals—resembles, in his humility, the Shakespearean fool or self-parodying stand-up comic or Beckettian protagonist whose errancies and misprisions give the lie to our prefabricated illusions. Their persistence in the face of folly is wisdom, and a home in homelessness. His poems achieve this by stressing utterance over reference and performance over recollection. Like Wittgenstein’s investigations, they start with the smallest and most basic of materials, and by troubling them reveal profound problems and profounder possibilities. They “make little airholes in doubt.” To read his poems is to read a primer on how to Houdini one’s way out of the tightest of spots, “through the holes, more than happy.”

1 comment:

didi said...

What a great intro you wrote.