Tim Van Dyke reviews Tim Earley

by on Sep.15, 2011

[Tim Van Dyke sent me this review of Tim Earley’s book, The Spooking of Mavens. Enjoy!]

A MINSTREL WILL HOUSE NEITHER;
A MINSTREL WILL SLEEP ON THE FLOOR

Tim Earley’s The Spooking of Mavens, which you can buy here, is a book that seems like Velimir Khlebnikov and Gertrude Stein partook in a tryst that produced one hell of a fucked up, funny minstrel baby. The language here is a Southern kin to zaum-sense, beyondsense, that language before and behind the mind, coupled with the theoretical and dialect-particular croonings of some Objectivist prophet.

What immediately strikes me in each poem is, first and foremost, the sound— a kind of careening maximalist explosion of lyricism that just doesn’t stop. Take for instance these lines, from “A Sober Induction of Wormwood Aporia:”

“finally, the reader, as robot, subaltern, or fuck-puppet, either desires affirmation or brutalization as his or her chemical directives surge/dictate, a mapping, a trace, a fucktarded *doppelganger,* a postlapsarian white person’s blues;…..”

There are several things to note here: the swipe at the reader as automaton not only to the poetry but also to his or her own body, the mingling of body and media as cyborg interface(s), the theoretical diction standing in for “high” diction, and the off kilter blitzkrieg of theoretical and vernacular language (that is present throughout the piece and the book as a whole), but what is noted first is its sound, its violent sonority on the page and against the ears, the “clanging sprockets” of speech that fall somewhere between incomprehensibility and tenuous credibility.

Take another set of lines, from an untitled piece:

“extra paraform. Mossy generation in the killed mothers in. put the ones down next to the ridiculously inferior topiary that want to be yours as per the dread as sleep. A separate green inside a positional or a tack, an unnerved abuse towards you I am throwing my dendritic miser.”

Now take Khlebnikov’s “Bo-beh-o-bi Sang the Lips”:

“Bo-beh-o-bi, sang the lips,
Veh-eh-o-mi, sang the glances,
Pi-eh-eh-o, sang the brows,
Li-eh-eh-ey, sang the visage,
Gzi-gzi-gzeh-o, sang the chain.
Thus on a canvas of some correspondences
Beyond dimension lived the face.”

This, I believe, is the substratum for Tim Earley’s poems.

Of course, one can find ways to read The Spooking of Mavens that are not on a level of sound and phonetics. It could be read as a sort of lexicon of continental French philosophy bumping up against the deranged but honest vicissitudes of Appalachian culture; it could be read as a paean to Cormac McCarthy’s character, Lester Ballard; it could be read as some kind of cyborg trampling the roots of rural Virginia; it could be read, in some ways, as a testament to outraged love— but, for me, the most rewarding experiences with the book were when I read it as a symphony of sound. In fact, I would recommend reading Khlebnikov’s poem before and after each reading of The Spooking of Mavens, as a kind of focus or cipher for the book itself.

Tim Earley’s sound is a caterwauling sow bereft of its shoat, not by Fate, but by the misplaced axe blow of a toothless farmer. It is maximal and lyric; it is, as I said, sonorous. The kind of ululation that John Cage might use in a composition or Schoenberg a movement (to produce different effects, of course). A sound like everbody’s favorite grandma having a heart attack, with the distempered rhythm of the heart broadcast over footage of the movie Pi. A sound that, like Khlebnikov’s, speaks first to the organs outside our senses, ekstatic organs that care not a whit whether coherence plays its hand or sense can be made.

“Bo-beh-o-bi” are the building blocks for such poetry. From another untitled poem:

“dwelled out of tune with months of particular strangers boastful in their plectrums their cigarettes simple stumbledown brains indigent flies in the milk. Post-hole zealously augment cloudlight and the mightiest river goes on to purport in terms of your fallward infancy divinates marl know devoured at length wormy cut himself with a coke bottle to make poison for the catechism…..”

The images are submerged in shifting interstices of sound, fragments of cohesion that melt into the ears and onto the eyes more often than they merge with the logic of the brain. Not that there isn’t architecture here. This is no self-conscious surrealist reflexivity. Tim Earley creates disjointed cabins of sound much the same way as Stein does in “Rooms,” the third section of Tender Buttons. The opening:

“Act so that there is no use in a centre. A wide action is not a width. A preparation is given to the ones preparing. They do not eat who mention silver and sweet. There was an occupation.

A whole centre and a border make hanging a way of dressing. This which is not why there is a voice is the remains of an offering. There was no rental.

So the tune which is there has a little piece to play. And the exercise is all there is of a fast. The tender and true that makes no width to hew is the time that there is question to adopt.”

And, again, Tim Earley, from “O, This Everyday Apparatchik Poem:”
“Some kind of brioche charlatan
Fixed in red the bird and hole
Tatter—lurch jesus first—in the tatter wing
Tapped out of what constitutive substance
Don’t rightly know the relational
There was carp down in the hole
Of bird what monologic perdition
Really I just want to straighten up…..”

Sound reigns supreme in both of these rooms. And not just sound, but a particular attention to words, each word read almost as a singularity apart from and, at the same time, deeply embedded in the architecture of the whole. Words that straighten up just so they can throw down on each other.

The words here are not as simple as Khlebnikov’s sound experiment. They have a particularity that belies any simplistic engagement with sound. The work reminds me of Aime Cesaire. Clayton Eshleman relates a story in which Cesaire is accused of using words like the nouveau riche, with abandon, and Tim Earley lives up to such a description, too. In fact, the surplus of verbiage in Tim Earley’s work far surpasses Stein and Khlebnikov in plethoric scope and glut.

All of this verbiage and sound gives the reader a sense of displacement or dysphoria while at the same time demanding a rigorous engagement with the sound of the poems. As that restlessness moves the reader across the page and through each poem, one is hard put to find something as pedestrian as meaning or “arc,” and one finds they care less and less for such things, instead, encountering an alien music played over a soundscape both familiar and frightening in its dimensions.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Kent Johnson

    It’s so great to see this post. I saw this book in manuscript a few years back and was blown away. Finally, someone has noticed it in this way. I’ve been thinking to write more fully on it myself, but alas. It is a singular work, I’m convinced. In fact, I have a blurb on the back of the book. Here is what it says:

    >To steal from another poet of the South: ‘It’s like ladling soup and a horse come out.’ Talk about surprise… I remember the old Lucipo list, where I first encountered Tim Earley. In the sometimes fraught discussions of that space, he always seemed perfectly reserved and reasoned: a young gentleman unruffled by the psychic and lexical excitements exploding about. So whereof this sudden Southern Gothic of lyrical extremis and gorgeous shock? I have no clue. I, for one, have never seen anything like it. This is wild, major work, as you will see. And it’s entirely right that its poet hails from Yoknapatawpha County.