by Joyelle McSweeney on Nov.28, 2011
I am a techno-mystic poet and I love mystic poets, even when the content of their mysticism (Humanity; Humanism; God) contrasts with mine (Non- or Ab-humanity; the Inhuman;Art). I feel like we are driving towards the same thing: revelation: the point at which the medium of the poem, the cave we have built with language and image in order to spelunk through, goes suddenly convex, bursts back at us with an unsurvivable strafing content. For me that content is Art, mediumicity itself, dark matter; for nicer people, it’s God, compassion, etc.
In the case of Alice Notley’s Culture of One, that relevatory force is Mercy, though I think her Merc y is of such multiply positive and negative valences that she goes in both categories. The Sublime, it seems to me, goes in my camp: it’s just Pow’r, Pow’r itself, and like a horifically high dose of radiation, it has no message of healing for us at all.
The translator Sarah Valentine and Wave Books have made it possible for we Anglophones to finally read Into the Snow: Selected Poems of Gennady Aygi (tho’ Aygi poems are all over the internet on blogs etcs as well as in several indie press editions). Valentine’s very engaging introduction makes Aygi’s eminence clear, as well as the drama of his 20th century life; one of the greatest avant garde poets of the former Soviet Union, he stopped writing in his native Chuvash language because to do so earned it the label of ‘hostile poetry’; at the same time, he changed his name to a typically Chuvash surname, in order that his minority identity would not be eradicated, even as he went on to write in Russian and publish outside the country in smuggled and samizdat editions.
I enjoyed the breathless texture and brevity of these poems– as if they could barely bear themselves– but most of all I liked the light and limbic and almost chitininous mysticism of the earlier poems in the book. My favorite is “Dream: Flight of the Dragonfly.” This poem starts out in a radiant nowhere, alight on the confused and desperate drafts of catastrophe. It begins:
but bright—as if the soul were in a burned-out barn
I love the Hopkins-esque seizure of this—each ceasura a clenching or spasming, the burned-out barn seemingly built from the blacked-out inversion of the fire itself. The poem continues:
and the lake restless as a sleeping
resistance camp: oh just as you would slowly trace a beauty’s face
with a white Japanese flower!
across haystacks like white roses
slow and quiet
I love how the individual clarity of each phrase invites us into its intimacy with ecstacy with that pronoun ‘you’, yet overdoes its similizing, keeps bringing the white flower back up, so that the white flower is like the interruption of beauty into the landscape, the little white hand of messanic time stroking the landscape and pulling up little exclamation point-sized erections out of the poet and the earth.
Those faces/haystack/flowers return in the final compacted/impacted image of the poem, which is set in parentheses not so much to mark it as ‘apart from’ or as ‘commentary’ as to drive the image even more compactly together, so that the content of relevation cannot survive its own relevation but gets converted into mediumicity of revelation itself: a mise-en-abyme of ecstasy:
(to the death in blue night
of that faintly shining mind
into his head as if made of roses
dashing themselves down with love).
This self-obliteration of the rose-mind with roses is love. An obliterative mise-en-abyme of love. Not a nurturing but annhilating live. Inhuman. Rose. (Aygi, as Valentine’s introduction makes clear, was a humanist and would not share my reading.)
Reading Aygi, I think of Seyhan Erocelik, Artaud, Rimbaud, Alice Notley, St. Therese of Liseux, John Clare, Blake, Artaud. In my perversity, I think of Lars Von Trier and Andy Warhol.
Mystic poets of Montevidayo, this book is bejeweled with minor ultimates and I lovingly invite you to order it this Holiday Season TM.