Believe the New Sensations: Salamun, Aase Berg, Peter Richards and the "Overjoy" of Poetry

by on Mar.04, 2013

“Imagine the sinhome not as figure but as ground: a potent, non-neutral ground, a giant stain. This would square well with the vaginal connotations of the sinthome, in patriarchy a wound that is also a space.” (Timothy Morton, Ecology Without Nature)

I’m reading Tomaz Salamun’s book On the Tracks of Wild Game (first published in the 70s in Slovenia, recently published in translation by Ugly Duckling). I fucking love this book. So weird and unsettling but beautiful:

I was pulled under water. I swam back to the surface
as a dark blue
gleaming blossom. It’s terrifying to be
a lower. The world came to a halt. I bloomed quietly
like velvet, as if forever.

(from Plato, Islam, Barnett Newman)

The poems are these volatile zones shot through with violence and tenderness, zones of transformation, ambient zones that takes over the reader, takes us in like “dark blue gleaming blossom.”



In his reading of Peter Richards’ Helsinki (Action Books, 2011) in Jacket2, “Devisable Matter and Sheer Overjoy” (great title), Christopher Condrich keeps emphasizing two elements: the sense of a placeless, volatile place and a near-narrative that is more the “vestiges of narrative” than a traditional narrative. Within the space set up in the poem, his reading “shapeshifts and morphs.” In the “funhouse” space of “visual trickery,” the “I” becomes both everywhere and “nowhere”; background and foreground, inside and outside seem to meld. Throughout he emphasizes how the “sensory” stuff of the poem “wash[es]” over him. It is in this visceral, absorbing zone – that strives not toward the critical distance of good taste and morality of language post language poetry – that Condrich finds the “overjoy” of his title. This seems to be something like a post-Romantic (language is foregrounded, problematized) sublime, an environmental, ambient zone of a poem. I think this is a really good review, good description of an awesome book.

(Interestingly, I read the manuscript for this book way back in like 2003, long before I had even started Action Books, while visiting Peter – before we got beat at ping pong by Harvard’s international students – and I was immediately blown away. I frequently wondered why it wasn’t published over the next few years until Brian Henry and Tomaz Salamun both suggested Action Books publish the book. Which we happily did.)

Jamie Grefe’s review of Aase Berg’s Dark Matter (Black Ocean, 2013) is similar to these two experiences in that it emphasizes how the poem pulls him into a volatile zone where identities are troubled, a sensorily intensive zone, a zone not of critical distance but the kind of “overjoy” that does not easily divide horror from joy:

Broken, I have no way to wrap myself around Berg’s shell, but to sink in wonder. I wonder how, to the poet or the character of these poems, this may be wisdom or a warning or a love-trail of abandonment. And if these lines deceive you, too, know that to enter DARK MATTER is to drift in a zone where terrors bubble up, fester. It is not an easy space to enter. Prepare. Judging by the inadequacy of the words written here today, it is a much harder thing to articulate in terms of a “review.” Perhaps these pieces are “The temptingsondepth’s hearing” of its own howls. This is how space would sound if you were enclosed in a shell, a shell to float into the black of space. There we could be silent knowledge. It could be there, in a poem, where we finally disappear.

This review is a very intense, affected reading of the text, describing the “stuff”, the “sheerstuff”, the overjoy stuff, the poetry that affects us intensively.

It’s really a joy to see these kinds of responses to texts that I love.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    The devisable matter and overjoy can be found in this poem (online!):