Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Somewhat confirming my notion that an A Tonalist is also an antinomian is the opening of Norma Cole’s AT ALL, a book that is built in relation to Tom Raworth and his collages. I just read it yesterday. It is composed of Raworthian collages, but also includes that most curious member of the Royal Society of Science, Robert Hooke. His Micrographia is itself a kind of collage, and lodged in Norma’s poem, represents an unusual example of the collage with historical roots, and a list at that, of things in the world. Within Norma's book, it serves to suggest how history can be used to reclaim the present, not condemn us to the repetition of the same old complaints about what's wrong with it. Hooke serves here ironically to also suggestthat art itself is not a "royal science", of the sort Deleuze condemned for serving the State. There's a becoming-minor in AT ALL, the sense of collage as a form of radical humility, often a kind of unlearning all things royal. There are subversive gestures, a little fun poked at a Major Stickwell who is used to assert a sense of A Topia, an unwillingness to chase commodities: Referring to a hard to find kind of glue, Norma writes after a long list of places she might have to visit to find some, "I'm sure I will [get it], some day." For now, it seems, there is something to savor in being amid all the collage, where realism can't really reign. In a world saturated with commodities, maybe realism is untenable because the real world (of commodities) is untenable. Just be here now playing with the laws.

Here's a quote from AT ALL that suggests A Tonalism: "I really have no sense of questing for knowledge. At all. My idea is to go the other way, you know. And to be completely empty and then see what sounds."

Norma often uses a lot of quotes and almost always attributes them. I’ve often wondered about this, also when reading Laura. Laura sometimes doesn’t attribute the quote and when I once asked her about a specific one, she told me where it came from but also that she didn’t want people to know. It turns out she stole the quote from some remark in a tabloid. This theft isn’t particularly helpful in understanding her poetry though, but it got me thinking. See, I sometimes don’t love the citations in the middle of Laura’s and Norma’s work if I’m listening to them read it. They have this odd a-lyrical but lyrical tension going one when suddenly the citations jar me in a way that doesn’t challenge me. Turns out it maybe isn’t supposed to. Still, alone reading their work I like to know where they are getting things and the music usually picks back up. Anyway, it seems like if you cite the person, you are acknowledging the legitimacy of the copyright, or some notion of property at least. But you’re also acknowledging the intellectual work, so not exploiting it. In fact, in a way, you increase its circulation and in that way challenge the idea that property rights are based on the fundamental law of economics— scarcity. In the economies of information, though, the most widely successful piece of data is the one that is distributed most widely.

I’ve long thought that experimental poetry precisely because of its “unpopular” status is the most ripe place to explore notions of the Gift economy, as articulated by Marcel Mauss and later Marshal Sahlins.

Giving stuff away of course made The Grateful Dead immensely popular with is taping fans. Though this begs the question, what did they get in return? Plenty. But this might not seem so bad if transferred to poetry. I realize there are real costs and things. I’m not talking about that right at the moment because to do it justice I’d need my copy of Bataille’s The Accursed Share and I can’t find at the moment. I’m talking about the ethical challenge it suggests. Bataille suggests the supremacy of the gift given without an expectation of return.

Norma always seems to GIVE her immense reading away in her writing. The quotes for some reason don’t seem like “a look how smart I am, I actually read this book while you only saw it cited in the footnotes in some undergrad class.”

Often the quotes form a dialogic with the more lyrical collaged moments, but they also illuminate and let the reader orient. It seems more like a “I want you to see how I got here” kind of gesture. Or a “if you like that, here’s where you can get more.”

Anyway, I really just wanted to thank Brent & Neil for publishing AT ALL. Contact them for your copy of this book. It's very antinomian. Early on it says, “What if, in the non-oppositional mode, he drew upon the senses to begin to make this form, and made play of the laws?” This question I think is common to almost all the A Tonalists on this list, whose work I’m busy reading as much as I can find.

One caveat: We all know Taylor works wonderfully in the oppositional mode, but still he has these love poems in Yesterday’s News that suggest something of the gift economy and the ethical challenge, to love anyway, from a state of abundance that capitalist modernity would suggest does not exist. A love that does not need to be loved, to paraphrase that little minx Spinoza. Or maybe not. But there’s at least a commitment to something ancient about love, that there’s something worth conserving in the notion. Maybe not agape or eros, but philia. It’s easy to be cynical about love and love poems, but the challenge is perform both anyway.

Alongside Taylor’s fervent anti-capitalism, you’ll find things like In the Unfinished Bathroom that finds love where you most likely would expect only a mediation by the commercial or some lousy metaphor of love as “work”. He seems to find through excavation and labor “a topia” where experiencing love goes on anyway, perhaps more out of study rather than work, something more right now than labor exchange is:

for Tanya

by sluice of gray cold by
the open window stripping

wall down to lath and plaster

by the by to locate
or to the ablative

dust in the ablutions

washed smudge of locale
back across the back and the buttocks
clenched almost blue and only shocked

hair clearing topsoil says hello stranger

pouring water from the bowl I’ll be
your archaeology this morning

Taylor's work is also about places, A Topias, a reclaiming of the present: "Since I am in love and in the world. Neither is given in advance where what advances is the war."


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