Friday, May 7, 2010

The Final Chapter: Exhibiting Your Zither

Charles Xavier, X-treme Measures. Before I begin discussing Xavier’s poetry, I should point out the difficulty in finding an X poet. At first, I considered reading The Brand X Anthology of Poetry, an uneven collection of parodies, but neither the authors nor the editor, William Zaranka, have names that begin with X, so I would be selecting it based on its title, which doesn’t, in case you’ve forgotten, comply with the guidelines of my project. Besides, to be honest, that rather bulky anthology is best encountered in bits & pieces rather than as a whole. I also thought about substituting any poet who has X as an initial somewhere in his/her name–for instance, X.J. Kennedy or Frank X. Walker–but again, such alternatives seemed to bend to the point of breaking the rules, however arbitrary they may be (the rules, not Kennedy & Walker).

Rather than calling X an unsolvable variable in an algebraic equation, I decided to look to other genres on my shelves in hopes I could reclassify any of these works, which is to say, honor them as poetry. I thought about The Autobiography of Malcolm X, but as it turns out, X isn’t actually his last name. (True story–in reality, Malcolm is the mysterious Racer X, who, unbeknownst to all, is Speed Racer’s older brother Rex, believed to have died in a car crash.)

Finally, as I determined nothing fit the bill, an inner voice, not mine, reminded me that “any dream worth having is a dream worth fighting for.” Yes, that voice belonged to Charles Xavier. As a mutant poet, Xavier says his book, X-treme Measures, remains unpublished–out of necessity.

Why? According to Xavier in “Imagine That,” written on my mind’s blank pages:

Poetry has the power
to crack the firm-
ament & extinguish
suns. Imagine that
in the wrong hands.

His point–he must keep his poetry out of print for the sake of humanity–of which I am in complete agreement. However, that doesn’t mean he’s abandoned his poetic dream. In “Parting Gift,” he explains through metaphor & telepathy, opening my mind to the appropriate page: “It appears if I am ever/to achieve my dream I will/need you to walk me there.” Ultimately, he concludes, “The greatest power is the magnificent/power we all possess–the power/of the human brain!”

This telepathic transmission lends the book an eerie, dream-like quality, for only the mind's eye can read it. As you may have guessed, because of my agreement with Xavier, I can’t share the whole of his collection, but he has consented to allow me to reprint, along with the above snippets, the beginning lines from “Mutant Heaven”:

Death & birth are the same. When one
stops, new possibilities open up.

No pearly gates, but revolving doors.
No species rule. There’s room for all.

Truth is, I don’t recommend X-treme Measures; even its title comes across as juvenile. But–I hasten to add before inflicted with a mega-migraine–it’s strikingly memorable. Indeed, it often proves impossible to get Xavier’s verse out of your head, even if you don a fancy state-of-the-art helmet like Magneto. Obviously, you must first train against telepathic attacks before the telepathy-blocking technology will do you any good.

Dean Young, Elegy on Toy Piano. Full-disclosure: I’m a big fan of Dean Young, which is, in fact, how I introduced myself when I met him at the 2000 Vermont College writers’ workshop, which you may read about in one of my previous blog entries ("D'oh," May 19, 2007). In the ensuing conversation, I erroneously attributed a David Lehman poem to him, which apparently made an impression. For in “Lives of the Mortals,” he uses the idea I presented to him:

If only.
And that’s all the further that sentence goes,
a dependant clause with nothing to depend on,
a ladder with nothing to prop against but clouds
which are a form of emptiness
made opaque.

Clouds, then, serve as the antithesis of Marcel Duchamp’s La Boite-in-Valise in which the contents are visible, but the meaning, as Tim Martin says in Essential Surrealists, is opaque--but I digress, which is Young’s forte. In this book, Young, a virtuoso not unlike Schroeder (Peanuts) in skill & stature, plays the toy piano as if tinkling the ivories of a baby grand with his characteristic wit & intelligence, as in the title poem. But that isn’t to say that he never hits a sour note. “Learn by Doing,” for instance, reads like a failed automatic writing experiment:

The device in the last line recalls Pope but the aftertaste is purely Crabbe.
You don’t want to know.
No, really.
The one with hearsay through the head like the body politic.
You and whose army

Later, he continues to mail it in–or as he might say:

Let them eat fakery.
Touch my eel.
The electric guitar parts confiscated by elevators.
The naked parts intercepted by disclaimers WHAM.
Why bother lyrics.
You write like you don’t know the meaning of a single word.
Singed world.

My favorite books by Young are Strike Anywhere, Skid, & First Course in Turbulence, in which Young seems to actually–if I may split an infinitive–care with an almost Kenneth Koch-ian passion about poetry. That said, a few bad to innocuous poems don’t put me off Young. If his poetry is on the menu, I still recommend it, though you may want to ask Nick, your server tonight, who, after some thought, will no doubt suggest “Lemon Garlic Duck,” which I also like, but, to be different, I’m going with the chef salad, “Bathed in Dust and Ash.”

Paul Zimmer, The Great Bird of Love. This book received praise from likes of Raymond Carver, Susan Sontag, Hayden Carruth, Maxine Kumin & William Stafford (who selected it as part of the 1989 National Poetry Series). These “quirky” poems are, according to Stafford, “full of surprise, variety, humor.” All true–when Zimmer succeeds (“Zimmer Succeeds,” feel free to use it as a title sometime, P. Zim) as in the title poem, but at other times, his predilection for referring to himself as Zimmer sounds a little too much like Henry Pussycat-speak to my ear. Did Zimmer have Berryman’s Dream Songs in mind? Eh, whatever. I view this collection as a mixed bag, in which some poems work better than others & some, like my relatives in Bluefield, barely work at all. Personally, I like the short poems, “Winter” “How Birds Should Die” & “The Tenth Circle,” all of which appear 100 percent Zimmer-free. Ultimately I may not necessarily recommend The Great Bird of Love, but it honestly wouldn’t kill you to read it.


Zack said...

I really appreciate your wit.

I've seen Xavier's "Parting Gift," at least its conclusion, on city buses and in malls next to "Math is Power" or "Be all you can be but yourself be free," which is an attempted King Crimson rip-off (I don't really care for being happy with what I have to be happy with).

I've very seriously enjoyed this project of yours. As I've mentioned, it takes me back to your (our) classroom, and not the time when my lung collapsed and I drove myself to the hospital, but the informative, ha-ha moments when truth exposed itself (and not to the point of leaving no room for imagination... Her blouse so promiscuous), words breathed (though some needed mints), and one hell of a bard in the class's front refused to let a pun fly by unnoticed, so as to always make the class aware of the true beauty and art of language.

Happy Mother's Day, friend.

Matt Morris said...

Thank you, Zack, once again for your comments. I'm glad you've enjoyed my poetry project.

(I live there, you know, in the poetry projects, one of many down & out poets, hanging out on poet's corner, trying to score an ode or a sonnet while waiting for that epic poem that will someday, someway take me to the top, far away from this dark existence.)

You may enjoy hearing that I may begin the project anew after a brief hiatus to read something light like--I don't know, Leaves of Grass--for the summer.

When you first remarked my book kaff reviews kaff reminded you of class, I decided to approach them more in the vein of my lectures, which is to say, puff them up quite a bit, not unlike, I suppose, the aforementioned promiscuous blouse, which reminds me--thanks for the suggestion!

I doubt everyone would share your opinion about my fatal, if not pre-natal--yes, a topical Mother's Day joke--attraction to puns, but if I made you more aware of the beauty & art of language, I'm pleased.

However, don't sell yourself short. You learn on your own & your interest & talent in literature, creative writing, & the arts in general contributed to what you took from the classes, which says nothing about the ink pen you "borrowed" & never returned.

Ah, what the hell--keep it & keep writing! Have a good one!

Zack said...

I'm not sure whether I really borrowed a pen or you used it to make a funny, which I enjoyed by the way. I began thinking about possible instances where that could have happened. I am one to absentmindedly throw a pen into my bag. There's also a slight chance that I realized the might of the pen and, after having become demoralized, realized my mind's dependency on its strange power.

Either way, -- only if I mentioned two possibilities -- I feel like I owe you something.

Matt Morris said...