I’m excited if you’re excited.
And I think you’re probably excited.
Are you excited?
I think I’m excited whether or not you’re excited.
And it’s embarrassing.
But it’s too late. We’re having a conversation.
I don’t know when all the talking picked up (late aughts?) but it’s only too visible now—I don’t think we’ve heard this much collaborative noise from poets since the sixties-thru-seventies? Last night I did a little online magazine check, just to be sure I wasn’t smoking the vapor of coincidence—got bored after counting a few dozen collaborations, bored only to be counting and not reading. Magazines, but we’re having books as well. A few of what’s exciting me: CAConrad & Frank Sherlock with The City Real & Imagined; Jon Cotner & Andy Fitch with Ten Walks / Two Talks; Alli Warren & Michael Nicoloff with Bruised Dick; Jen Hofer & Patrick Durgin with The Route, Brandon Shimoda & Phil Cordelli with six installments of The Pines; Brandon Shimoda & Sommer Browning with The Bowling; Brandon Shimoda & twenty some-odd collaborators figured as “Headmaidens and Bridesmen” in The Alps…
Brandon Shimoda’s The Alps (flim forum press, 2008). Dead middle is a titled section “the Headmaidens & Bridesmen”, in which twenty some-odd poets (named in the acknowledgments) contribute poems, each erected below twenty-five empty square frames, centered, all at the same alignment, as cells in a film to suggest—what exactly? The occasional alpine glades of Guy Maddin’s tribute to silent German mountain film, Careful? In which the folks of Tolzbad can talk and move freely without fear of pricking an avalanche? The empty frames as visual referees for the antic dialogue of silent film? Interesting, as ‘avalanche’ and ‘snow’ throughout the book hazard terrifying slippage with atomic blast and nuclear winter. The empty frames as lodges for the apophatic, the unspeakable? Interesting, as the poem ends with a quote from Thomas Merton’s “La Salette”. Merton the Trappist monk whose practice of silence (though not the popularly imagined literal vow) was informed by an understanding of Zen practice as coinciding with that of the Desert Fathers. “La Salette” begins: “Ventured to stand upon the pastured grass of the high Alps”. I looked up the poem, it happened to be in the slim selected Merton I have—Shimoda leaves only one stanza out of the “quotation”. And it’s the only stanza in the poem which locates us in the atomic century: “John, in the might of his Apocalypse, could not foretell / Half of the story of our monstrous century, In which the arm of your inexorable Son… Has bombed the doors of hell clean off their hinges.”
Shimoda: “I love the way bread explodes when pulled apart by two people.” There’s a motivated turn in this phrasing. And it serves as a figure for collaboration, not as the sharing of bread by people coming together, but the explosion of bread in that custom’s overlooked gesture of severance and retreat.
Collaboration supersedes methodology in The Alps—it becomes figuration. The collaborators are the headmaidens and bridesmen. Their texts are clued to the book’s concerns, but we’re not informed how and to what extent. The blank frames which crown their entries are mimicked by a sort of formal reversal in the (presumably) single-authored sections. Clipped lines of verse, alternating flush right and left so as to trace a square and center-aligned field of text, pose (or threaten) a sort of formal trespass on the collaborators’ headstones. This trespass is so cleanly animated, yet the stakes and motivations of its figures are constantly redoubling. Chorus vs. solus. Solus as chorus. Silence, noise, east-west. Capture, neutrality, frame, subjection, release. Rabbits vs. abbots. Because…
The book opens to a candid of two boys, likely brothers, possibly Shimoda and his brother, propped on a swing in bunny costumes—the younger staring down the camera with a look of blame, mopery or boredom, the older with his head either cocked back in anguish or rolling with bliss. Is it cocked or rolling? Is the other kid stoic, aggrieved or just full of nice soda? You’d need video or live witness to disambiguate the expressions “captured” in the frame. You’d need private and impossible access to the real moment’s full duration. Think of the irony in Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s photographs of Merton. Capturing the monk in a still photo, where his stillness and silence are rendered beyond unremarkable, just plain to the medium.
Merton became, to the surprise of anyone, a camera enthusiast after his experience with Meatyard. His photos were described by friends and critics as “natural, unarranged, unpossessed objects of contemplation” “liminal” “propositions of change” “uninterested in capturing Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’” “he did not seek to capture or possess”. So the monstrous formal animation of The Alps. Monstrous because constantly redoubling with motivation and argument. Too restless and living for capture.
Back to the family candid. It’s never a straight pitch, but there’s a trace of family narrative provisioning the book’s east-west movement and counter-movement, as in here: “I love tongues, I love beef tongues, I love to sink my hand sideways / Into beef tongues. They said my grandfather bit off / His tongue and spit it / Out the window of the train carrying him from the south.” This isn’t to say, at all, far from it, that these personal tracings are posed as guarantors for the book’s historical screen. Which would be the danger of just ending this post with the above. Which I almost did. Mistake. But I feel the same seizure reading alone. How do you leave The Alps?
Back again to the snapshot. We can’t help hearing “abbot” in “rabbit-suit”. By example, the book shows us to hear it. We might later be drilled to hear “hear” in “hare”. And then, reward, be treated to vapor-like columns of h’s. And be drilled to hear expiration.
It’s a drag, but an obvious drag, we don’t have the authority to invite new headmaidens to The Alps. So here’s trespass:
Jared Stanley, from “Inner Voice”
in The Outer Bay (Trafficker Press, 2008) :
My voice was so outside
that it was on a mountain
when it died
when quiet was quiet
and everything diluvian
on the outside, so I listened.
“You” was not only not a poem, then,
it was air.