Posts Tagged ‘Alex Walton’

Alex Walton on Robert Fernandez

To kick off the second week of our feature of Robert Fernandez’s poetry, we’ve asked friend-of-THERMOS Alex Walton to write about Pink Reef. — AS

A Note on Pink Reef

Usually I’m thinking about this part of the Marvell quote: “Meanwhile the Mind, from pleasure less, / Withdraws into its happiness […] Annihilating all that’s made / To a green Thought in a green Shade.” But in the ellipsis, between “happiness” and “Annihilating,”

                    The Mind, that Ocean where each kind
                    Does streight its own resemblance find;
                    Yet it creates, transcending these,
                    Far other Worlds, and other Seas;

— which a perhaps worthless gloss once told me Marvell references a “then-current doctrine” of pseudozoology in which each land-animal was supposed an aquatic complement: horses and seahorses, mermaids, mermen, and people. (Sir Thomas Browne frowned on this theory in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica. He did not stamp it out.) Charming and bizarre theory, I remembered it this weekend, thinking over Pink Reef, the second book of poems from Robert Fernandez– what quality does the ocean have that makes us look for our resemblance there– not our exact semblance, not saltwater Narcissi, but in uncanny form, the seahorse looking the horse in the mouth. We have a persistent sense of an obscure submarine self-sufficiency, a completeness unto itself, which must, if complete, contain some reprised versions of our own lives, intelligences, constructions. And threatening as it mirrors: “Few eyes have escaped the picture of mermaids.” (–Tho. Browne again.) When at low tide that wettest trope of sublimity retreats, we are confronted by a spitting, crawling, particoloured yard of hissing jellies and festery barnacles, Ernst Haeckel’s sweet-shop, you know it, one is uncomfortable among these forms of life which (animal or vegetable? or mineral? industrial trash washed back up?) if they reprise or repeat our life, may do so satirically; difficult to tell. Pink Reef (whose pink is what – human? blood in the water? coral encrustation?) has that uncanniness and that pulsing, hissing life to it; the encounter of “streight its own resemblance find” just as it occurs between the mind, in its withdrawn happiness, and the annihilating thought. “How strange to be called F-e-r-n-a-n-d-e-z.”

A “candied light of a distinct South Beach nihilism” (Fernandez, ex-Floridian, in an interview) showing through the title, through dolphins variously quartered or apostrophized, does not imply any ruminating on this or any other attitude, landscape, system. Not ruminating anything: active with coral’s living, distributed vigor from the smallest scale upward; a restlessness through, not with, poetry; the questing-in-place through which spirit might appear, not as an apparition before but as the appropriator of ourselves and our material reality, together, in an objectively audible coach. (Conch?) Beyond this self-requirement to be ceaselessly in motion, to posses by music whatever material is at hand (and regard everything possible as material), it gives no proscription as to what may occasion, or carry, poetry. Forms expedited: flat-rate, compact, signature confirmation; not book- or bulk-rate. To be free from feeling that poems ought conform to their own idea of lyric, or virtuosity– is virtuosity; for these poems to attend to and certify their individual rhythms goes far further into poetry than any hovering attempt to subvert or interrogate Poetry.

                    I have compared thee, O my love,
                    to a smear of gold teeth in Pharaoh’s chariots

in one place,

                    & clop, clip-i-
                    ty clop

in another. I would like to mention the Polyhedron as a figure here, “Polyhedron” being the title of the first poem in Fernandez’ first book, We Are Pharaoh: “Intending to begin at the billowing page,” beginning instead at interlocking angles, joined surfaces, “Think of the bardo as 2,700 intersecting tiles”; in other words think of an intermediate state, the space between you and anything, as if states themselves were something angular, irregular, and investigable as Durer’s solid. The sections of “Polyhedron,” the poems in Pink Reef, fit that way: shared edges (returned images and objects: blood, roe, discs, violets, many more), and heavy repetition inside individual poems. Across one face of the solid flashes clear imagery; its opposite side quotes a joke; the adjoining side detourns it; one’s metaphor becomes another’s ground; those turned part way away, grow obtuse and thin in perspective, but stay in sight. “Imagines itself a Cadillac- / mouthed cupid” — which is fantastical, impossible, and then, when the grille becomes a grill— an image of intense complexity and vivacity. What returns does so not as gratuitous hieropanting [sic] but as the seams and edges of that solidity we feel or desire to feel in reality. There is, throughout, an obstinate insistence on a material reality of such density that each thing slides out from another like rows of overlapping scales, as if the fact of overcrowding were the source of the metaphoric faculty. But the testament of that reality is not in trying to apply fixative to a single transcendent image; it is, rather, in the sound one makes of it. As in Zukofsky when Zukofsky says:

                    One can go further, try to dissect capillaries or intelligent nerves– and speak of the image
                    felt as duration or perhaps of the image as the existence of the shape and movement of the
                    poetic object. The poet’s image is not dissociable from the movement or the cadenced
                    shape of the poem.

That “cadenced shape,” I mean, is not only how and where we encounter ourselves (our voices), but how we can be made to feel the entrenchment of things in themselves. Not unrelatedly, Pink Reef’s alternations between the flesh as hunks of meat under a dicey MRI and at the flesh as intricate, delicate systems of separate (nervous, skeletal, circulatory) self-life-support clarify that the view that seems more gruesome is in fact less terrifying, in the sense that a true vision of the working circulatory systems is far more unsettling than the sight of spilled blood.

Rimbaud, his verve, fired pupils, drunken boat knocking between everything that could be in language as language, is a precedent spirit, and when Robert quotes (not, I should say, without reservation) his statement that the poet might, for instance, “die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things [n.b. “charging through” not: “seeking to name” -AW]: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed!” it is clear that the show of fragility and the show of intensity are unavoidably one; one is already a bull, already in the china shop. Poetry is the ensuing. And the china, Rimbaud’s opulence, is in Fernandez’s poems compacted and recapitalized by available, mythic brands: “Cartier chariots strung with pearls”; “ecstasy’s Versace”; Chanel; Jeff Koons; “a pearl farrari / [approximating] the angel of history.” It makes sense: all that toil and cash to pack a whole atmosphere into the brand-name each season; which name, redeployed in poetry, can spread perfume with concision.


                    one who flatters a lyre
                    clips the spine’s fused discs,
                    spreads the mind’s bloodied butter
                    on flat, brittle, cold dry toast

But wait:

                    just the smiles
                    (just the smiles)
                    just the smiles

Here and elsewhere, whether exactly echoing or wholly departing, each line responds to the line before with as much attention as the mind might bring; but it is the ear attending. This may sound obvious. It is a rarity in poetry. Pink Reef is a pleasure: a record of a hypnotic attention, not hypnotized, that makes things dream awake. “Look in thy ear and write!” (Zukofsky-Pound-Sidney). If the variety of, if the extent of, a fantastic imagination is coextensive with the variety we see in reality, it endures for us with that reality: much in the way it is the Ocean’s magnitude, more than the incidental existence in it of seahorses, lions, and other such complements, that seem to make it promise a total complement of the terrestrial. That alternately primordial and avant-lapsarian “soup is / all the good stuff / mixed in.”


THERMOS 2: Alex Walton

Alex Walton’s poem with oranges has always seemed like a gift to me, something handed over after lunch and thereafter always available at just the right moment. — AS


New Oranges

Does each orange contain a mite? Or more than
one? How many mites form a colony? Is there a particular
“orange mite” and what are its adaptations? How long
is gestation? What is a gestation? Is this a salutation?
A diversion? What are the nourishing effects of the “Spanish
Orange?” What is the most superior recipe for marmalade? And
are all of these true oranges, or are some of them fakes?
(Trompe l’oeil increases the amount of reality in the world. No?
Or something else entirely?) What is the lifespan of the mite
compared with the orange? Do the mites have names? Do the mites
have a name? According to the sign, this mite has been named for
Otto von Bismarck – it is the Bismarck Mite. It is special to Austria
but here it is, in Spain. Some animals are migratory; some
are not. A magnet in your brain is one good reason to travel,
providing both an initial impulse and a guiding influence.
One may also travel in the name of unrequited love, where requition
is withheld at least in part by insufferable distance – insufferable distance
is different than impartable closeness. The latter is the case
of Romeo and Juliet, and Tristan und Isolde as well as in stories
of divine passion for the human stuff, and in Roman Holiday.
And it can rarely be overcome, since the lovers
are victims of “circumstance” which is not
surmountable by transportation—e.g., a sea plane
plus alpine skiing, or a brisk walk across
interceding hills— Transportation takes many forms,
and though it is not a distinct sign of “human difference,” since even rabbits
have been known to form crude snowshoes, and I have one time
seen a zebra ride another zebra for a number of miles,
certainly the internal combustion engine, and roller skates
are sufficiently peculiar to provoke a state of agitated interest,
in pursuit of some evidence of our own pecularity as a form of
“beast”; certainly the pogo stick is a sign, in us, of beauty
due to some great excess in the proportion (probably
of the brain, though perhaps of the esophagus, larynx, or spine)
which is a formula of Poe explaining, unintentionally,
why the golden rectangle is inherently more pleasing and
“popular” than the square, though the square
may be more “perfect,” the division of its side lengths
resulting in no sprawling fraction. The awake and literate may
take Poe to be contradicted by the recently
produced fact that according to the average opinion
(normalized for some strangeness in the statistical proportion)
more faces averaged together, “composited,”
into a single face, result in a face more of us
would love to love. And yet, a truth doubles back! Since the Lover’s face
suddenly visible across a sea of hors d’oeuvres and other faces
or the sense of it or the sound of its voice across a literal sea
of other things entirely (sailors, blue crabs giant squid, uncharted islands)
seems effective directly by its opposition to those other people
and things which intercede, for which one’s hair does not consistently
stand on end, nor stomach fill with what P.G. Wodehouse
called the intolerable screaming of the butterflies.
But some mysteries remain, and several thrilling. To be clear,
“unsufferable distance” is better refracted through the Odyssey,
at least from the perspective of Penelope. Another story, entirely,
may occur for Odysseus, since his own cargo, being bound up
to the washed mast of his heart, is borne everywhere but Ithaca;
but one may ascribe to him a virile kind of homeward
magnetism, similar to what is found in birds, and yet
to do so may be disingenuous to that brave scientist
who picked first apart the small magnetic node
of neurons in the birdbrain which compassed
swallows homeward—call it the “ferrule.” Call it
the little carrier. To travel even for the sake
of a good fruit may be valuable, since oranges may
be plucked from the tree without great damage
to it: in fact, a pleasing thing is to eat fruit, since it proposes both use
and delight but no great harm for Nature;
since for someone to carry the seeds is the most honest purpose
of a tree’s fruit— To be carried out into the world! In order, each thing
is carried by another, and maybe it is closer to home, then. Bismarck
Mites may be carried to Spain, which is not their home; their home is Austria;
“Who knows if this red string is ‘home’ in this nest—
maybe it was more at home in the ball of yarn!”
This is not a statement on aesthetics (not of the bird,
and not of the yarn) but on the way we see ourselves projected
out. “Look, this tree has a sense of home. It stays put.” No,
a tree is not migratory! “My love of home is a tree, then. My love of coming
home is a bird, then.” Well, perhaps. But I am ever
venturing somewhere unfamiliar—a territory, a Boston Tea Party. Out into the world
I say I have gone to get a new roll of tape, or “Surely
the hardware shop can sell me the new blade for this saw,
and so will I put an end to the stubborn tree.”
or “A new life awaits me in Austria or Kirkuk or
the Polar Ice Cap— I have only to seize it.” (Perhaps
this last is left on a note.) Like that, I have gone to get
new oranges. As these mites are carried off
into the universe by the oranges for no reason other
than the indiscriminate love of a live thing for every other
shaking and variously lightning-struck animated cell
I am bringing these oranges, which are the new oranges, home,
or towards home. They contain the Bismarck or perhaps
the von Bismarck mite; which it is, I have forgotten, but
I believe the mites will not endanger your body or soul
but may perhaps enlarge in you the possibility
of (at least) parallel universes in which not exactly but nearly
this occurs, perhaps the same words in a different order,
and even that world may be filled with doubters
and the great cosmic sneer of sarcasm
which even in this our own world, vast American
persons are needed to fix; which I am coming quickly now
towards fixing. Here: a sign,
explaining that it is not too far off,
and in fact since I am running, it will not be so long.
To know mathematics is a worthwhile pursuit
since it allows one to formulate the world into knowns
and unknowns, and unknowable unknowns,
and even to rank infinites, which is a superhuman
task. In truth (continues the sign) amid all this fact
what is needed today is a beauty not of the averaged
face at all, and a sweetness and light
not to be found in the heavy world of fact,
but something else completely.
And for that, there are these oranges.