Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Books of the Cliffs

incised inscription of dull pen on white black
mind clover mask and trumpet vine ripe with bees
steady crimson face of blood in etching copper knife
long sassafras fade from green to gold ember glisten
this fall, long autumn, when every tree glows as if the first day

unformed soul's preceptor, brilliant stick of lightning
sage of canvas written as flesh, honey and ice
long witness and evocation of fossil bones of owls
sea cliff remnant in breaking stone cliff waves over highway
this road not traveled since the world ended and began

logjam of unshelter, feelings never released into flesh
light of the touch, improbable destiny in orbit in escalade
tones of fire tonguing the waste long cliff fall shades
dancers around confocal firepit shadow cast dancing on stone
in the end ash sage ember gold flakes in a fitful wind

This is a newer poem in a form I haven't written in for awhile. It began as a form I invented or developed or discovered, take your pick, over a decade ago, which I used intensively for awhile. They are poems in the series I call the Books. Eventually I was planning to collect the best of these poems into an art book called The Books of Silence. I have some designs and illustrations and Photoshop art already for that project done, but I've never finished it. That might move closer towards being completed soon, as I am getting interested in book design and work again. Some of the first poems in the series can be read here.

Palimpsest 1, in the art style I'm thinking of using for the Books

The thing about writing a series of poems is: How do you know when it's complete? How do you know you won't be writing in that form anymore, or building on that series, or assembling poems in the same form? Where do you stop? Do you stop at all?

I've done several different poem series over the years. In truth, I don't always know when a series is done. I don't actively think about it very often. I just let it happen. When a series is done, or seems to be done, it takes awhile to notice that I haven't written anything in that form or series for awhile. Noticing can take months or years, in some cases. When you first notice, you ask yourself if the series is actually done, or if it's resting. At which point you can wait longer, to see what happens. or you can go ahead and collect everything in the series together, make a chapbook, and declare it done. If more poems in the series appear later, you can always add them in, or do a second series. Sometimes things dangle off the edges of intention. You can try to make your art absolutely symmetrical and managed, but life is messy, and that messiness will show up in your art. Control can be more illusion than reality.

Don't ask me to explain these poems. I can talk about the form, but the images and words themselves are somewhat mysterious, even to me. Some of these poems are very strange, even for me. This poem form is fractal in that it has similar language and imagery on multiple scales. It's been compared to haiku, in that each line can be read as like a haiku. Then you add lines into stanzas, and the scale changes but not the style or content. The poems are also cinematic, in the sense that they are often sequences of images that can create parataxis in the reader's mind, or imply a narrative made from pictures. A poetic cinema, to be sure, ironically non-verbal in effect, although made up from word-paintings.

I like what this form does to language. It gets compressed, and often pared down to just the most luminous images. It makes language lean and spare, and to my mind more poetic, precisely because of the compression. Like haiku.

There are numerous poems in this form I've not shared anywhere outside of a small circle. Maybe I'll start the gathering process, make that book, and go forward with the development. I'm not sure if I'm done with this series, or form. Maybe another poem will turn up someday. Time will tell.

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