Saturday, November 24, 2007
I was given a copy of Space, by Clark Coolidge. 1st edition, even. it was published in 1970, by Harper Row. imagine a world in which big publishers publish someone like Coolidge. the cover is by Jasper Johns. I can't recall if I owned this book or not. a number of books I got when at Franconia College have, thru the attrition of years, I guess, went gone. but it is familiar to me. Stein, specifically Tender Buttons, was an important disrupting influence on me. and Coolidge... my 1st year at Franconia, there were no poetry classes. the creative writing class was taught by a fiction writer who, in fact, was a pretty good poetry critic but was natheless uncomfortable at it. so Franconia got a poetry teacher, namely Robert Grenier. it was my 2nd year at Franconia, then, that my reading of poetry got focused. the particularly meddlesome writers for me were Stein and Ashbery (Tennis Court Oath), and then Coolidge. the poems in Space look typewriterly. with a typewriter, you could readily move the carriage to where you want it. of course you can do that with computers, but there's a rectilinear mind controlling computers, which can be an encumbrance, and you don't have the physical connection of placing the word where you want. I was surprised, when Coolidge came to the college to read, that he gave such a zesty reading. it put what he did with his disjunctive, curtailed work into a living context rather than just theoretical. from the music of his words you caught the meaning, if meaning exists in the word meaning. the front and back flaps favour the reader with some surprisingly useful salient map points for reading Coolidge. when it states that syntax has been removed, however, that's got to be examined. the syntax of good English has been devastated, no doubt, but syntax remains. even a narrative, if you want to look. I would hazard the guess that Coolidge utilized overheard, and decontextualized, conversation, just as Grenier did so often. the current age may be a bit fuddy duddy in its landscape. I mean a NY stream and a LANGUAGE stream have combined into the normative nowadays. this book suggests a giddy experimentation that takes of the past more than the networked present. a relique such as this is a vital reminder of the urgent process. I actually got into Coolidge more when he shifted to the high-density prose that typifies so many of those great books that The Figures published in the 80s and 90s. it really is a waste of time to keep bonking on bogus anthologies like Best American Poetry. a more thorough study of foundation work seems much more appropriate. Coolidge, it stuns me to realize, is one of our older poets now, age 68. he has an enormous amount of work published, which I'm sure has yet to be well-traced critically. as with Stein, his contribution seeped into me. my earliest confrontations with both writers was uncomfortable and dismaying. yet I see their lessons in my work, or at least, I see the meaning of their lessons.