Friday, December 03, 2010

Granduncles of the Cattletrade by Jeff Harrison

Jeff Harrison has a work available on Scribd called Granduncles of the Cattletrade. I do not imagine that the title brings forth any immediate intimations for the reader. I find it a book of weird and wonder, to which I recommend your intellect, dear Reader.

Jeff and I have collaborated for 5 or 6 years on two email projects (we have never met in person). We have written a lengthy poem together. That project seems inert at this time, but I think neither of us declare it over. The other project has been a dual/duel interview between each other regarding poetry, writing, and whatever strikes our current concerns, Antic View. With some fits and starts, this project continues. I mention our collaborations just to remove any pretense of fair and balanced, a phrase that Fox News has turned into, you know, a curving denial of any such thing. No, I am eagerly pushing Jeff’s work forward.

I am happy to sell Jeff’s work, because it strikes me as original, guided by compelling, and wonderful. I have no answers to explain the strangeness of this work. It does not represent ‘typical Harrison’, at least insofar as it lacks the obvious narrative nexus that his work often shows. I will remark on some of the aspects that I see in this work, as preface for you, still dear Reader, to enter the stream and try to swim its amazing currents.

Jeff uses the listserv Wryting-L to present new work to a small, interested readership, as do I. This gives me no special expertise, but I have therefore seen an extent of what Jeff does.

One aspect to speak of in Jeff’s work is how he rings changes in texts. He forms a process and resiliently relies on and stands by it, to produce his texts. Here is the second section of this work:

orange by forage for spoon in moon has hands
clinquant for spoon in moon has hands by might
spoon in moon has hands by might for bands
moon has hands by might for bands in sight
hands by might for bands in sight has light
might for bands in sight has light by look
bands in sight has light by look for height
sight has light by look for height in book
light by look for height in book has hook
look for height in book has hook by miss
height in book has hook by miss for crook
book has hook by miss for crook in kiss
hook by miss for crook in kiss has hiss
miss for crook in kiss has hiss by way
crook in kiss has hiss by way for this
kiss has hiss by way for this in astray
hiss by way for this in astray has ray
way for this in astray has ray by cast
this in astray has ray by cast for dismay
astray has ray by cast for dismay in mast
ray by cast for dismay in mast has past
cast for dismay in mast has past by gold
dismay in mast has past by gold for last
mast has past by gold for last in told
past by gold for last in told has bold
gold for last in told has bold by snare
last in told has bold by snare for hold
told has bold by snare for hold in pair
bold by snare for hold in pair has glare
snare for hold in pair has glare by dresses
hold in pair has glare by dresses for fair
pair has glare by dresses for fair in tresses...

The repetitions seem to build from some plan, tho I cannot make out what that plan might have been. Of course this makes one think of the pressing repetitions of Gertrude Stein. The effect mesmerizes, if you stay with the text. I have assumed wrongly at times that Jeff has been working with a method such as Jackson Mac Low might use. Jeff does use such methods to produce his texts but, like Mac Low, not all the time.

I’m beginning to believe that the best way to explain Jeff’s text is to quote it entirely. That is, I leave the text to you to figure out. You should do that. Here is section 10, with the admonition that you should follow the link above and work out your own path thru the entire work.

pater castle etc Virginia crow etc pater
pater crow etc Virginia kine etc pater
pater kine etc Virginia minortaur etc pater
pater minertow'r etc Virginia verdict etc pater
pater verdict etc Virginia barnstar etc pater
pater barnstar etc Virginia rose etc pater
pater rose etc Virginia mouse etc pater
pater mouse etc Virginia pitter etc pater
pater pitter etc Virginia penalty etc pater
pater penalty etc Virginia jackal etc pater
pater jackal etc Virginia triangle etc pater
pater triangle etc Virginia mummified etc pater
pater mummified etc Virginia Bontecou etc pater
pater surprise etc Virginia missive etc pater
pater missive etc Virginia arsonist's etc pater
pater arsonist's etc Virginia outlives etc pater
pater outlives etc Virginia shipwrack etc pater
pater shipwrack etc Virginia portrait etc pater
pater portrait etc Virginia adamant etc pater
pater adamant etc Virginia suitors etc pater
pater suitors etc Virginia typhoid etc pater
pater typhoid etc Virginia basil etc pater
pater basil etc Virginia hippolyte etc pater
pater hippolyte etc Virginia 3412 etc pater
pater 3412 etc Virginia rest etc pater / pater...

Eh, minertow'r. Jeff exploits a pattern of syntax, so that the specific words in the variation almost do not matter. The mention of Virginia asserts something familiar for me in Jeff’s writing. Virginia, as person, as place, repeats often in Jeff’s work. Virginia is an imaginative construct, okay. It refers and alludes to something personal and not directly explained. That is, Jeff has his reasons for the usage of the term. The reader, lacking those reasons, understands the strategy differently. Certainly we know of such a place, and reckon of such a person’s name. That, according to Jeff’s poems, is enough. He answers not to specifics, but allows us, as readers, to take what we care to take. We have dictionaries to explain denotations, but we live by connotations.

Pater, of course, means father, but let us not forget Walter Pater. Jeff’s work often shows considerable charge from literature, including English literature, particularly including the poetry of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Pater’s literary purview, with hard, gem-like flame, could be father to the poems here. Could be, is all I say.

Section 13 consists of 20 lines, each with seven words. The seven words are but one word, repeated seven times. The poem then is the repetition of one word 140 times. The word is Virginia. Place that within the context of the other poems in this series.

Section 14 consists of mostly 4-digit numbers, with occasional 5 digit numbers. Seven sets per line, nine lines. Sets repeat. Look for pattern, is all I can suggest (syntax is pattern, is it not?). This brings to mind the counting that Ron Silliman works into his texts.

Section 25 favours punctuation such as dashes, the ‘@’sign, and such, along with some words and letter combinations of what I do not recognize as words. And so on. What does punctuation mean, anyway?

All in all, this is a ride over strange territory, with curious bumps. Granduncles presents a fascinating world to explore, beginning with a title that does not exactly produce an easy tale to relate. I think the reader of this work should allow questions to percolate, and let that be the poetic experience. Need I quote Keats on Negative capability? Keats’ lesson seems implicit in this work.

That may seem a lame way to end this brief look at one of Jeff Harrison’s works but I must close in saying that other works by Jeff look nothing like this one. He institutes experiments so that he may explore. I invite readers to join that exploration.
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