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.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Rodney Koenicke takes notice of Dana Ward’s notice of a filmmaker’s notice of Art Garfunkle’s hands in his (Garfunkle’s) pocket, here. The deal is this: said filmmaker edited Simon & Garfunkle’s famous Central Park concert down to only showing Garfunkle with his (like I said, Garfunkle’s) hands in his pocket. What a deliciously odd idea! Ward’s reactions to this are bright and useful, as is, just generally speaking, Koenicke’s to whatever he (Kornicke) sets sights on. In case you did not know.

I am no S&G expert, but can say that Garfunkle’s hands in his (Garfunkle’s) pocket have struck me. He’ so weirdly disengaged, it seems to me. I would love to see this film, because as ‘wonderful’ as S&G might be, they always seemed tepid to me. This reminder of them led me perforce to Wikipedia, where I learned that S&G’s producer, on his own look out, added rock music tracks to “Sounds of Silence”. This shifted the song from ‘pure’ folk to that demon mixture: folk-rock. How tedious the folk version must have been, I can only imagine. And yet, there is a field there, sown and ready to harvest. Which is at least one point to glean from the film and reaction to it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving with King Tut

We got tickets to see the King Tut exhibit in NYC. With blackout dates and other scheduling matters, Thanksgiving Day was when we could do it. Which sounded a little wait a sec, what with the parade and all, but we soldiered on.

We picked Erin up at UMass Lowell at 4:00 pm, which seems desperately late for setting out on the day before Thanksgiving, but Erin had a class he would not skip out on. Yes, Beth and I were saying, Are you sure you need to go to class? Cooler head prevailed.

Rt 495 was sluggish just about to the Mass Pike, and a call to 511 confirmed that we would probably never reach our destination. Visions of seeing the sun rise as we sit on the George Washington. It could happen!

In sooth, things mellowed out nicely, and we got to Brick (NJ) by 10:30, and that included a stop for dinner. We dined at the Vernon Diner in Vernon Ct, which we enjoyed the last time down to NJ. Liked it this time too, tho a slower experience. It seemed like Friday night.

The sports of tailgating and high-speed weaving were played frequently, worth marveling at. We didn’t get killed too bad. Such sport seemed unaccountable because tho many were on the road, flow remained good.

I guess I did not mench that we stayed with Beth’s mother and aunt. We left for the city around 10:30, I think, having first consulted the oracle of mass transit, the MTA site. Boston used to have an MTA, which I believe Charlie infamously got lost on, but now it is MBTA. Save that nugget for your next cocktail party.

Beth’s aunt did not accompany us but Beth’s mother did. We arrived at the Pt Pleasant train station with a whisker to spare, first paying the interesting machine for the right to park in the lot. We did not have time to get tickets at the station. The conductor was dismayed by this, for some reason. In confidence he told us to buy tickets at Long Branch, where we change trains.

It’s a fascinating ride, Fancyville next to economic despair. The marshland is beautiful, even given the magnitude of industrial abuse. I am reminded of Winter’s Tale  by Mark Helprin. The first time I read it, the evocation of the marshes in a bygone era that never quite existed really drew me in. The second time I read it, the fancifulness seemed forced and overly extravagant. Sigh.

Penn Station gave us a scare because the lines to get train tickets were endless. Yes, we should have gotten round trip but never mind that. The famous parade explained that gathering of irritable humanity. We had our own irritability trying to subway ourselves to Times Square. We did a few unsubstantive laps following assured directional signs. People gave us advice on the matter, which often proved fruitless. Until you get your city legs, you just have to accept being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason. Left to my own resources, I would have walked the 10 blocks.

We found our haven easily enough, the Discovery Museum. We were led to believe that the holiday would be a quiet time there, but we shared the experience with numerous others. We bypassed the opportunity to have our pictures taken, then were held at the door for a few minutes. People are sent thru in workable groups.

Audio highlights were included in our package. That meant the sultry voice of Omar Sharif  explained this and that in our ear. I do not actually like saying King Tut, it sounds degraded, but Omar said it, so I guess it’s okay.

A few years ago we went to a Museum of Science show of Egyptian artifacts. That included large pieces. This one included mostly small pieces. Really exquisite stuff, not even considering how old it all was. I think for security reasons, the Star Gate was not exhibited, alas.

The heft of culture impresses one, seeing such an exhibit. Much is ‘understood’ about why this and that, but one still must make an effort to relate. The implacable strangeness hides the commonality implicit in these expressions. A few times I felt like I sullied the sacredness by being in the midst of all this displayed stuff. Partly I did, but then, not. The human answer is to look and wonder.

We returned to Penn Station after the exhibit. Ticket lines were no longer a concern. From here we looked for Tir na Og. Which being a nearby restaurant that we’d been to on a previous NYC visit. This took some hunting. We had a nice Thanksgiving dinner, accented by the couple nearby. Beth surmised that they were a dating service combo. The woman talked loudly about bats and tarantulas and the man looked glazed. Somebody may have wanted a refund.

On the train homeward, four young Japanese women made inquiry of the conductor. He told them that they had overshot their station, Secaucus. He carefully explained that they should get out at the next station, go to the other side of the tracks for inbound, and wait for the next train. As the train left the station we could see them still milling about in confusion.

Black Friday, that great and noble day, we mostly just rested. A large pile of leaves had gathered at the doorway. I used a borrowed blower to move them away. I mention this because gee, what a dumb tool that is. I realize that one needs some technique to use the thing, and I had never held one before. I felt like a rake would more than suffice, and more quietly. Just makes you wonder how much effort one needs to make for one’s convenience. I object to the suburban noise element that seems so necessary. Anyway, beyond that, I found a biography of Confederate general Jubal Early. Later, a walk on Lavallette beach.

The boardwalk there was not in summer prime, and I think summer prime is becoming an anachronism. The boardwalk probably heads for condominiumification. Still, a lot of arcades were open. Seedy, in my eyes, but families came for that sort of fun. No surf to speak of, tho the wind blew firmly and with hearty chill. A few fished near and on the jetty. The homes along the boardwalk are just plain weird. I mean, to be that close to strolling humanity, it would wear on me quickly. Looked like all of them were closed up for the winter.

We left for home betimes, more or less, Saturday morning. A riproarin’ wind felt wintry. Saw a car breezing along with a tree on the roof. The tree was securely tied but who knows if the needles would survive. A quick stop at Cheesequake for gas… except that none was available. Computer system down. The Grover Cleveland rest stop, it is. Okay, an Internet search reveals that Cheesequake comes from a Lenape word for upland.

The George Washington supplied only a modest wait, but always there is the reward of the view, from and of it. Even infamous Rt 84 near Hartford could slow us down only moderately. The Mass Pike stalled us the most, but we got off at 290, to pass thru Worcester. Where, by gum, a tussle of snowflakes occurred. Home to a slightly annoyed cat.