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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On Song of the Andoumboulou:17 (Whatsaid Serif)

Allusions and quotations

#17 begins with a Laccariere quote from The Gnostics — "to remove the very categories of I, He, and to become We, such must be the meaning of the so-called 'mysteries of the Simonioans'."

The Gnostics
is a fascinating, poetic look at Gnosis from what was known in the early 70's. It is well-worth reading.

"Simonians" — Followers of the Gnostic Magus Simon. The Gnostics believe that the God of Genesis was a cruel demon who created this world, with all its suffering. The good God is somewhere, almost inaccessible to human beings, outside this world. All humans contain a divine spark which connects them to this God. Our material bodies weigh down this spark.

Ogotemmeli, the primary informant for Marcel Griaule about the Dogon, also mentions God's "primordial blunder." (Naylor's essay helped me to see this conjuntion, which I had missed earlier.)

Underneath the title of the poem in italics is the phrase "rim of the well." This comes from a Lorca discussion on duende, see
here. In it, Lorca distinguishes duende from the angel and the muse. The angel and the muse are both outside and command; duende is in the blood and is the vitality and force that distinguishes great art from technically proficient art. I wonder about the extent to which it can be compared to the African-American and American, more generally, notion of 'soul'.

chthonic - Greek for the interior of the earth; also for cults of the earth that participated in ritual sacrifice for their gods —ex., Persephone.

lapis-light — intense blue color, based on lapis lazuli rocks

kola — tree native to West Africa with edible nuts.

Ogun — god of iron in voodoun of West Africa and the Carribean

[I am currently discussing Mackey's book Whatsaid Serif. If for some reason you cannot buy it, many of the poems can be found here.]

The poem begins with a past tense verb that has no subject. "Thought they were done." The first stanza also contains a "we," "he," and "she," all three of which have no noun referents. This ties in with the quotation from Lacarriere. Also, Mackey plays with tense: she remembers that she saw a he, who was hit by a "he." Is it the same he, or different ones? More importantly, does it matter? Naylor suggests that this moment where he and she transpose themselves is ecstatic. And he his correct. I would just add that Mackey is describing ecstasy, not, to a degree, enacting it.

This creaking of the pronouns causes us to focus not on the nouns, which only have shifting placeholders, but the active verbs: "Swirl," "spoke," "whir," "saw," "remembers," "brought up," "came to," "saw" all appear in the first stanza. Is Mackey creating a stanza where human individuation becomes as unimportant as single seeds when myriad ones are being blown off a tree? The action of the whole is what attracts our attention, not differentiation at the level of particle.

This is true except for one image at the end of the stanza. A 'he' is hit with a rock on on the side of the head. This sort of pain must cause differentiation. What I see this stanza doing is moving through an emphasis on action to the point where differentiation is caused by an act, but the specifics of who is differentiated are not given.

Finally, the form of this stanza must be taken into account. This poem uses a form very similar to Song #50
. As always, the left margin is jagged, with no lines close to each other starting at the same place. Notice how in the first stanza several words are on a line by themselves appear toward the right margin. A stanza break occurs after "end we'd eventually see." The first stanza of Song # 17 contains three words isolated on lines and placed toward the write margin. They are "he," "who," and "late." Perhaps significantly, all three words point towards the displacements in this stanza — both the prounial and tense ("late").

To me, each of these words pulls me up toward a provisional ending. They feel like pregnant pauses. Yet the pregnant pauses occur when empty placeholders are used: pronouns with no noun referents.

The form also contributes to the energy of the stanza by the dancing lines themselves, skipping down the page, usually economical and often nongrammatical — jazz music that is steady usually has little appeal. These stanza dance and sway, in this case performing the slippage, what Mackey might be calling the creaking, of the language.

Am I saying that Mackey's form enables him to enact the creaking he describes as the mobile foundation of language?

Mackey I still think is a reflective poet, but he manages to reflect by burrowing into cracks and fissures opened by the creaking of language, not, as is traditionally the case, standing entirely outside the subject matter and making pronouncements in meter.

This is a a lot for one post, and, accept for the allusions and quotations section which took into account the whole poem, I only discussed the first stanza, 13 lines. This discussion will probably serve as a kind of basis for a quicker examination of the rest of this five page poem.

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