Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A new poem by Tom Clark

L7th Heaven: Circling the Square, or, A Self-Referential Reading of "Self-Reference" 
- by Tom Clark 

To start with, to defend this

poem from its own attack, in my shot in

the departmental photo gallery I guess I’ll just

look off to one side, with a mopey expression

as if to say I couldn't care less

about being a professor, I'll wear

my San Francisco sweatshirt to proclaim

I was there then, but in a non-persona

kind of way that convinces me

I can write something certain other

members of the herd at the trough

will have no trouble recognizing as the self-referential

circling of the square that announces

immediate ascension into L7th Heaven

never forgetting that both the flush left

and irregular right margins constantly loom

as significant events, often interrupting what

I thought I was about to

write and making me write something

so unbelievably boring even the champion

bores of the marginal subset of boring poetry

since they identify themselves as poets

through style and publication context

will wish they could call their own

in a quite literal sense

and I could go on, but oh -- prose poems

are another matter, so,

in other words, doubly marginal,

thus heroic, making the birth of post-

industrial code-splicing from a shoal of

territorial barks appear minuscule

in comparison -- but not to put a fine point on it

so much as to put on display the poet

as engaged, oppositional intellectual going

back and rewriting, but discovering

the problem still infuriatingly

or maybe, who knows, conveniently

reappearing anyway even after the pieces

dislodged from the hidden pockets

of the "relaxed" conferencing outfit have fallen

by the wayside, into the margins

of this page, as it were, where any passing graduate

student on the way to a meeting

could easily find them, pick them up,

piece them together and experience

that unique Eureka! sensation which comes

with the knowledge the bounty reaped

for such a remarkable self-referential

performance, stacked up, assessed, and then again broken

down into pieces, will still add up to something

greater than the sum of its parts --

all the king's horses are fuming impatiently

down the corridor now, though, so

I'd better get my casual throw-away

brilliance hat on, and put all this into

that row of small portable hermetically-sealed

boxes, which are already somewhat crowded

as they contain gnomic and often completely

undecipherable sentences handwritten

on separate slips of paper, grafitti-like scrawls

that dramatize in a particularly problematic

fashion the tautological narrative

by which the "living hand" of the contingent

author (yours truly!) becomes imbued, after

the fact, with eternal potency; and once

having said this, I am overcome as always

by the need to say a bit more

on the subject of the considerable history

of my deployment of antiabsorptive

techniques (nontransparent or

nonnaturalizing elements) (artifice) 

for absorptive ends... In my poems, as

everyone who is reading these words knows, I

bury certain hidden opaque and

nonabsorbable elements, digressions, 

interruptions, non sequiturs, and the like,

potentially explosive elements

somewhat like WMDs

stashed in unexpected places, like

at the site of the traditional caesura, or in

the candy bowl on the desk in my office,

as part of a technological arsenal

to create a more powerful (“souped-up”)

absorption than possible with traditional,

blander, two-ply absorptive techniques

such as pretending to have feelings,

or a soul, for example, though let's not

go there before the afterparty

blows up, or comes crashing down

in such a way as to problematize

if not also foreground, the scale and complexity

of what I am trying to bring down

simply because I don't have the power

to shut up, or to crap on a fig-wort

without the necessary supply of text

to clean up after, or at least clarify

a conundrum whose social geometry

is similar to the physical geometry

that ultimately contains a bomb blast:

whatever I destroy tends to shield

contiguous and remote areas

so I really don't have to feel too bad

about once again airing out

the now fabled battlecry -- “absorption!”

at one level, viewed from an oblique angle,

becomes “anti-absorption!” at another

and vice-versa, all the livelong,

textually liberated, totally engagé L7 day

on which I grant myself as usual any liberties

and/or privileges that may obtain

for an academic industrialist of my standing

or bending over, as the case may be -- I accept

full political agency for my anti-response

as a political tool, paratactically

intact, and not forgetting

the subsidiary aim of radically

reconfiguring the pre-existent categories

of literary status, naturally -- though "nature"

will necessarily have to remain

another category entirely, for now,

even though I’m once again going

back and rewriting (look at me, mom!), the problem

still maddeningly

reappears every six words or so -- so this,

and every poem like it, if I may say so, is a marginal

work in a world entirely without margins

but with direct deposit to be counted upon

at the beginning of every month, as

a result of which I feel empowered, so that

I am going to make an argument, that

there is such a thing as a sentence, and that it occurs

more or less exclusively wherever 

I and/or my fellow ambitious hirelings happen to be

on any given beautiful L7 day, within a given

narrative frame, or else thrown together at random

but not really, say at an MLA convention

where parataxis is elevated to the level

of shop talk, in the meet 'n greet

booths, where, to express our difference,

we wear our nametags in a rakish

sort of way, either with the label facing

inward, or, in an ultimate gesture in the direction

of tangential relevance, with one of those corny

I-heart thingies prominent, as in

heraldry, on a coat of arms, just so

you know I identify with ordinary

people in this new, autonomous, conditional

sort of way, so that the meaning of a sentence when I use it

is heightened, dissipated, weakened,

broken down, disintegrated, reintegrated,

shored up, torn down, reordered into units

small enough to fit into the tiniest

broom closet in the doll-house, or else

strengthened, questioned, or changed

by the degree of separation or connection

that the reader perceives with regard

to the surrounding sentences, so that s/he may feel free

to linguistically innovate

in master-texts like this one

created by the disruption of lexical tactics

imposed upon us by traditions

like the anachronistic desire to communicate

across the broadening gulf

between islands whose populations

retain no knowledge or awareness

that a world exists outside

their strictly defined geographical boundaries

and now I wish we had more time to spend together

but they're locking up, so let's grab

a couple pops, after office hours, let down our hair,

if we still have any, and try

"making sense" in that ordinary oldfashioned way

until the firing squad shows up

just so long as no one's taping all this

and if they're not, in other words, why not?

Poem reproduced by generous permission of the poet.  More new work by Tom Clark forthcoming in POETRY magazine.