Lee Ann Brown
Sun & Moon Press, 1999; $11.95. [Order from SPD]
The Little Door Slides Back
Sun and Moon Press, 1997; $10.95. [Order from SPD]
Marinism is one of several interrelated baroque poetry movements that I read about in the Princeton Dictionary of Poetry and Poetics and then in the Encyclopedia Britannica online. I chose the label because it begins with the same letter as "modern." I would like to examine qualities of Jeff Clark's and Lee Ann Brown's Sun and Moon Press-published poetry shared with baroque poetry and prose.
Marinism (Italian) and the related preciosite (French), euphuism and metaphysical (English), and gongorism and culuranismo (Spanish) can be loosely described as poetry movements which supported experimentation with the ability of language to convey or not liminal experience. Language itself was part of the point. Techniques used across these groups of poets included adoption of obscure literary forms, use of punning and abstract language, and employment of catalogues and tableaux as descriptive tools. This baroque poetry was a poetry of ideas, not devotion; of sex, not sentiment; of detail, not plot. It was in many ways a witty, sophisticated relief from ponderous religious verse also popular at the time.
Jeff Clark deliberately places himself in a different historical context: that of earlier twentieth century European poets exploring synesthesia by natural and artificial means. His surrealists, Michaux, Trakl, and Desnos, used techniques or topics Clark uses, including automatic writing, referential wordplay, and deliberately deceptively na´ve writing. Michaux wrote a long work which consists of writing for each year of his life; Clark has written a similar poem, from which he took his book title, The Little Door Slides Back.
Lee Ann Brown, like other east coast experimentalists, plays with the roles of inspiration and intention in language use, among other things. Her book Polyverse is more than the result of hundreds of poetry writing exercises over the years; it is a recipe book or inspiration for same. One of her poems, "Thang," she describes as a response to a catalog poem of Bernadette Mayer's, "First Turn to Me."
Bernadette Mayer, a contemporary influence on both Clark and Brown, is well-known for her poetry experiments, her reading of French surrealists and co-option of techniques such as found poetry and catalog poems, as well as her larger scale experiments in journal writing. For example, she wrote the book-length poem "Midwinter Day" during a day in Lenox, Massachusetts, December, 1978.
There is a lineage to be descried between the baroque poets and fin de siecle styles of more recent centuries, which includes movements influenced by these styles, such as surrealism. However, I'm not up to the task in this review.
I could hazard that modern marinists would adopt obscure literary forms, use lists as descriptions, and deploy obscure language because a poem as a sign system can't indicate a world, and one person's confession of experience doesn't become a microcosm of all experience. These moderns would counter preachy workshop poetry of this time with joyous assignment.
Yet, I could also say, especially given their experiments with randomness and extreme constraints, that Clark and Brown must surely believe all signs or any sign indicates the world and that the situations of their personal lives, made so public in their books, are offered as sign systems. This is the paradox I hope to explore with poem quotes.
For the English metaphysicals, extreme brevity is obscurity enough, and a goal. Brown and Clark are brief. Lee Ann Brown alludes to Aram Saroyan's one word poem ("lighght") in "Pregnant C": "and bottles. The poem "Bottle."" (p. 158). She writes very short poems, such as these entire poems:
plus one meat
Polyverse, p. 25
tenderly kiss me so
I can be near you
as example of
Polyverse, p. 115
Jeff Clark has an entire poem contained in its title, "Refrain from Transports" (p. 93).
I find the appeal of Brown's occasional poems but especially her anagram-based poems, where letters used are title letters, the title may be the dedicatee's name, and other constraints apply, to be similar to the appeal of amateur soothsaying: since the letters are in the name, the words, and any sense that can be made from them, apply somehow to the person, whether or not Brown has supplied an application or meaning (in most cases, she has). In this way, these little poems are conceits-as-gifts:
for Forrest Gander
Offset dander arrests nested dears. O
A tenner note: dang sonnet's a tension.
Polyverse, p. 119
Brown's and Clark's idea-based poetry makes a strong appeal to the senses: to words' sound, directly to music, to various descriptions of various sex. A poem's constraint, conceit, experiment, or form may be very literary. "Semes" or other literary theory buzz words appear; a complex form or syntax may be adopted from another poem and the new poem will refer to a meaning through the original poem and the current method (Brown's "Pledge," for example). Yet, it is the pleasure which is the purpose. In "Discontinuous Autoharp," Brown starts, "Oh how you / Undo me raspberry phosphate / Raptors from the rafters call me / Rhapsody in gumball kazoo", and the words are fun words, there are abundant plays on words (raspberry, phosphate, raptors and rafters, rhapsody), but the word play is decoration to a simpler stanza, which might read "oh how you undo me, call me."
Part of Clark's humor is in the exaggeration and self-mocking tone of the inexorably pursued metaphor, as in "Blow-Notes," where most pages end in the italicized word "Confusion," but the second-to-last page consists of the prefix "Con" alone, and the last page is a description of a "fusion": "Two wanted to //