Nada Gordon

Drew Gardner
The Carrying Stream
Drew Gardner, P.O. Box 2055, New York, NY   10009, no price listed, 1999

The experience of the forward sweep of life is made poignant — and is aestheticized — by awareness of approaching death. Not yet (that I recall) having died, I can only imagine the adrenaline-fueled acceleration to the brink of the Very End, so I’m not sure whether to figure that movement as an exultatory ascent or a vertiginous fall down a tunnel. Either way, it is a vibratory state that poetry can reach for. If indeed it is like a tunnel, Drew Gardner’s chapbook-length poem, "The Carrying Stream," exemplifies what it might be like to fall into it, flushed through by the stream of duration that leaves destruction in its passing. This poem is a kind of vestibule, not of plaster or patterned velvet or flesh but of earth: as in Alice — "Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end? ‘I must be getting somewhere near the center of the earth.’" The passage downward is filled with birds, water, fire, animals (a seal, a tortoise, a monarch butterfly), things natural and abstract, with philosophical axioms that stick out from the loamy walls ("the inheritance of the earth the ground is made of") just enough to let you hang for a moment on the form of truth before the plummet resumes. I mean this "descent" not as a description of some controlling metaphor" of the poem — it is not so simple-minded — but rather as a description of how it feels to read it. Perhaps the Heraclitean river evoked by the title is just as apt a paradigm of the poem’s movement.

The cover photo, by Julie Patton, is of a heap of collapsed, decontextualized letters that look as if they might be floating downstream, a kind of alphabetic logjam. The title, "The Carrying Stream," that serves as subject to the predicate of the poem’s first line, "creates amber from its wounds," plunges the reader into its momentum. That is, it wounds by movement, leaving a quietly beautiful petrified resin that traps life forms: "the staring cormorant deep beneath the star," "a Grackle in the backyard," "the drenched butterfly," "the piercing Killdeer tomorrowed in remains," "a human being as tall as wheat," "the blackened redwood," "a dove" … That first line is only an indication of the fertile metatextuality that springs forth from this poem.

In form, the poem is not merely an uninterrupted chute of words. It goes for a spell, then pools in a plateau of silence, before it spills over again. Those spillings are bursts of a renewed energy, as at the end of the first movement, this Beckettian imperative: "Splaying of/the broken world go on," after which some white space follows, and then the poem goes on, following its own instructions. The first ten pages of this 23-page poem consist of three of these chute-like passages, and then the form changes. The number of stanzas per page ranges from two to fourteen. These structural variations allow the poem to (re)create various rhythms in (of) the moving mind. That Drew is a gifted jazz drummer can only accentuate his attunement to those rhythms.

The rhythmical movement is not only in the physical form of the poem, but again is stirred up metatextually (these examples from the first five pages alone): "clouds go by," "the fall from soaring, movement, what," "a putrid advance," "the voices from the wind moving through the leaves are gone," "the wind torn beach," "the blanket of falling water," and

a complex narrative spacialization [sic]
of time and appearing only out of speed
as though in a hurry to go to sleep

Most of these are references to the natural world, and as a result the poem has an aura of naturalness — it is not so much one of the parlor games or pastiches or ironic machines or glittering fragment heaps that so many of the poems of our generation are. Of course, the category of "the natural" is an ideological construction, as any poem is, and this poem is as artificed as any other, yet in such a way that it aligns itself with observable rhythms in nature: "restive/", he writes, "is the striving at rest/ as the water in the night’s lake." A psychologized reading of these lines might be "the unconscious roils in us as we sleep, just as night lake water moves about, not unthreateningly, harboring creatures," although I do not mean to force a scheme.

It’s just that my mind finds it wants to investigate the truth value of such enunciations of mind. And I do unearth truths in such utterances, though they may be contorted (both the utterances and the truths). The axioms and "statements of truth" in the poem might be taken as koans, and are complex enough to make me want to ponder them. Looking for another example, I turn to

words on a white page
uncatch gain entangle
the filthy grail of heart.

Again, a metatextual comment, a Romantic one?, on a function of poetic writing. Although not perhaps an unadulteratedly "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, there is a fierce emotionality here at work, tricky enough to refer to the heart as a filthy grail, an emotionality entangled with intellect:

intellect is included in intuition, intuition
in experience, but confused
with the sustaining of lies, a selective misunderstanding
of decay and of the singular, I had better
start building my house in my head …

There’s a mastery of enjambment in passages like this one, as each new line throws surprising new light on the last. The surprising light here is thrown onto the intellect, which is problematized as a sullied portion of intuition, which in turn is posited as a subset of experience — it’s an unusual bullseye. Here, " intellect" is an ideologically poisoned and abstracted function of the mind, and Drew moves to deal with it by thinking to construct some kind of edifice in the mind — or on the page? — to live in. Thus, the impulse of the poem is philosophy, but it is more than philosophy, more than just "irritable reaching after fact and reason". This poem illustrates how (as di Prima says her reading of Keats taught her) poetry transcends philosophy. Philosophy defines and abstracts, even as it explores and questions, but poetry is a space where "what isn’t possible blossoms," and "everything is there in its resonance" "which does not degenerate/ into mere power," "where we are coterminous with an actual eden," "and there is a bell resounding" in "the radical/instability of the universe" where "diamonds [form] in dark matter."

This is a poem which creates great internal expanses without undue dithyramb, and it glows with a kind of phenomenological understatement, as in this perfect tanka towards its end:

tonight in the city I held
a living turtle in my hands
earth’s extent in space
that everything
might be lit up

… as might the mind be that opens itself to this poem.


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