This review was originally to have appeared in the journal 6ix in 1999 or 2000. But as one of its editors, Heather Thomas, later told me, an intern mysteriously vanished with the disc containing all the files for that volume. In my mind's eye I can still picture him, an unshaven undergrad with a perpetual slouch, some disheveled dude slacking away into obscurity.
Note: I haven't figured out how to preserve indentations in the blog editor yet, so some unfortunate violence will be visited on the elegant lines below.
Desire Series, by Mark DuCharme (Dead Metaphor Press)
With his latest collection of poems, Desire Series, Mark DuCharme once again offers compelling evidence that the poem is not an artifact, but an odyssey, and that reading is not a matter of passive absorption, but an activity that requires serious and engaged attention. Desire Series is a finely reticulated set of meditations on the mysterious interactions between between eros and imagination. Desire here behaves as both the longing for expansion and the perpetual deferral of that expansion. In other words, as differance.
The work is never as saturated as
We desire their presences to
But still we live like houseguests
Strain at pushing into it
+ + +
Anything at all
Desire is not the transparent medium through which some inchoate impulse takes on form and movement. Rather, it’s coeval with language. More than that, desire resists the effort to lucidity that language attempts to assert. For desire, writes Judith Butler, “will be that which guarantees a certain opacity in language, an opacity that language can enact and display, but without which it cannot operate.” Any cogent theory of desire, then, will also be a theory of poesis, one that advances the liberation of reality from the machine of insensate consumer practice, which is also the practice of everyday language. This is precisely what DuCharme accomplishes in these austere and frequently haunting poems. Unease with language, an acute sensitivity to its betrayals, is coupled with the irrepressible longing of the poem to attain not some final arbiter of representation, but the ongoing availability of a highly contingent collaboration.
I knew I could find you there
In this place, holy to both of us
Though for reasons not located on any map
Terminus, or grace
The make-believe & infected decision
Idols, or an audience
Degree shed in moonlight
In this, the closing poem of the series, DuCharme addresses the beloved, the reader, and language all at once. For all three are linked by their evasiveness, their refusal to be pinned down, and their unsettling tendency to become “Idols, or an audience,” that is, the chimerical force the Other exerts on us, compelling us to re-question our own subject positions. The place we occupy then, with respect to all three, is provisional -- both central and marginal. It is also, recalling Plato’s image of Eros as interlocutor, the ceaseless shuttling inbetween. Like desire itself, language is a medium of endless fluidity and abrupt intransigence.
This view of desire does not seek to locate and pinpoint the Other through language in order to subjugate it. Rather, it welcomes and invites the homeostasis of reciprocity, by which self and other, subject and language, author and reader, mutually engender one another. Lacan’s originary misrecognition is reconfigured as a play of signs (and of bodies) offering not primordial lack, but plenitude.
I need desire, a substance lodged in black. I don’t believe in closure implying the strong poem, the wieldy senator. As if above her head were stirred with a kind of aching to be done. The vistas we liked best are subtle. It’s a secret we were eager to contain.
Between vista and containment the poem works its desire to be many and not one. But it also embraces absence, “the substance lodged in black,” more readily than presence, the old longing of the poem for closure. For closure forecloses the possibilities set in motion by poetic desire, which, like language itself, is always exceeding itself, always yearning for what lies beyond its boundary. If consciousness is in some way cognate with desire, and restlessly expansive, then what is the desire of desire if not more desire? Paradoxically, absence leads toward, not away from, fullness.
Which are not ours to make anymore ---
But name us
As surely as the conventions of the love poem, the desire
Who are you, shadow I reach to touch
Mouth of straw
Which becomes my unbidding
Because it can never quite sing of its complete fulfillment, because it exists as differance, desire is also that which continually performs its own valediction.
Marked throughout by an elegant spareness, Desire Series dislocates the familiar locutions of “beauty.” Lyricism’s freight of song is still tinged with its ancient impulsion to praise, but it’s newly charged by the ambiguous rifts between the richness of our inner lives and the increasing dissonance of the world. To live in the continuum of our utterance requires a total discipline. In Mark DuCharme’s poetry, the resistance to an archaic transparency, to outmoded ways of saying, means oscillating in the boundary zone between the daily necessity to express and the obligation to transgress.