A Roche limit, according to the Britannica, is “the minimal distance, with respect to the center of a planet, at which a satellite is able to orbit without being destroyed by tidal forces.” In Andrew Zawacki’s poem of the same title, this becomes a potent way to conjure not so much the influence of one poet’s work on another, as though it were such a cut and dry linear transaction, but the complex echo chamber of interactions and resistances, privilegings and reluctances, that mark the practice of reading.
Roche Limit sets this dynamic tension into play. Laid out in four-line stanzas, each one marked by roughly four beats per line, it surges forward in a compelling rhythm capable of surprising turns and reverberating with fractal resonances. Though its form most immediately calls to mind Ronald Johnson’s extraordinary AIDS elegy, “Blocks to Be Arranged in the Form of a Pyramid,” Roche Limit is less elegy, than homage to the late Gustaf Sobin, another master mason of the word-block and the serpentine line.
echoes off ledge
opens upon upon
a glassy rotation
some spectra aurora
a nor'easter carving
the littered littoral’s
bitmapped pebbles and
washed bottle script
neither itself nor
neither its neither
or it ruins
or it rains
Recalling the title of one of Sobin's collections, In The Name of the Neither, this intricate, nuanced sound play enacts its own model of the Roche limit, as words slide through one another and into their own process of associative elision and repetition, a principle of rime, as Duncan might say, that recalls the innermost linguistic and ontological structures for mapping levels of relation. As he puts it in “The Structure of Rime II,” “An absolute scale of resemblance and disresemblance establishes measures that are music in the actual world.”
Zawacki’s work is to be cherished for this, but I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the foremost practitioner of this method now writing, Andrew Joron, whose most recent books, Fathom and The Sound Mirror, exemplify this divinatory praxis. Joron capitalizes on the generative slippages which govern the chance combinatory properties of language. As he writes in “Voice of Eye” (dedicated to Sobin; and here I should note that both poets were responsible for editing Sobin’s Collected Poems; no better guardians of his work can be imagined).
"Air is merest modulation to err."
Or again, from “Nightsun, Sign”:
“Red, unread, as Eurydice’s indices—“
And again, in “As Ending, Send”:
“O tome, O tomb, I hum a hymn to home, to whom.”
These are lines decrypted from a dark book, pitched to an arcane thrum, a holy thread of labyrinthine sound that interweaves the soul and the tongue. The method -- is it a method? call it the logic of paronomasia -- teeters, at times, on the brink of decay, yet what rescues it into continual surprise is the poet’s commitment to the sublime yield of phonemic constellation and all the spaces, and nodes, of micro logical difference that open up between each slip-gap, each meld-slide, within a horizon of negation and wonder.
Perhaps the idea of the tremendous balance that keeps the Roche limit in play lends itself to an even larger notion, that of the continually negotiated relationship between the poet and language itself, with the stress of attraction to the gravity well of logos mitigated only by the poem’s own negentropic counter-thrust.
As Joron writes, concluding "Autumnal Spring":
To song, to sing, "There is no
Elongates to longing & the gates of song."
These gates of song are the site of ever-repeated rituals of intimacy and dispossession, performed through the sway and elision of music's logic. To belong to song's longing is to be at once at-homed and exiled.