Charles River

Charles River
Upper Limit Cloud/Lower Limit Sail


"Messianicity is not messianism ... even though this distinction remains fragile and enigmatic." (Jacques Derrida)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hank Lazer's "N 18 (Complete)"

Hank Lazer’s N 18(Complete) is an impossible book of poems. Written in serpentine longhand, they spiral across the page in calligrammes that challenge legibility. The difficulties and rewards in reading them is central to the question of their form, making that form the very subject of the poems and how the re-spell the possibilities contained in reading, for making meaning as we go, re-making it as we go over. At the same time, their playful inventiveness is inviting, creating an intimacy impossible to obtain otherwise. Over and beyond that, however, these poems continue the explorations begun in the exquisite The New Spirit.

In his essay “Thinking / Singing and The Metaphysics of Sound,” Lazer describes the processes behind the composition of The New Spirit as an attending to not only how we hear music, but how “thinking in musicality” might take place within the poem. N 18 translates this idea into another register – the proprioceptive circuit that is writing by hand, the establishing of hand-to-mind circuit that obeys its own laws of form and formation. In this sense, Lazer is following Duncan, when he writes to Charles Olson that the hand is also a form of hearing, an organ of perception and knowing no less than the ear.

“I have observed in myself a curious double note in hearing. There is a previous ‘hearing’ out of which the lines (or from which – as in sketching an object) are composed, written on the page. Then the central ‘hearing’ is in the hand. The act of writing seems to hold back, rein (Plato’s image of the horseman) – listen (?). But the important thing is that ‘hearing’ only comes as the eys relay the words seen from the designing hand – ”

[N.B. This letter by Duncan is from the Olson archive at U Conn, in Storrs, dated March 1954].

N 18 in some ways is an exploration of this tantalizing description of a reciprocal cognitive feedback loop. More than that, though, it explores the poet’s response to his slow and careful reading of Heidegger and Levinas over a period of several years, a time in which he also found his way more deeply and surely into what he calls “shapewriting.”

“The word G-d is an overwhelming semantic event
that addresses the subversion worked by illeity.
The glory of the Infinite shuts itself up in a word and becomes a being.”

Held lightly

“But it already undoes its dwelling
and unsays itself without vanishing into nothingness” <151>

This is a wholly inadequate approximation of one of the simpler poem’s as it actually appears. Imagine the Levinas quotes as the twin curves of a parenthesis running sideways along the lengths of the page’s margins. It’s that “held lightly,” floating on the horizontal axi between the quotes, that arrests the attention – breaking up the quote, questioning it, but also amplifying it.

Occasionally there are poems that are more or less straightforward, like this one, with its echoes of John Taggart:

back again
turned back toward
away say
then turned around
back being
a way to be

It’s impossible to reproduce the layout and typography of N 18’s pages. Suffice it to say they inscribe multiple figures – the labyrinth, the spiral, the wave, and others so complex and delightful that there are no terms for them, really. Each page is a portal of discovery and wonder. With Levinas and Heidegger as springboards, shapewriting enacts Lazer’s delicate, nuanced articulation of a post-metaphysical theology and the rich potentialities it carries for an innovative poetics that is polyvocal and decentered, but equally welcoming and affirmative.

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