Wednesday, March 22, 2006

From Charles Wright's Buffalo Yoga Coda III

I want to glance at a single sentence in Charles Wright's poem Buffalo Yoga Coda III from his 2004 book Buffalo Yoga. I first discovered Wright because my favorite literary critic Harold Bloom blurbed the back of his book; Bloom is a bit of a crazyman, but this blurb is him at his most audacious:
Black Zodiac concentrates Charles Wright's considerable poetic endowment into a new poignance that has to be termed religious. Some of these poems achieve an authentic gnosis in a rapt mode of negative transcendence.
Now I know Bloom very well, and I barely know what that second sentence means: "gnosis" is a kind of special spiritual knowledge -- an identification with a distant alien Gnostic god -- reserved for those who understand the world is fallen and evil, a kind of prison; "negative transcendence," I think, is like regular transcendence (going above the merely physical world), except that instead of discovering something (say God) you discover nothing -- you discover that there is nothing, that you are totally free, that nothing is real but your self. What knocks me out about the blurb is that it is a blurb: this deeply obscure statement is on the back of the book, to encourage people to buy it (and figure out which poems do or do not achieve an authentic gnosis in a rapt mode of negative transcendence, I guess).

Here are the Charles Wright lines that I wanted to point out:
Under the low hum of the sweet bees,
Under the hair-heavy hoof of the warrior ant,
Under the towering shadows he must go through,
and surface from,
Under the beetle's breast and the grub's,
The future is setting its table,
its cutlery dark, its mirrors anxious and blank.
The vision of the insects reminds me of the quintessential David Lynch shot from Blue Velvet: the camera explores a beautiful suburb, then (when a man watering his plants has a stroke) zooms in too far into the grass and catches the violent struggle of (insect) reality underneath the simple surface. This vision of insect life in Wright suddenly yields to an unsettling vision of the future as an ominous dinner party that has not yet begun. Where we would expect the host to be anxious because no one has arrived, it is the mirrors that are anxious because they see no one, reflect no one. If the mirror "reflects" this aspect of the future (the host), we are left with the idea that the future is also "blank," unwritten but also impassive, uninterested, inhuman. As with vampires the mirrors don't reflect the action of the future setting the cutlery (the sound "cut" makes it sound more dangerous than "silverware"). The image suggests both danger and freedom. If anything is an authentic gnosis in a rapt mode of negative transcendence, surely this is.


jennifert72 said...

both the poem and the description of the poem are beautiful artistry of words.
i think it's tricky that bloom wuld put such a sentence in a blurb. it's like a challenge: buy the book & try to figure out what the hell he is talking about or be left wondering forever!
the poem made the hair on the back of my neck stand up a little. particularly the cutlery and the mirror. both of the reflective surfaces reflecting nothing. the juxtaposition of the bugs and the set table is also unsettling, nobody wants bugs at their dinner party.

Anonymous said...

I think this is where Bloom reaches that point you discuss in your book (most likely quoting him): all criticism becomes poetry and all poetry becomes verse-criticism.

Just a question: I assume that the typesetting is Wrights? If so, even this evokes a sense of something being underneath or finding a buried secret.

My two cents.

Geoff Klock said...

Mitch: Yes, the typesetting is Wright's (though it's a bit hard to reproduce on a blog); you are quite right to bring it up.

Anonymous said...
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Geoff Klock said...

that was spam