Friday, November 16, 2007

Aaron Shurin and the Paradise of Forms

While I am in the hospital recovering from the removal of a tumor from my colon (along with a portion of the colon itself), I have asked my partner Robert Philen to post this excerpt from my forthcoming book of essays, Orpheus in the Bronx.

Aaron Shurin and the Paradise of Forms

Aaron Shurin’s poetry has been formed within the dual matrix of gay liberation culture and avant-garde poetry (as he writes, “I was born, as it were, into Projective Verse, theories of ‘organic form’ and ‘composition by field’”), with Robert Duncan as the crucial linking figure. Indeed, he and Duncan were close friends, a relationship, in Shurin’s words, “built around mutual poetic concerns: the vitality of lyric writing situated within a framework of postmodern investigations of form and language.” Love and language, sexuality and textuality, have been central themes and central modes in Aaron Shurin’s poetry since the beginning of his career, and for him these two things have been keys to liberation both personal and social. His has never been a poetry of uncomplicated self-expression, but a poetry that seeks both to embody and to incite transformation; the linguistic transformations of the poetry are the model (and hopefully the catalyst) for the larger transformations it proposes and points toward. (Denise Levertov was an early mentor for many years and, as a deeply lyric poet with strong political commitments, was a model for Shurin’s “emerging sense of lyric mission and social activism.”)

In this way he is very much the inheritor of poets like Shelley, and he has written that his goal has always been “to sustain and remake” the Romantic tradition. As he puts it, he has struggled to articulate a cultural political ethos with “an intuited position” on the Romantic continuum.

In the shape of his poetic career that becomes clear in his selections for his 1999 selected poems volume, The Paradise of Forms (a retrospective shape that begins with 1980’s Giving Up the Ghost, since he excludes selections from his previous books), questions of intersubjectivity, the barriers separating persons (and kinds of persons) and the possibility of overcoming those barriers—of different selves intertwining, interpenetrating, and even merging—have always been central to Shurin’s work. In “Raving #25, Vernal Equinox,” which even in its title evokes liminality, the equinox being the point at which winter and spring hinge on and melt into one another, he writes of the body lying down with the bicameral mind “in the split field of/darkness &light/half of each over blackland/half over white.” Even as he lays out the divisions, the poet leaps over them, starting with the image of the body reuniting with the split mind (enacting two unions in one, mind with mind and body with reintegrated mind), and continuing into the image of black and white overlapping, which may have not only a temporal and metaphysical but also a social valence, evoking an image of racial harmony and the dissolution of racial boundaries. The poem ends with an invocation to both god (Shiva, who in Hinduism is both destroyer and renewer) and goddess to “Let all things equal their fearful/opposites!,” to “let earth/be where Heaven & Hell give up!” (Paradise, 10).

Several pieces in the prose sequence “Multiple Heart” (from The Graces, a book which in Shurin’s words “charts a movement from verse, through ever-longer lines, into prose-poems”) enact the intercourse of sexuality and textuality that is so central to Shurin’s poetry, for example “O that river song came through again body beautiful,” which calls up the ghost of Spenser’s epithalamium in an image of song flowing through the body like a river (the poem is literally in the blood here), and of the speaker and his beloved swimming through this river as an analogue of sexual union, fluids flowing and merging: song is sex, the poem is a wedding of writer and reader. Similarly, in “foregone and in conclusion the most,” the page of the poem is the sheet of the bed where the lovers meet: “I leap upon you on the bed right now, pull up the page.” The meeting of minds becomes the meeting of bodies: “How I am lost and how adore the music of your sphere” (Paradise, 25).

In the early Nineteen Eighties, Shurin began working almost exclusively in the prose poem, a mode that by its nature straddles and crosses borders and definitions, of prose and verse, of narrative and lyric, a mode that undermines certainties of literary knowledge (“this is poetry,” “this is prose”). This formal in-betweeness embodies Shurin’s ambition of combining what he calls lyric interjection and narrative tension “in a way that reflects in its complexities and contradictions the tension between individual perception and social control; a poetry simultaneously of praise and dislocation.” Exploring assorted shapes and crossing prescribed boundaries of identity and self-hood have always been integral parts of Aaron Shurin’s poetry, so it is not surprising that, soon after beginning to work in the prose poem (anti-)genre, he took the incorporation of various voices and subject positions in his poetry to one logical extreme of composing poems made up entirely of borrowed or appropriated voices, constructing his texts out of other texts.

As Shurin has written, the collage technique “encouraged me to break away from a centralized lyric voice, and [to] radiate that lyricism through and among the narrative elements.” It breaks down the sense of language as the possession of any individual, foregrounding it as a collective creation, placing the author as a Foucauldian nexus of overlapping, colliding, and competing discourses that find tentative, contingent shape in the text itself, not in the presiding genius of the omnipotent author. Whereas in such Modernist predecessors as Eliot and Pound, montage is a way of mastering the fragmented, overwhelming flux of experience and history, for Shurin it is a mode of surrender to the play of discourses, an abandonment of the drive toward mastery. As he writes of the prose poem format, in words that apply equally well to the collage technique, such modes can “better hold the narrative of events…essential to depict social relations—the relationships among hierarchies of power, the authoritarian and the dispossessed, the desirer and desired—as well as the interweaving of conflicting perceptions [we understand] as personal or subjective experience.”

The long prose poem “City of Men,” from A’s Dream (a poem that the poet refers to as an “erotic rampage”), is one of Shurin’s major accomplishments, and an important addition to and revision of the canon of American poetry. The piece is made up entirely of phrases by Walt Whitman, culled from the Children of Adam and Calamus poems in Leaves of Grass, melding and interspersing the two to create a montage of what Whitman called adhesiveness with a more bodily (homo)sexuality. As Shurin writes, “Calamus is his collection of homoerotic love poems, emotional, tender, idealistic, radically political, prophetic, obliquely erotic, but—alas—not sexual. If you want sex, go to the grouping Children of Adam, Whitman’s putative heterosexual songs. They are filled with body and body parts, physical material catalogues, paeans to the sex act—but—alas—no love. The body is electric but it is not affectionate” (Unbound 11). In “City of Men,” Shurin turns to both sets of poems at once to retrieve a language and a world that unites sex and love, eros and agape, body and soul, intercourse and adhesiveness, to “write my eros out of spirit and body, shamelessly, and perhaps for the first time in history from a completely integrated viewpoint” (Unbound 12). The textual intercourse he sets in motion between these two sets of poems celebrating apparently polar opposite sexualities and eroticisms is an image and model of the sexual/spiritual intercourse the poem proposes as not only possible but realizable, on the page and in the world, sharing subjectivities and mingling subject positions: “all men carry men…I glow spontaneous, know what he is dreaming. the same content, airs intimate that fill my place with him” (A’s Dream, 40). The end of the poem is at once an injunction and an invocation of the union of man with man the poem both evokes and enacts, asking the reader to participate in this union and simultaneously asserting that (by the act of reading) the reader is already a participant: “full of you and become you. any number could be me. read these and become a comrade. with you I am one” (A’s Dream, 43). The lack of a period to close the final phrase can be taken as a gesture of the open-endedness of the poem’s project: it is still in process, no more fixed and finalized than the texts out of which Shurin has rewritten a new world and a new word.

All of the poems in his books A’s Dream, Into Distances, and A Door utilize what Shurin calls “derived language” in the prose poem format, but recently Shurin has shifted modes again, writing once more in lineated verse, while still exploring methods that undermine traditional notions of authorial ownership of the words of the poem, as the very title of his most recent book indicates. As Shurin writes, “After a saturated period of writing poetic prose, and fifteen years of prose poetry, I began to re-imagine the possibilities of the poetic line. In 1996 I began a book-length series of verse poems called Involuntary Lyrics. [These were published in book form in 2005.] These ‘line-heavy’ poems try to intensely utilize the torque of line-breaks just as those breaks fall across conventional syntax, to create an interruptive but suspended measure that is both notational, like shorthand, and also largely colloquial.” Shurin has written a poem corresponding to each of Shakespeare’s sonnets, although the book Involuntary Lyrics does not include all of them. (Shurin says that he had to decide whether to approach it as a project, including all 154 pieces, or as a book, including only those pieces that held up as poems in themselves.) Each numbered, untitled “semi-“ or “meta-sonnet” takes its end words from the numerically corresponding sonnet of Shakespeare’s, though the order of the words has been rearranged prior to composition “to test the ear’s ability to hear rhymes across odd distances in the poem and through widely varying line lengths.” Shurin also intends the serial nature of the project to, in his words, “privilege the daily….The right-hand words are fixed by Shakespeare, brought into new contexts by the preceding and following language that comes, as it were, from the left side, which is open to ‘my’ world: personal events, friends, lovers, negotiations of economic reality, social circumstance, restless eros, mortality, and age.” Here again we see the confrontation and overcoming of boundaries—of different times and places, of various discourses and modes of expression, of literary tradition and literary experimentation, of ‘literature’ and daily life, of fixity and contingency—that are so central to Shurin’s work. As he writes in the beautifully self-reflexive and proleptically retrospective Involuntary Lyric CLIV (corresponding to Shakespeare’s sonnet 154, the last of the sequence):

Attention’s the remedy
for what it attends,…
of pure syntax contiguity face to face on fire
to prove
each line warmed
by particulars fore and aft. Love
’s the art imagined by desire (Paradise 142).


C. Dale said...

I hope you have a speedy recovery.

Peter said...

Sorry to hear about your illness.
All best wishes, Reginald.

Hedgie said...

Best wishes for your recovery.

Mark Granier said...

Reginald, terrible to hear that you're in hospital, but hopeful in that you are recovering. Here's to seeing you back on your feet and writing as beautifully (and lucidly) as always as soon as possible. Very best wishes,


A.H. said...

Best wishes to you for a healthy recovery: this is a deep and reflective piece of criticism which absorbs the reader.

Rethabile said...

Very best thoughts for a speedy recovery. And thank you for the great criticisms.

Don Share said...

Reginald, all my very best to you.

As ever, - D.

Víctor Azuaje said...

Reginald, best wishes for your recovery.

Que te mejores pronto,


Unknown said...

I hope you are soon on the mend. All best.


RC said...

Get well,Reginald.

brian (baj) salchert said...

Safety, strength,
and long continuance,
and also for

Nick said...

I hope that you will recover soon.

Best Wishes

David Groff said...

Reginald, all good wishes for a quick and easy recovery. Thank you, as always, for your actue and stimulating postings.

David Groff

Lee Herrick said...

To your good health, Reginald.

Reginald Harris said...

Reginald: Got a call from Lisa today telling me about your surgery. Very best wishes to you (and Robert) from Mark and I. Get well soon! (signed) Reginald

s said...

搬家公司 月子中心 seo 關鍵字廣告 關鍵字 google關鍵字廣告 關鍵字行銷 網路行銷 通姦 徵信社 外遇 桃園房屋仲介 桃園房屋買賣 桃園房屋 醫學美容診所 淨膚雷射 雷射溶脂 飛梭雷射 微晶瓷 植髮 團體服 團體服訂做 醫學美容診所 肉毒桿菌 肉毒桿菌瘦臉 醫學美容 整型診所 美國月子中心 徵信 徵信公司 出軌 清潔公司台北搬家公司 整形 韓風整形 整形 韓風整形 老人癡呆症 情緒管理 訂房網 線上訂房

s said...

熱水器 省電熱水器 衛浴設備 節能減碳 電熱水器 中古車 義賣 義賣活動 二手車 環保袋 環保袋 環保袋 十分瀑布 台北旅遊網 月子餐 飛梭雷射 太陽能熱水器 太陽能 三久太陽能 三久 身體檢查 健康檢查 台北民宿 平溪 景觀餐廳 薰衣草花園 花園餐廳 螢火蟲 渡假村 鐵道之旅 團體服 滷味 滷味加盟 滷味批發 滷味食材 滷味宅配 滷雞翅 滷雞腳 健康滷味 魯味 加盟創業 慈善慈善機構 公益彩券

s said...

健康食品 慈善基金會 公益團體 愛心捐款 捐款 美白 皺紋 減肥 禿頭 醫學美容 電波拉皮 雷射溶脂 肉毒桿菌 玻尿酸 痘疤 婦產科診所 室內設計 埋線 內分泌失調 黃體不足 針灸減肥 坐月子中心 婦產科 月子中心 全身健康檢查玫瑰花束 盆栽 網路花店 花店 鍛造 樓梯扶手 欄杆 鐵門 採光罩 清水溝 通水管 通馬桶

Anonymous said...

馬桶 馬桶不通 國外旅遊 國外機票 團體旅遊 直航機票 簽證熱水器 蘭花 化糞池 抽化糞池 便宜機票 國內旅遊 抽水肥 太陽能 水管不通 洗水塔 消毒 通水管 通馬桶 馬桶 馬桶不通 上順旅行社 五福旅行社 大興旅行社 天喜旅行社 天福旅行社 日本旅行社 日本旅遊 日本機票 日本自由行 日本訂房 包通 抽化糞池 抽水肥 水管不通 洗水塔 自由行 訂房 雄獅旅遊 汽車美容 汽車美容 三久太陽能黃金價格查詢 貸款 信用貸款

Anonymous said...

房屋貸款 剖腹生產 姓名配對 星座 星座運勢 算命 素食料理 素食水餃 開運印章 風水 外遇 徵信 壁癌 屋頂防水 屋頂隔熱 抓漏 油漆 徵信社 外遇 徵信 徵信社 外遇 徵信 徵信社 外遇 徵信 徵信社 外遇 徵信 徵信社 外遇 徵信 徵信社 清潔公司浴室 漏水 舊屋翻新 裝潢 防水工程 壁癌 健康飲食 台北素食餐廳 吃素 團購美食 水餃 素食素食食譜

Anonymous said...

素食餐廳 交友 婚友 婚友社 婚友聯誼 愛情公寓 相親 相親銀行 聯誼 命理網 姓名學Hook and Loop 婚禮佈置 情人花束 新竹花店婚友聯誼社 愛情會場佈置 氣球佈置二手車健檢 醫學美容 淨膚雷射 汽車美容 法拍屋 水餃 清潔公司 塑膠袋批發 塑膠袋工廠 實驗動物 到府坐月子 坐月子 坐月子中心 坐月子餐 孕婦 月子餐 到府坐月子 中古車 今日金價 坐月子中心 坐月子中心台中 坐月子中心台北 台北人力銀行