Elegies/Odes in print, Open Library

This is the cover of the Gyan Books print chapbook Cheltenham Elegies/Keats' Odal Cycle, which now has its own page on Open Library

Dancing with Myself: Narrative Lapses

If there are major constituent weaknesses in When You Bit… as a work of literary art, many of them have to do with the book’s dual ambition— to present sixty autonomous sonnets, and to have them establish, consolidate, and carry along a cohesive narrative threaded through the book. As to what succeeds in When You Bit…: many of the individual sonnets are very strong, both formally and on narrative-thematic levels. Also, the 3-1-2 conceit, how we start with a ménage, move into the solitude of Dancing with Myself, and end in two-person intimacy, is original and interesting. However, the interstices between the three sections of the book are, for my taste, left too loose, too ambiguous, so that the overarching narrative which carries the book along is not as solid as it could be. The opening (3) section, Sister Lovers, establishes an ambiance of sensuality and decadence— fair— sets in place how I am using the sonnet form formally, playing with some conventions, honoring others— fair— but also fails to distinguish the two Chicago Muses from each other, so that by the time we get to Dancing with Myself, one Muse is chosen, seemingly at random, to be the book’s Dark Lady, and the other (it seems) fades into the narrative mist. We never learn why the chosen Muse became the chosen Muse, nor how it happened that the situation between the three subjects temporarily dissolved. “Gist” manages to present us with some hints, at least as to the protagonist’s emotions:

Baudelaire conflated solitude
with multitude. He was wrong.
Or, look how good it can get,
& bad, when you’re backed in
to a corner with only work to
prop you up & give you gist.
I’m in love with you, I spit
when I say it cause I feel like
I live in my churned guts, I
look out the window, there’s
a street called Race, ha ha, I
couldn’t be any slower except
if I started popping ludes again.
Once-a-minute heartbeats rend.

The revelation of the protagonist’s being in love is a major one. Sister Lovers works specifically with the narrative thrust that the ménage is rather cold, clinical, and loveless. Somehow, from this context arose a relationship between the protagonist and one of the Muses in which inheres I-Thou warmth, tenderness, and deep emotion. Since we do not see how or why this happened, When You Bit… forces attentive readers to use their imaginations to fill in the narrative ambiguities. Readers can, thus, decide for themselves how important all the narrative blank spaces are, and whether they interfere with enjoyment of the sonnet sequence as a gestalt whole. This is all part and parcel of one of my ambitious objectives when I first began to write book-length poetry manuscripts— the paratactic approach, of a bunch of more-or-less random poems thrown together in a haphazard fashion (this approach is de rigueur in American verse), was deeply unappealing to me. I wanted to write books that were books, books which each had a specific, autonomous identity. So that, reading one of my books would be a complete, well-rounded experience. The challenge, to pull this off in poetry, is a major one. So that, the narrative lapse between Sister Lovers and Dancing with Myself— of the two Muses, one has somehow been selected and fallen in love with, while the other seemingly vanishes— is one of the book’s weaknesses, even as what audience the book has must decide for itself if it is a distractingly major weakness or a forgivable one. As author of the book, I have moods in both directions— accusatory moods balanced by forgiving or forbearing ones.    


Dancing With Myself: Saturday Night Fever

What makes Psyche a goddess for John Keats? One of the contradictions built into the Odal Cycle is that Psyche distinguishes herself, very particularly, as being both close to the earth and down in the proverbial dirt. She lays in the forest with many men, rather than hovering remotely around Olympus; and Keats exalts, in a perversely contradictory way, her very accessibility as part and parcel of her divinity. It all has to do with Keats being something of a born-again Pagan, and a worshipper of Earth Magic; not the Satanic form of Earth Magic (Keats being looped by critics into the Satanic School with Byron and Shelley), but the “happy,” “sweet” form of Earth Magic, whose goal is to unite body and mind, in the manner which (Keats feels) the Grecians had formerly been able to do. Whether or not we buy this— that the Greeks mastered the profound art of uniting body and soul— will determine to what extent we can buy the idea of Keats’ Psyche as a goddess figure. The Dark Lady in Dancing With Myself is certainly down in the dirt and close to the Earth— however, the happy sweetness of Psyche’s layings do not seem to be part of repertoire. In fact, what comes to the surface in Dancing With Myself is the idea of conflating sexual impulses with deathly or lurid ones, so that sex and death become flip sides of the same coin. One of the more droll manifestations of this dichotomy in Dancing With Myself is the protagonist’s association of the situation with the movie Saturday Night Fever, in which characters live their lives on the edge of death and suicide, even as they are enmeshed in unabashed sensuality and carnality. Here is “Splat!”:

What greatness thrust upon
me? Solitary Saturday night
fever, jive talking to myself,
doing lines of Advil, falling
off imaginary bridges: splat!
The familiar trope of falling
endlessly, this is how I stay
alive. All because you are, I
affirm, more than a woman,
but, unfortunately, not just
to me, but to many generally.
I suppose I could blazon you:
rhubarb thighs, persimmon
twat, etc, but not productively,
& what would Travolta say?

All the coyness of the Bee Gees allusions (“more than a woman,” “staying alive,” “jive talking”) is born from the conviction that the protagonist is risking his arms and legs just to re-consummate his relationship with his Dark Lady. The scene in the movie in which one of the characters falls from Brooklyn’s Verrazano Bridge becomes a metaphor for falling into a situation in which it is impossible not to lose, owing to the Dark Lady’s perceived duplicitous promiscuity. Duplicitous promiscuity is something this Dark Lady shares with Shakespeare’s Dark Lady; even if the protagonist distinguishes himself from Shakespeare’s protagonist with a corrosive sense of irony and a willingness to trivialize (sometimes) the situation and thus make fun of it (Travolta). As the protagonist waits to “hit the ground” after falling endlessly, he may or may not wind up down in the dirt with his Dark Lady as he wants to be. He makes fun of poetry, too, and the self-reflexivity and self-referential “meta” moment of “I suppose I could blazon you” takes the baseball bat (in the manner of the Saturday Night Fever thugs) and swings at the idea of complete earnestness in the face of either sex or death. That sex and death should be conflated here, and then dismissed, has to do with a Muse who, herself, has more of a brain in her head then the characters in Saturday Night Fever, and should know better than to jive talk.


Dancing With Myself: The Dark Lady

Has it ever occurred to anyone that the aesthetic dictum supposedly scribed by Arthur Rimbaud— “a systematic derangement of the senses”— actually fits, in a much more cohesive, circumscribed way, to Keats’ Odes? For all the ditties of no tone, breezes blowing light, conflation of sleeping and waking states, it seems to me that Mr. Rimbaud’s comparatively jejune forays into synesthesia cannot hold much of a candle to Keats’ disciplined psycho-affective maneuvering. As per the psycho-affective maneuvering in Dancing With Myself— it seems to me that much of the action hinges on a number of revelations— of the Dark Lady who animates the poems, and of the synesthetic rigors she imposes on a protagonist, who is revealed to be ever so slightly masochistic. The Dark Lady of the cycle is, we assume, one of the two Chicago Muses introduced in Sister Lovers. One flaw of the base/superstructure dynamic in When You Bit… is that Sister Lovers does not do the job of introducing us to two discrete characters in the two Muses. We see a lot of drinking, drugging, and fucking, but the base, foundational level of character construction goes un-assayed. By Dancing With Myself, one of the two Chicago Muses morphs into the Dark Lady we see here:

You’re more of a Dark Lady
than I have ever hoped for,
especially because when you
betray me, it’s with someone
I love: me.
                   You’re more of
everything, actually, & you’re
also a pain in the ass. That’s
why I haven’t let you off the
hook. I’ll wind up in my own
hands again tonight, sans
metaphors, like your full
moon in my face, but you’ll
never know there’s a man in you.

The self-betrayal of the protagonist, in relation to the Dark Lady, is both sexual and psychological. There is a part of him which feels violated by her, even as the visceral attraction is also extreme. The “full/moon in my face” creates a subtext of physical transgression— perhaps anal sex— and that the Dark Lady (as in Shakespeare’s sonnets) finds the protagonist (as he presents himself) as rather corny and weathered. The anal sex subtext is also hinged to the Dark Lady’s lunacy, moodiness (“full moon”) and to the fact that she undervalues the protagonist’s manhood/masculinity (“you’ll/never know there’s a man in you”). The situation in Sister Lovers, which opens the book— a confusing ménage involving the protagonist with two women, that leaves him exhausted— we now see was probably arranged by this Dark Lady (who, we also see, somehow maneuvered the other Chicago Muse into place), who made this arrangement just to create her own dark context, and initiate the protagonist into the mysteries (“full moons”) of her boudoir. It gives her the air of master over the protagonist, which he chooses to accept, “liking her dirt” (Deodorant Redolence). Yet, to the extent that he is not, as Sidney and Shakespeare were, fully emasculated in the sonnet sequence by a dominant female, what he prizes is that he and his Dark Lady have similar minds; as in Kinky Verbs, “we start saying/the same things,” and it is established that this Dark Lady, unlike Shakespeare’s, may have some creative force or aptitude in her repertoire of tricks as well. Synesthesia works here oddly, and with a certain guttural logic: what (excuse my vulgarisms) it means to get fucked in the ass, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This Dark Lady plays the trick of teaching the protagonist lessons about how sexual relationships can resonate over long periods of time, especially as regards who is mastering/controlling who, who is getting fucked and who isn’t. She is teaching him to think about his body, more than is usually his wont to do, and how it connects to the way he feels, about himself and others, and (most importantly) to what it can do in the world. In this sense, she is a far more evolved specimen than Sidney or Shakespeare could’ve conceived; even as we may not envy the protagonist his entanglement.


Amazon Apps

I've added to my Amazon Author Page: photos, Eris Temple Apps video. Peace.


Chimes chiming randomly

Chimes is doing its own unique sashay in the marketplace: here it is turned up in Italy, Russia, and India, and with some new props on Google Books.


When You Bit... on

When You Bit...: biting, available for sale on and AbeBooks

A Poet in Center City Pt. 2 on Open Library

A Poet In Center City Part 2, which documents the birth and development of the Philly Free School, now has its own page on Open Library.


Dancing with Myself: Open Library

Dancing with Myself, the middle section of When You Bit..., now has its own page on Open Library.


Preface: Two Teens Trilogies ('14)

“Prometheus Bound” by Rubens hangs in a prominent position at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Center City Philadelphia. With the range of materials on offer at PMA, some mighty, some not, I’ve always felt touched by the grandiose scale and the sheer nervy cacophony of this masterpiece, how it faces you as you enter the room where it occupies an entire wall, hitting you with the narrative gist that heroism is a risky business in human contexts, where major sacrifices for minimum wages are de rigueur and the human race are revealed as rather middling in their potentiality for appreciation, both of true heroes and of heroism itself. While it would be gauche to self-ascribe heroism for continuing to write in a major high art consonant way in America in 2014, I do feel that the composition of these two trilogies constitutes an at least semi-Promethean bid to keep a number of ideals in wide circulation: the notion that what was inaugurated in Philadelphia and Chicago in the Aughts— a new strain of complexity, depth, and historical awareness (enlightened elitism/classicism) in American art towards an attempt at the durability of the best products of European art over the last three or four centuries— should be carried over into the Teens sans respite; that serious art in America should pursue a serious attempt at telling as much of the truth as is possible about social, political, and aesthetic conditions in America, within the American Academy and intellectual establishment and without; and that historical awareness should inhere in decisions serious artists make, and be a source of profound nourishment for them. 

What happens to be picking at my, and our, proverbial liver (on a scale epic enough to compete with Rubens) is the specter of a bitter and very thoroughgoing recession, covering the West as a reward for our collective prodigality in the late twentieth century. Many of us who survived past the Aughts have lived to endure days both somber and monotonous. The Aughts represented a substantial leap forward for the world avant-garde; the recession and its wake have pushed back with some force at our advances. The rank-and-file mediocrities of American art, especially in the mainstream press and art press, have gone out of their way to ignore our achievements; have, indeed, attempted a hostile takeover, coup d'etat, to heist American art back to the Nineties and before and leave it there. Conversely, the ferment around us, particularly Aughts Philly/The Philadelphia Renaissance, has remained active and intense enough that the American rank-and-file and their hostile gambits do not seem particularly successful. It is largely owing to this prolonged ferment that I have felt empowered to continue composing on a high level, and from a sensibility not yet disenchanted with the idealism of Aughts Philly.

These two trilogies are thus set on a demonstrable knife-edge— against the grain of an inevitable backlash, continuing an already entrenched (if newfangled) American tradition of immersion in socio-aesthetic mysteries between America and Europe, the fledgling and the venerable, history and an extended present moment. If the poems herein included maintain a personal/personalized edge, it is also the case that the Promethean enterprise in America in 2014 is not completely a personal endeavor— what I do is meant to stand for all of us who wish to resist the backlash against Aughts avant-gardism. Adorno’s fabled lyric poet implicates a mercantile society, its repressive frigidity, indirectly; what I mean to do here, in prose and poetry, is a sustained frontal assault. That’s why there is no real lyricism in these trilogies— what accrues to the master narrative of these poems is a realistic impulse, shot through with remembrances (historical and otherwise) and animating imagination, against the self-perceived autonomy and self-sufficiency of the lyrical. I am of the opinion that self-sufficient lyrical autonomy in 2014 is useless; better to imagine past the poet’s Self then to subsist within its confines. To push past the personal is part and parcel of the Promethean endeavor, starting from Philadelphia and outward.

TextbookX/ Used Apps

TextbookX and Textbooks (.com) are also reasonable places to pick up used copies of Apparition Poems

Intimacy: Conventional, Otherwise...

The quirkiness of Keats’ Odal Cycle as involves intimacy, “I-thou”; when Keats addresses the “you” in the Odes, it is almost always either an archetype or an imaginative creation. Keats does not directly address any other human beings. It is left to his readers to decide for ourselves whether we can accept this approach; whether there is or can be any real intimacy between Keats and Psyche, or a Grecian Urn, or a nightingale, etc. Because the Odes are legitimately visionary, i.e. they create, consolidate, and perpetuate an imaginative vision of human reality both complex enough and self-contained enough to be seen to constitute a complex, self-contained vision, the choice, as ever with visionary major high art consonant art, is whether to accept this vision or not. The magnificence of Keats’ prosody is one reason to accept Keats’ vision; that the prosody stands for or signifies that the vision, of intimacy with things and imaginative vistas rather than with people, is real, wholesome, and genuine. On the other hand, some audiences may decide that Keats getting overheated about urns and nightingales falls under the narrative-thematic aegis of the adolescent, and that the prosodic richness of the Odes only partly compensates for the gravitas that is lost in ecstasy, euphoria, and the passionate élan of unbridled imaginative sensuousness.

The Cheltenham Elegies replace euphoria with resignation. In this humanistic context, all the “I-thou” textual energy is aimed conventionally, at other people, be they living or dead (this, we do not always know). What is meant to be mind-bending in the Elegies is dramatic intensity and shifting perspectives, even as the Elegies’ prosody is not as rich as the Odes’. With Shelley and Adonais, we have a vision of almost complete alienation, of Shelley investigating the dry-ice “I-he” or “I-it” perspective in nightmarish vignette after vignette. Shelley’s vision is the most materialistic of the three, and (potentially) the most difficult to stomach— that death has absolutely cut off any intimacy he might have achieved with John Keats, that Keats is absolutely gone to him, and that Keats’ corpse is a fetish for Shelley of raw, insensate meat and nothing else. Euphoria and resignation are answered here with searing agony and horror; and, also (as with Keats), a sense of a kind of textual Mannerism, which exaggerates quirks, extends textual limbs into contorted positions, bends reality out of shape (all the necrophilia, the personification of Death), and makes materialism morph, in a manner which may be seen as either seductive or nauseating, into a kind of hyper-materialistic inferno-world. Neither Adonais nor the Odes tackle humanity head-on the way the Elegies do. Whether this counts for the Elegies or against depends on any reader’s given taste for humanism and human intimacy in its most pure, least torqued manifestations.   


Alienation and Apparition Poems

The progression of Apparition Poems, as a literary text, into Cheltenham, I have noticed, also constitutes a small cycle or mini-cycle. If one perspective which dominates Apparition Poems is the relationship between a poetic “I,” a first-person singular perspective, and a third person Other (“she” or “they”), and if what this expresses is a certain amount of alienation (the more intimate perspective being the second person, “you” or “thou”), then we may perceive how this alienation, tied in by temporal constraints to the Great Recession, leads from Apparition Poems to Elegy 261 and the other Cheltenham Elegies. One prominent cumulative effect of the mini-cycle, is the impression of a protagonist trying to understand how Center City Philadelphia has lost its Aughts luster, its potentiality for I-thou intimacy, and became a kind of dead zone, not much elevated over Old York Road at midnight. Old York Road at midnight is, indeed, hidden in the textual peaks and troughs of Apparition Poems, with its motif of “wolf’s hour” dimensionality. Why the Cheltenham Elegies, with their backwards glance, must reclaim the intimate territory of “I-thou” for this protagonist, is to surmount the vast entropy/decimation effect of the Recession, and to (by accomplishing this) restore a vested sense both of humanity and of human dignity. Elegy 261 thus constitutes a textual sea-change, wedged between Apparition Poems and the remainder of the Elegiac Cycle; and a re-colonization of lost narrative-thematic ground:

Never one to cut corners about cutting
corners, you spun the Subaru into a rough
U-turn right in the middle of Old York Road
at midnight, scaring the shit out of this self-
declared “artist.” The issue, as ever, was
nothing particular to celebrate. We could
only connect nothing with nothing in our
private suburban waste land. Here’s where
the fun starts— I got out, motherfucker.
I made it. I say “I,” and it works. But Old
York Road at midnight is still what it is.
I still have to live there the same way you do.

Perspectives established in 261 create a bridge into established dialogues and meta-dialogues which move past the generalized alienation of Apparition Poems, into a realm of physical/metaphysical specificity, which can create alternate impressions, either colder and harder, or warmer and softer, than the bulk of Apparition Poems. This sense— the Elegiac Cycle both ascending above and descending below Apparition Poems— makes Apparition Poems, as a text, appear to establish and maintain a sort of stasis, even as the alienation effect oscillates, sometimes drastically, from poem to poem.

It is also worth noting that when the earmarks of intimacy do manifest in Apparition Poems, as in 1550:

I’m in your house:
your husband, kids
not home. A voice
(yours) follows me
around, playing on
my body, until I’m
in your bathroom,
smoking butts on

a sunny spring day.
Your body doesn’t
appear. It seems to
me you’re suspect,
Steph, it seems to
me you want too
much. Then, you
always said I was

a dreamer. What
do we have past
dreams anyway?
What else is love?

there is the sense of a lived past impinging on a lived present, and only the poetic elegiac or backwards glance allows the comfort and security of profound intimacy or humanity, in  decimated/entropic moments. When a poetic perspective is created from what is perceived as a decimated present, what textual options arise must have to do with searching for other temporal currents which might lead to richness meriting representation. A decimated landscape, meriting a decimated perspective (the subject or protagonist decimated psychically and/or affectively), takes consciousness (potentially, and sometimes) to a place where truth-consonance leads securely to I-It (or, as in Apparition Poems, I-she). Elegy 261 is set in place as a kind of door, from a decimated present into a different kind of stasis-space, both tactile and evanescent, that is Cheltenham’s physical/metaphysical, life/psyche-consuming presence in the world. If Cheltenham takes the artist out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire, he at least gets to create and manifest cohesion and cohesiveness in his consciousness as regards the totality of his life and experiences. After Apparition Poems, the quest for cohesion and coherence is on, and all roads lead back to the subject’s first experience, both of real darkness and of real intimacy. Alienation in Apparition Poems becomes resignation in Cheltenham; and both become the skeleton key to a level of consciousness which can assimilate alienation and resignation, and can transmute them into suitably dark, suitably complex texts: dialogic, meta-dialogic.


Meta-Dialogism: Cheltenham Elegies (IA)

This pdf, of meta-analyses of the Cheltenham Elegies by American poet Adam Fieled, introduces the term meta-dialogism into literary theory discourse. And, in full-text


Beyond Meta-Dialogism

Among the possible phenomenological circumstances meta-dialogism must account for— when a distinct, cohesive voice within an individual’s consciousness manifests, but the voice is (here) of an Other. If the voice is not the voice of the subject, credibility becomes an issue, and with it a relevant phenomenological inquiry— can a given subject channel the voice of an Other with accuracy, so that a distinct “Other” voice is also a credible one within his/her consciousness? Elegy 268 posits this inquiry without offering an answer:

Satin blouses, trinkets (some kind of
jade pendant), & the big trinket between
her legs that nobody gets to play with.
Rare meat. She’s been babied by her
parents since her birth (Rabbit year,
a juxtaposition more sad than ironic),
and suddenly I can teach her something?
And I thought of what she was telling
herself in response, and the words came
to me, “I’m doing this because I promised,
my Mom wants me to do this, now I promised, I have to do this.”

This inquiry also sets in place a novel facet of meta-dialogism— distinct, cohesive voices within an individual’s consciousness which are nonetheless generated from without, rather than from within. In practice: when the “words come” to the Elegiac Protagonist in 268 (“I’m doing this because I promised…”), and he (we assume) is channeling the doomed, rich brat who is the subject of the Elegy, where exactly do the words come from? The Elegy does seem to imply that the woman being addressed is simple enough (and a naïf enough) that to channel her voice would not be much of a challenge for the Protagonist. This returns us precisely to a point already made about Elegy 414— the Elegies, as a series, invite us to examine the phenomenological issue of how much, or to what extent, humans can (for want of a more graceful phrase) infiltrate, inhabit, and colonize each other’s brains. Or: to what extent individual consciousness is permeable, both to be assimilated into the consciousness of Others and to assimilate what may hover “in the air,” the consciousness of Others. This takes phenomenology (from the Elegies on out) into a realm of mysticism, possibly against empiricism, its standards of measurement— yet there is nowhere else for the inquiry to go.

However, as seen in 268, the function of meta-dialogism in an individual consciousness is seen to change— rather than being strictly self-contained, it is involved in processes (of assimilation, of imitation) beyond itself, and beyond the boundaries of conventional subjectivity. This perceived mysticism or post-subjectivism, inhering in meta-dialogism, incorporating distinct voices of Others “owned” by the subject as phenomenological “assets,” becomes an intangible force, another way or manner of realizing the reality (mystical or not) of the human world. Significantly, it is a spiritualized world, however elegiac, for the Elegiac Protagonist, multi-dimensional, various, and angled against the “inertness model” which constitutes Cheltenham’s surface of appearances. This, indeed, is what a Cheltenham subject may own, against Cheltenham— the mobility of developed, multifarious consciousness. This consciousness chafes against both the inertness of Cheltenham’s manifested appearances (in 268, a frigid, frozen-into-place family context) and imposes a multi-dimensional perception of human life on Cheltenham’s rigid, mourned-for singularity.

The Cogito in 268 for the Elegiac Protagonist (his “I think”) is exercised for the imaginative purpose of making real to himself seedy, materialistic lives (including, quite possibly, and in part, his own)— and the process of reifying these lives, for the Protagonist, shifts him into the elegiac consciousness-space, the apotheosis of using one’s mind to configure the mindless. The problem with Cheltenham’s mindless, repetitive rituals is that they do involve subtlety, and nuance; it is just that the participants are not supposed to register this. If they do, the hypnotic spell of inert matter dissipates into the nothingness of self-perceived, self-avowed deterioration, decay, and psycho-affective dissolution. Cheltenham’s inert surface is there to be clung to, against sinister under and over-currents, and, as a physical/metaphysical site, is its own nothingness place. Both dialogism and meta-dialogism are enemies to this surface, as is any sense of cognitive discipline in any inhabitant at all. Everything in Cheltenham has been established to isolate the individual, and consolidate inert depths with inert surfaces, both in individual and in group (often family) contexts. The nuances and subtleties of Cheltenham-as-system are all sophisticated, established routines towards homogenization, surface maintenance, and eventual decimation of individual human lives. So seems the routine in 268— a set of issues raised, and a context generated, to humiliate many parties at once. Still: if the Elegiac Protagonist is able to add another voice to his repertoire, the game is not necessarily completely a nothingness game for him.


Meta-Dialogism and Elegy 260

The opening salvo of Cheltenham Elegy 260 is an image both tactile and subtle enough to convey the vagaries of a certain kind of teenage life in the American suburbs— the Elegiac Protagonist, “too stoned to find the bathroom,” pissing on a tree-trunk in the backyard of a friend of a friend:

I was too stoned to find the bathroom.
The trees in the dude’s backyard made
it look like Africa. You were my hook-up
to this new crowd. The same voice, as always,
cuts in to say you were fucked up even
then. You had a dooming Oedipal
complex. We were all wrapped tight,
even when we got high. I was the
only one getting any, so you both
mistrusted me. African trees & easy
camaraderie. A primitive pact sealed
between warring factions— my spears
(take this as you will) for your grass.

That the trees look “African” is clearly the byproduct of his intoxication. Dramatic tensions inhere— does the third party here, an unfamiliar, approve of his tree-trunk being pissed on? Of even more interest is a textual moment which bridges the chasm between the Bakhtinian dialogism discussed in the Elegies recently and the phenomenological tensions explored in the Elegies earlier this year— “the same voice, as always/ cuts in to say you were fucked up even/ then. You had a dooming Oedipal/complex.” This constitutes the manifestation, in a first person narrative voice, of a precise, coherent, fully realized second voice; in it, the realization of a second complete character, dramatic interest intact, within the first. The textual stance of the Elegiac Protagonist must appear layered, because the complexities of his character encompass a multitude of voices which may be channeled through him at any moment. This phenomenological tension— the exploration of the narrative first person singular, its potentialities not only to contain multitudes, but to manifest precise, cohesive voices out of this multifarious consciousness— creates the possibility of meta-dialogism, the interstitial communication of complex data within a single character or consciousness. A perceived stability— the “same” voice— establishes the dynamic of meta-dialogism as a defense mechanism against the bewildering congeries of appearances which constitute Cheltenham’s “game face” to the world. Competing voices in a single consciousness arise out of situations which manifest such extreme surface/depth tensions/abrasions that they can only be processed accurately with a repertoire of cohesive voices in tow.

So it is in Elegy 260— the Protagonist’s second manifested voice is there specifically to assert depth— that the smooth phenomenological surface (a dope deal, African trees, “easy camaraderie”) belies other voices (Oedipal ones) which render the Other in the poem (the same Other, we assume, as in 261) both impotent sexually and generally ineffectual. The Elegiac Protagonist is sexually potent, and mistrusted for it; his “cock out” routine in the Elegy’s opening vignette amounts to an assertion of physical confidence. This receives a mirroring algorithm at the Elegy’s conclusion regarding the Protagonist’s intellect— “my spears…for your grass” suggests that the bartering process involves thoughts, plans, stratagem, and the recompense of drugs for them. The textual back-lighting also shades the situation to suggest that the Protagonist has been brought in as a hired hand, to employ the “spears” of his intellect towards finding a solution to whatever the stalemated, drug-related situation is. As in 261, the hero/anti-hero Other (or brother) figure in the Elegies drags the Elegiac Protagonist into a dangerous, possibly life-threatening situation (the rough u-turn in Old York Road being a compacted version of this drug contretemps), and the suburban façade of placidity is disrupted severely by the tasks being fulfilled by its inhabitants.

This congeries, which creates a practical/tactile base for the emergence of meta-dialogism in the Protagonist, is both complex and a complex (psychological hindrance), to be endured by those placed/situated to endure it. What the function or purpose of meta-dialogism is for the Elegiac Protagonist, is both a coping mechanism and a phenomenological quirk which facilitates recognition, no matter how beleaguered, that the human world is real, and that everything which happens to him in Cheltenham really is happening. The only way to give human reality a stable voice, from within one consciousness, is to develop several distinct voices. The Protagonist’s meta-dialogism takes the world (Cheltenham-as-stage) and solidifies it, against the wonted suburban impulse to nullify human experience/reality via outright denial, and the adoption of singular, indistinct first person perspectives.  


This Property is Condemned: Elegy 671

How lighting effects are used, both in theater productions and in movies, can drastically effect how we view characters and their actions. An individual can be lit to look effective or ineffective, sensuous or plain, emotionally well-rounded or flat, sans affect, and drab. In the context of the Cheltenham Elegies, textual devices are often used as lighting effects, lending splendor, ambiguity, or psychological nuance to both the Elegiac Protagonist and the ancillary protagonists arrayed around him. How, for example, the protagonist of Elegy 671 is “backlit” creates a warped, funhouse scenario, wherein everything about him is called into question, so that, by the end, confusion reigns and we have witnessed another textual self multiply. This inscribes in the poem the same dialogism in 671 we saw in 415:

Even as a little girl, she got beat down.
There was something wrong with her brains.
She couldn't relate to people. Cheltenham
guys noticed how adorably doll-like she was
(lookin’ real good, like Natalie Wood), but she
wouldn't date anyone. She died a mysterious
social drowning death. She got older and
became a Tennessee Williams heroine-as-Jewess.
I'm telling you this because I nailed her, dude.
I got her to give me a blowjob.

The first thing we notice as a textual lighting effect is that the relationship between this protagonist and the woman he is blazoning (after a fashion) is unclear. For all that the blazon (or semi-blazon) seems to be his, there is a scripted quality to it, and a rehearsed quality as well, suggesting that the entire blazon might have been composed by the woman in question herself. The reason would be simple, and shady— the two, the protagonist and his muse, are business partners, in cahoots towards the completion of illicit tasks, and ceremonious about their communications, linguistic or otherwise. The protagonist is, indeed, configured (backlit) to appear ceremonious, delivering his semi-blazon towards a climax not only absurd, but camp, in the Sontagian manner/fashion. The image of a “Tennessee Williams heroine-as-Jewess” may or may not refer to Natalie Wood in “This Property Is Condemned,” but the reference points (Tennessee Williams, Jewishness) have some associative relevance to gayness and gay culture.

A new form of dialogism in 671— precursor to “I’m telling you this…,” there is the entrance of an offstage voice, asking the protagonist why this particular, ham-fisted speech, blazon or not, needs to be delivered. The protagonist is thus caught out, and the lighting effects around him change; now he is lit to appear as absurd as the blazon or blazon script he’s been delivering. Put on the spot, and lit to appear that way, what the protagonist anti-heroically blurts out instills a final, climactic ambiguity, both around his possible gayness and whatever shady joint undertakings have already transpired— is the avowed head-giving literal, or just a metaphor for our heroine’s business deals having expanded towards a generous, ceremonious inclusion of the protagonist? The point of how the Cheltenham Elegies are generally lit is that nothing is let to appear stark or plain— voices collide with other voices, or intercede beyond other voices; images and perspectives are constantly shifting, even from or within first-person perspectives; and the singularity of the Elegiac vision is founded on a “multiplicity” textual paradigm. Unlike many of the Elegies, 671 is not set at night— the time/space coordinates are indeterminate— but the lighting effects, some bright, some dim, make clear that darkness and shade are as present as ever. If 671 is, in fact, an elegy (albeit one which, uncharacteristically, includes bawdy humor), it is an elegy which laments that dramatic conventions (scripts, blazons, metaphors) prevent Cheltenham characters from manifesting moments of truth with/for each other. Cheltenham dramas are lit to appear flaky, stagy, corny (staged corny moments), and hitched to a stilted version of camp (at least in 671) which makes, habitually, the actual truth of situations both indecipherable, and, unfortunately, irrelevant as well.  


Dialogism and Elegy 415

The cast of characters introduced by the Cheltenham Elegies invites interrogation on all levels. It is not merely that the dramatic intricacies between characters are awash, sodden with ambiguities; what Bakhtin calls dialogism, the sense of interplay, in works of literary art, between multiple voices, which manifest dualities within or against the integrity of individual works, is acutely present. Once it is acknowledged why and how the dialogism in the Elegies functions (always to add richness and nuance to the dual sense of Cheltenham as both a physical locale, objectively existing in standard space/time coordinates, and a metaphysical stage, subjectively existing in the individualized space/time coordinates of individuals, affirming both substance and essence and lack thereof), the interactions, abrasive or supportive, between the various, plaintive voices (if the Elegies have an analogue in Keats’ Odal Cycle, it is Nightingale) can move into focus as another textual site. They are a drama being performed on the physical/metaphysical stage that is Cheltenham, which is a stage both solid and evanescent. Yet, what angles we see of the actors are always dependent on textual “lighting effects,” which add to the sense of ambiguity, and both ambiguity’s potential enchantment and its eerie, debilitating darkness. In Elegy 415, for instance:

There’s something sweet and sickly
about teenagers fucking. Even laid
down by the jagged rocks that bordered
Tookany Creek. I think of them there,
and know he’s getting wasted. What’s
draining out of him is the will to live.
She always gets him off somehow. Then
they would walk over to the Little League
field and huddle in the dugout. He didn’t
even wind up graduating from Cheltenham
on time. I can’t get over thinking who he
could’ve been. Am I the only one?

The idea, among various conjectures, that this particular protagonist is both a first-person narrator and also the fallen, manhandled victim being referred to in the third-person, is a relevant one, creating a sense, within the dialogism of the Elegies, that single characters are allowed to generate multiplications of themselves within the poems, out of the emptiness or hollowness of their own solitude. This is a motif in the Elegies which takes Bakhtin’s conception or formulation and torques it more towards metaphysics than Bakhtin perhaps intended— the acknowledgement, first, that individual consciousness can encompass, within its confines, multiple voices. Or, that dialogism subsists between competing voices within the consciousness-space of autonomous individuals. Then, that the manifestation of these competing voices in the work of literary art, their (as it were) eruption into text, manifesting a new “set” on the stage which is Cheltenham, and what Cheltenham is. The dialogism between Cheltenham itself and its voices creates a complex mandala with the various voices manifested by autonomous protagonists in the Elegies; and the crux of the mandala is to create and sustain drama within the Elegiac Cycle.

Within the Cycle, Elegy 415 stands as a signification of dramatic tension and ambiguity, around the metaphysical import of a voice which initiates a dialogue which may or may not constitute a meta-dialogue. One inversion of these usages— the attitude and atmosphere of the Elegies is not carnivalesque, but an anti-carnival. The atmosphere embodies an assortment of rides and swings whose purport is a purgatory for souls, or (as an analogue) the purgation of ghosts, phantoms, and demons from individuals who dare to pass through it. This Cheltenham carnival/anti-carnival of souls is a ghostly or shadowed one. As is typical, the ghost presence in Elegy 415 is merely a multiplication of the protagonist’s presence from the first into the third person— and this metaphysical imbroglio moves Bakhtin into a space in which dialogism evinces dramatic tensions which enumerate that dialogism itself can manifest from fathomless depths and beleaguered subjectivity, as well as from carnival impulses issuing from the multiplication of surfaces.


from Posit (title poem)

I want
but that’s
nothing new.

I posit
no boundary
between us.

I say you,
I know you,
I think so.

I know
what world
is worldly.

I know
how death
stays alive.

I never
enter third
person places.

I could
go on