As/Is







3.10.2015


Mannerism and Apparition Poems


In positing critical boundaries between Apparition Poems and Cheltenham: Apparition Poems has in place something Mannerist, or “Manneristic,” which differentiates it from Cheltenham and the Cheltenham Elegies. It has to do with sex, and sexuality; the sense that one Apparition Poems protagonist is exaggeratedly sexual, a kind of James Bond figure, who traipses from sexual encounter to sexual encounter, always with women (a hetero stud, again like Bond or Brando), always with a kind of grandiose Byronic angst about the strife, confusion, agony and ecstasy he encounters in the process. The pitfalls of this textual Mannerism are much the same as the pitfalls of pictorial Mannerism: by focusing on exaggeration, the distending of literal and metaphoric limbs, the reality or Realism component of the text is diminished, and with it the sense of humanistic interest. That is why, for all their iciness, dinginess, and phenomenological turmoil, the Elegies have a hinge (for me) of being rated superior to the original Apparition Poems. It also needs to be said that Apparition Poems is a book with many facets: the meta-poems, dramatic monologues, and character sketches (including a few persona poems), all present a far less Mannerist, or “mannered” textual picture, so that the epic in fragments can continue to enumerate its turf as just that. I also want to iterate that the chiasmus between the Mannerist, sexualized poems and the meta-poems, dramatic monologues, and character sketches objectifies this James Bond protagonist as he intermittently appears in the text, highlighting both his raw-nerved sensuality, its phenomenological import, and its limitations, as different audiences will construe these limitations to be drastic or not, depending on attitudes towards the Mannerist. Some sensibilities dote on exaggeration, some do not.

Another chiasmus: between the James Bond version of Apparition Poems protagonist and Byron’s two alter egos, Childe Harold and Don Juan: reveals how and where we have seen these phallocentric energies in English language poetry before. In fact, the Bond Apps protagonist is a sort of composite sketch of Childe Harold and Don Juan conflated. Childe Harold’s exaggerated world-weariness is mixed with Don Juan’s exaggerated libidinous innocence, and set into motion in twenty-first century Philadelphia. If we could call Byron a Mannerist, it is because he plays on his audience’s expectations that he is willing to exaggerate circumstances and contexts in his poetry towards outrageous ends; and if Don Juan and Childe Harold do not seem particularly outrageous in 2015, it may be because even Byron’s outrageousness was carefully crafted not to antagonize the substantial public which had already gravitated to his work. It is also interesting to wonder if an Apparition Poem like this, 535:

I was fucking this girl
in the ass, late at night,
and I looked out into
the parking lot across
the street and moon-
light glistened on the
cars, I thought, that’s
it, I don’t give a shit
anymore, you can take
your America, shove
it up your ass just like
I’m doing here, that’s
when I came, and it
was a good long one.

will seem outrageous in 2215, or even if it seems outrageous now; living, as we do, in porn-besotted times, where (in porn) couples fornicate in Mannerist modes and formations, exaggerating what physical intercourse is and means against the normative. Byron wrote against the Regency England backdrop of coyness and artful evasion; yet, he manages to convey a sort of randy insouciance in his treatment of the Don Juan protagonist. In a way, it doesn’t matter; even those who don’t enjoy the James Bond level of Apparition Poems will see how “Bond” fits in like a puzzle piece towards a representation of both a Zeitgeist and a national psyche; even if, as I have suggested, the Cheltenham Elegies perform roughly the same job with more authority and with superior, laser-like focus.