16 June 2010

Wildfire: A Verse Essay on Obscurity and Illumination

I'm having a hard time isolating what I find so compelling about Andrea Brady's new work, and at the end of the day I think it's simply a question of chops. I've had a similar experience this month reading John Wilkinson's Contrivances in that I can't get through a stanza before feeling compelled to take a few steps back in order to re-track a train of thought or the melody of a particular line. I've been reading Wildfire super slowly for weeks, but this afternoon I forced myself to read it fast cover to cover, and it was certainly useful to occupy its space on a molar level.

Brady writes of the work:

"Tracing the globalisation of a fire that feeds on life, (Wildfire) considers how ignition is missed, how many gallons of piss it takes to change a lightbulb, and how the fates of empires and individuals depend on accident. It follows as adventures in an ancient geography of perpetual fire become a world-defeating industry which drives all our consumption towards disaster. It examines the mutations of the body by exploitative labour, and the moral mutations which have become chronic to our engagement of the enemy."

I was reminded of Laura Moriarty's reference in Atonalist to poets who write lyric poetry despite (or because) they know it's impossible. Here's Brady:

like thunder spearing fire from perronels
fully orchestrated to cause notional breakdown.
Beards singed but not much
injured for sake of being
on their knees in prayer at the time sold
to Louis XV in 1756, saltpetre, turpentine,
tallow that carcass composition rosin, crude
which may be deemed excessively indsicriminate
like history into which it all disintegrates
the Congreve rockets glaring down on McHenry
make the top-ten forever

Brady mentions in her afterward that she wanted to write a "forensic poem, one whose structure could accomodate an excess of social information." And while the text weaves through a plethora of sources (from Theophrastus to internet search results), the level of inquiry feels totally consistent, and the material maintains a level of scrutiny that is perfectly balanced with Zukofsky's brand of "emotive intelligence":

Eaten by dogs. viewed: 36,560 times. 
Eaten by dogs. viewed: 17,809 times.
Person with disability: prosthetics above body.
Partially eaten by dogs. viewed: 32,144 times.
Old man killed with daughters; family recognised. viewed 30,411 times.
Man making "Shuhada" sign: there is
one God, because he knew he was
about to be shot. viewed 18,135 times.
No comment. viewed: 23,455 times.
Man killed at home, identified. viewed 13,759 times.
The spirit of violets cannot wash the floor in green
or relieve blood jammed up in an eyeball: it complains,
every time you piss you are pissing in its socket
it is a drunkard whose thousand orifices new-modelled
are the American drains.

I've had a number of conversations about this book in passing with poets here in the Bay Area, and I get the sense that this volume will exponentially increase Brady's readership in the States. And, as always, props to Kevin and Jocelyn at Krupskaya for consistently printing work that matters.


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