29 September 2010

A's Dream // Shurin in Buffalo, 2006

I had the chance to spend some time with Aaron Shurin this past weekend while Myung was in town, which is always a great treat! Leslie reprinted Aaron's A's Dream with O Books right before she passed, and his copies have been sitting in my basement ever since; I was relieved to finally get them in his hands, and it was nice to pass the book around a large table at Caffe Trieste to many admiring Ooooos and Ahaaaas. I found my copy of A's Dream at Greywolf Books (where I found most of my early O Books), a massive book warehouse in San Leandro that has long since shut its doors. It was my first exposure to Aaron's project, and I've been fully committed since. Which is just to say that this stone cold classic is available in a beautiful new edition at SPD now!

To pique your interest, I thought to post an introduction I wrote for Aaron way back in 2006 which references A's Dream. I invited Susan Gevirtz and Shurin to visit Buffalo in the dead of winter, and I introduced them both in a below-freezing-ex-meat-locker-turned-art-space to chattering teeth. Aaron read mostly from Involuntary Lyrics, which immediately warmed up the room!

Here's the introduction:

Aaron Shurin writes, in his seminal essay Narrativity, “I would like to drop my ‘characters’ onto the sharpened point of a gemstone, so that the radial fractures would illuminate a comprehensive pluralistic image.” I imagine here a kind of cubist simultaneity that suggests, as Shurin has it, “that self itself may not be locatable along… a monochromatic line.” In order to genuinely capture this comprehensive voice, Shurin found, as did many other writers in the late eighties and early nineties, that the prose poem offered a privileged form to investigate “a writing…of enmeshed simultaneities, which gives sufficient weight to…constituent presences so that they verge upon each other.” Unlike his peers, however, who after the New Sentence were all parataxis and no bite, Shurin’s prose lines developed a kind of “transgressive propulsiveness” that, rather than strip the subject down to the materiality of her language, amplified her propensity to refract into a plethora of subjectivities with any number of erotic, political, and psychical exigencies at stake, so that, finally, every name in history is Aaron. Steve Silberman writes, in a review of Shurin’s A’s Dream (published by O Books in 1989, the very year Narrativity was first delivered as a talk):

"Shurin’s particular gift is to allow several voices – sensual, intellectual, ‘dishy,’ coyly evasive – to speak in the same word or phrase, and to have the whole seem lit from behind by a gnostic apprehension of the essences of things. Shurin is, at heart, a Romantic: his ambition is less to dissect than to ravish, to worship more than instruct."

And just as John Donne is set free by a kind of divine ravishment in his Holy Sonnets, Shurin’s readers, as he has it, “stand fulfilled by transgression.” Take for instance the poem “Artery” from A’s Dream:

desire increase, riper memory to fuel deep trenches in the face repair
the world, calls back prime image. summer on him there, what it
was, breed another ten for one. one mutual ordering in the world
an end in that bosom. love to any should change another self, flesh
blood would make the world away. violet past white you are your
sweet yourself again…

“Artery,” Silberman informs us, was generated using only the lexicon of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Interestingly, Shurin returns to the sonnets, in his quite remarkable collection, Involuntary Lyrics (published by Omnidawn in 2005) in order precisely to retreat from the prose poem and “wonder a way back to verse.” Shurin writes in his afterward, “Each 'Involuntary Lyric' ends its lines with the same words as a correspondingly numbered Shakespeare sonnet—though these rhyme-words have been shuffled out of sequence to spring their traps (to unring the sonnet). With these moored but mutated determinants the lines turn on a hinge (sometimes there’s just the hinge), projective only in the sense of being shot toward Shakespeare’s word already waiting there.” And they really are “shot,” moving so quickly, with so many turns, traps, and surprises, that Ron Silliman recently claimed, “The very first page…nearly took my head off.” Silliman joins a long list of critics floored by Shurin’s ability to maintain in verse the same level of compression, torque, and sheer speed he achieves in prose, what he calls “the action not the thing, a happening semblance that is not a story…a process of integration not linear but aggregate, circular, partial—and so, complete.”

Please hold on to your heads, and help me in welcoming Aaron Shurin.

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