01 October 2010

Susan Gevirtz in Buffalo, 2006

Reminiscing about Aaron Shurin's reading in Buffalo sent me searching for my introduction to Susan Gervirtz's portion of the event, which I present for your pleasure below. I think my first exposure to Susan's work was Black Box Cutaway (maybe for a class at Mills?), but my most memorable experience was reading Hourglass Transcripts while on an incredibly uncharacteristic vacation to Maui (!) facilitated by my brother who somehow got hooked up with a timeshare through his work and then somehow invited me to go and I somehow had money to buy a ticket (!), so I brought Hourglass Transcripts and Scalapino's Orchid Jetsam and fought what I experienced as profound boredom by renting a little scooter called "The Mosquito" which allowed me to scoot around the island between deep meditations on Susan's and Leslie's work.

Susan's poetry perfectly embodies the umheimlich for me: I always expect to recognize it (for some reason), but everytime I return to the page I feel disoriented and a little dizzy and/or giddy. As a thought experiment I sometimes try to distill a poet's work to a single stylistic strategy that could somehow speak for her (I think about poetry a lot!), but I've never been able to do it with Susan, which is a testament to her ability to engage on the poem's terms alone. David Brazil is always like "Hey Michael, I read something about blood relics or the Law or meats or something and I thought about you," but everytime I try to do this with Susan (and I try! I try!), I return to her work and I'm totally off the mark. Which is, I think, something I wanted to get at (however obliquely) in this introduction, but then I talked about something else (which is kind of what Susan's poetry does? Maybe this is the thing?!). It's still a solid introduction, though:

Susan Gevirtz’s poetry performs incredibly agile, acrobatic gestures-in-place; not progressive, per se (at least not linearly so), but “vertically-simultaneous,” as if one were looking down the cylinder of a kaleidoscope, each layer of the mantle, each autonomous syntactical unit stacked vertically in time while synchronically extending at the pace of its own measure—perhaps what Gevirtz calls “time collapsed to its cuticle” in Linen Minus, her first book published by Avenue B in 1992. We are introduced to her incredible ear in this book’s title, Linen Minus, the short “i” shifting its tonal register to spin through the triple turnstile of “n” sounds, landing in the long “i” of minus, two syllables diffused, both mine and us; however, while the title acquaints us with Gevirtz’s attention to sound, syllabics, symmetry, it doesn’t quite prepare us for the torque of language, the incredibly nuanced friction of increment. She writes,

plait sunday noontimes
water lattice
          division
by light nocturnal
ripple     as the shore
lassoes   “The room
was too full.          Things were speaking
to her.”

One can imagine a kind of sonic disembodiedness as the words sit firmly in the architecture of the letters, the sound blown through the room (the definition of stanza: literally "a small room"); however, Gevirtz tethers her ear to the disjunctive syntax and visual dissymmetry of the poem’s infrastructure to keep us firmly planted in the work. This tendency is perhaps most evident in her recent volumes, Black Box Cutaway, published by Kelsey Street Press in 1999, and 2001’s Hourglass Transcripts, published by Burning Deck. As a professor of “visual criticism” at California College of the Arts, and author of Narrative’s Journey: The Fiction and Film Writing of Dorothy Richardson, Gevirtz can’t help but sustain her dissonance in what Leslie Scalapino calls the “extinction of images,” the dissolution of the seeing subjects’s hierarchical narratives in the eye’s reflection of its own process. She writes,

          It was called “summer”—yet no
gravity in the middle that word The weather
          came up fever:           glaze burnished metal sky.
Glass sun on redwoods. Morning unstoppable. In the mirror, legs
turn to marble—succulent and stark as the surrounding magnolia flesh
          in all stages of bloom

Her attention is amplified in Black Box Cutaway (a book Barbara Guest claimed “heralds an exciting attitude toward the page as arranged on a camera lens”) in which (quote) “the page of screen turns / walk the letters across the screen—pull them.”

Here, as the image dissolves in the sound of its own reflection, in the fosse of particulars, Gevirtz expresses “the strange thing / for which there were no words.”

Please join me in welcoming Susan Gevirtz to Buffalo.

1 comment:

  1. you brought it with this one. intimidatingly good introduction.

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