STILL: OF THE EARTH AS THE ARK WHICH DOES NOT MOVE
by MATTHEW COOPERMAN
(Counterpath Press, Denver, 2011)
There are many interesting effects in Matthew Cooperman’s STILL: OF THE EARTH AS THE ARK WHICH DOES NOT MOVE. I emphasize “effects” because each page pulsates with textual energy to push you, the reader, forward. It’s apt that the colon is used frequently here, in titles and as section subtitles, to visually attest to cause and effect, and you want immediately to know the “next”—thateffect.
As one of its interesting paradoxes, the book could easily be a page-turner, except that the text concurrently makes you want to linger in order to pay a deeper attention than what might be allowed from a faster read.
And, ultimately, when I’ve finished the book, I still feel the sense of energy—the anger, even—in the book and yet can’t help but consider the book more to be a snapshot, a still, indeed, rather than as, say, a movie. And I think this is because there’s no beginning-and-end, if you will, to the collection. Indeed, the first poem “STILL: WINTER” begins with the word “and” to bespeak things occurring before the poem (or book) even began.
The lack of a (seeming) “end”-ing, in particular is also significant to me so that the book ends up (to me) presenting a portrait of a moment(s) in time but there’s no attempt at resolution—the collection remains mostly a depiction.
Sure, it behooves me now to mention some of the many things being depicted—wars, business failures, greed, Empire with a capital “E”, dogs, literature and so on and so on: the stuff, I imagine, in the poet’s lived world which, as presented, is an admirably large canvas. But what makes it all poetry, I believe, is the poet’s craft in handling his material. I can’t say it better than one of the blurbers did, so I’ll quote Gillian Conoley for the effect that I am hailing here: “how [Cooperman] works a lyric out of its rage.” For example, the opening of “STILL: OTROS”
Tea Party: the United States already has enough people with college degrees, but who is going to cut our lettuce, our tobacco?
Hunger: “The piano travels within,/ travels with joyful leaps./ Then meditates in ferrate repose,/ nailed with ten horizons.” (Vallejo)
Mystery: all at once freak out, I is not X’er, I hate computers, I am buying a new house on the Mexican border, I know Philip K. Dick lived there, at dusk, in the 70s, the sky fills with Easter Island heads, or what is beyond anthropology, Paul Klee, I missed the important first years
Zeno: I can write my way into another as a function of time; it is X and approachable though I am always Y; this is the way in which space manifests my privacy and my language; she is cause and I am an island effect
transcends itself as just a formation of a list because of the energy-rhythm within the poem as well as the choices for what will be collaged into the poem. The poem ends with a quote from Willie Stark, and it is something that seems to say something deep….but, in my opinion, really isn’t:
“Time brings all things to light….”
And, yet, it’s a useful ending to the poem. It has the sense of being a conclusion, but doesn’t offer the type of content that distracts you from turning the page to satisfy your curiosity about, What else…
This assessment isn’t an insult. The effect is effective for being a mark of our times colored by quick attention spans as enhanced by the nature of internet-grazing. It’s like what’s often tweeted, you know what I mean. (Or often blogged too often if you read my blog.) And what’s often tweeted is relevant here, to the extent that such content may be part of the poet’s world from which he—working as, to quote Conoley, a “Geiger counter—lifts objects or elements not authorially pre-determined.
Finally, the collection ends with a page of four words:
It’s quite an effective ending. It’s like the book’s persona can keep going on … observing and depicting and depicting in a way that ultimately begs the question: WHAT ARE WE ALL DOING?
Strum: Strum: Strum: Strum: That’s more of a guitar sound than a violin sound, to me, but the yadda yadda yadda aspect does evoke a violinist. The one who kept on while Rome burned and burned. The ones who kept tweeting about the Kardashians while [and I reformat here a paragraph from “STILL: FIGHTING” into a list for a different emphasis] what's unfolding are
Actium, Massilla, Thermopylae;
Antietam, Appotomax, Vicksburg, Shiloh;
Ypres, Gallipoli, Somme, Passchendaele;
Khe Sanh, Ap Bac, Tet, My Lai;
Alamo, Medano, San Jacinto, Wounded Knee;
Kirkuk, Mosul, Karbala, Samawah
H. L. Hix: Your book Still includes many lists; in a certain way, it is itself a list. Many lists in themselves have an oddity to them that makes me shift my perspective slightly. (I’m thinking, to choose an example almost at random, of “Pain Reliever” on p. 51, which starts as I’d expect, with Tylenol and Advil, but then begins to include items I wouldn’t normally classify as pain relievers, such as PlayStation and Oakley.) In other cases, it is the juxtaposition of two or more lists that jolts me. (Here I’m thinking, for example, of “American Facts” on p. 66 and “World Facts” on p. 67, with their lists of facts about eating disorders in the U.S. and malnutrition globally.) This is the “information age,” in which we have access to more facts and more lists than a person could possible digest; what, from your point of view, is the importance of the kind of gathering and arrangement you have undertaken — and offered your reader — in Still?
Matthew Cooperman: The work of Still: of the Earth as the Ark which Does Not Move is archival. Something of the present moment—or more accurately of the last decade, as it is a book of a decade—seemed to require an accounting. A list, to be sure, but also an index, a frame, a capture. The gathering you speak of is a belief in occasional poetics. It’s really been a duration piece, a document project. The first poems were written in the late 90s, as far as I can tell ’98. The latest are from 2010, so the book’s had a long slow arc, if you’ll pardon the pun. I found the poems an effective place to dump all the ‘unpoetic’ thoughts I had of the world. I mean, so much shit happened from, say, late 90s, late Clinton, to now, mid (or late?) Obama. And so much of that information seemed more forceful than lyric utterance. I’ve always been attracted to the political poem, but I wanted some place where the information itself, the data, could reside. And equally, some place where the heroes and criminals of that period could actually speak.
That necessitated some kind of new form. The obvious analogy is to photography, and for a long time I thought of the book as photography, and I wanted to work with a photographer. The syntax of all that ‘capture’ became an impulse to scan, to incorporate. A paradox of moving stills. This also came out of my reading of Husserl, from whom I have mongrelized the title. His insight into earth, into ground—that it is the foundational principle of all our senses of space, is really quite simple. The ark of the earth does not move. It is, as object, as body, prior to any conception of space. And the earth is our larger body, we are aspected earths. This I think quite profound paradox somehow operates against the scientific description of earth, which is that it is spinning madly around one gravitational object (the sun) which in turn is spinning madly around yet another gravitational subject (the galaxy), and so on. The paradox is enough to make you crazy. But it’s also how I feel these days, the intense ecological disaster, which is also ontological. There’s a wobble going on.
All that’s put pressure on the colon. Still manages this paradox by the colon. Or the index, and the equational balance that the colon offers. It’s a list, but it’s apposition, metonymy. Epic catalogue becomes daily catalogs, inboxes and mailboxes…stuff. It’s hard to breathe, but there’s something democratic in that, too. The book’s like an enormous garbage heap, with all the voices piled together. The way things ‘go viral’ in our time means the sources of statements—or the veracity of ‘facts’—are always moving at lightspeed. Benjamin’s entourage has its own reality show, or, to quote from Balzac, who himself is quoted early in The Arcades Project, “The great poem of display chants its stanzas of color from the Church of the Madeleine to the Porte Saint-Denis.” I love the spatiality of all this, literally hi/low, no boundaries.
It went on and on, a kind of subterranean project of subjects that seemed necessary to write about; and that anything I had to say about them was really just the tip of the iceberg. I loved that aspect of writing the poems, even as it became an enormous physical burden, trying to sift the ways of dealing with the ostensible subjects. Which subjects? What are the categories of experience? Of purchase? Of actions? These days the menu is limitless.