rereading Rod Smith's work in preparation for this visit, I ran across
these lines in his collection, "The Lack" (published as issue
no. 104 of A.BACUS):
but in a useful way"
I wouldn't take these lines at all to characterize Smith's poetry, I
would maintain that they have something "useful" to say about
the materials out of which that poetry is made. These materials register
most often as a collection or collage of specialized and disciplinary,
that is to say ideological, discourses and vocabularies. The political
economy of language whose circuits we name, perhaps disingenuously,
"the world," requires the mutual self-closure of these disciplinary
languages as prior condition of their status as objects for our knowledge.
For confirmation of this, one need only think of the enforced mutual
incomprehension of those speaking the various languages of "hard"
science, political critique, institutional administration, lyric poetry,
and urban solid waste disposal. Any language thus self-enclosed against
the encroachments of any other language is constantly bombarded by the
sound of its own founding presuppositions. The effect of such bombardment
over any considerable length of time -- and how long have we existed
with compartmental specialization as our model of an "advanced
division of labor?" -- the effect of such bombardment is flatly
stupefying. Its elaboration as social policy -- as "the world"
-- is irrsponsible, terrifying, and stupid.
could possibly be "useful" about such a depressing state of
affairs? The answer proposed by Rod Smith's work is that these languages,
in their insularity and mutual exclusion, have given only cursory thought
to self-justification and defensive posturing vis-a-vis one another.
Brought into proximity, they do not yet know how to defend themselves,
or to claim a legislative prerogative over the zone of their interface.
The faith (if I might call it such) which animates Smith's poetry lies
in this excluded middle between the various and variously technical
languages of our contemporaneity -- as the at least partial lack of
a predetermined social contract which would settle once and for all
the question of mutual obligations. It's as if one might participate
in a conversation or confrontation between particle physicists, political
dissidents, business administrators, poets and sanitation workers in
which literally everything remained at stake.
takes place at the level of semantic and ideological "content,"
but also and especially at the level of poetic form. Characteristic
of Smith's work is an asymmetry of local structure: narrative sentences
abut lines in which parts of speech put each other on as masks, and
this spills over into passages of serial "nouning," in which
the only grammatical guarantee is that one word = one word. This isn't
simply the problematic claim to "poetic language," in which
form models the world's potential coherence only at the cost of an essential
remove from that world. Smith's lexicon persists in various states of
indexical, metonymic, or emblematic relation to its various social and
ideological "sources." Here composition addresses itself to
phoneme, morpheme, and ideologeme as possibly equivalent, and often
coextensive, terms -- the argument of syntax is thus explicitly an argument
in the dialogic sense: a dispute. If one task for a socially-engaged
poetry is, to borrow a line or two from Smith's work, the consideration
of "the world as a whole in its / relation to that which is not
the world -- form," then Smith writes that relation as not only
analogical, but also anagrammatic (a literal rearrangement of parts)
and analeptic -- or, to borrow a privileged term from last week's visitor,
allen Fisher -- curative.
an art-practice, not of avant-gardist rejection and refusal, but of
sustained engagement and confrontation. Such a confrontation -- in which,
as I've said, everything remains at stake -- exposes one's thought and
poetry to a double risk: that, on the one hand, it might heighten only
the "merely" frivolous moments of incongruity in which discourses
fail to speak to one another; that, on the other, it might find itself
witness to nothing but the atrocity and terror by which one language
effaces or consumes another, as all too often happens when the discourses
of administration "confront" the resistant sounds and silences
of human bodies. That Smith's poetry recognizes these risks, and recognizes
its own tenuous position in the provisional spaces between such extreme
possibilities, is signalled by a collection like In Memory of My
Theories, whose opening poem begins with "your goofy fremitus"
and ends with "the terrible / silent excess of tortured imputation."