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BlazeVOX [books]
Cleaning the Mirror
by Joel Chace
(BlazeVOX , 2008)


Season of Affliction

I’ve always thought self-explication to be a sign of defensiveness or insecurity on the part of a poet. After all we cannot follow our poems out into the world like overprotective parents. Sooner or later they must leave home to learn the stuff of which they are made. My defense in pairing Season of Affliction with this companion essay is that --the video-poem being a nascent form-- it deserves the courtesy of an introduction.

Having just referred to Season of Affliction as a ‘video-poem’, I need to qualify the term immediately by saying that it is not poetry in the Heideggerian sense, though the latter’s quote adorns the introduction: "It is the time of the gods that have fled and of the god that is coming." Rather it is more in the vein of a video-essay, employing imagistic words, music and visuals to explore the God-interregnum and the implications of that interregnum for poets and other people of soul. Unlike Nietzsche the god-killer, Heidegger paces some promontory awaiting the next deific manifestation. That then is the contextual entry-point of the piece.

A ‘theological’ corollary would be P. K. Dick's latter-day gnostic fable --captured with revelatory insight in his Exegesis-- of light-sparks gone into the world and, through the affliction of anamnesis, abandoning their restorative mission. These would be the quintessential lost souls of yore. I find myself encountering these people with increasing frequency --as one might expect in an interregnum phase when authentic affiliation proves elusive; thus the sense of a mounting, perhaps climactic, hopelessness and despair.

Far from an epistemological inquiry, my primary aim is to encourage a more down-to-earth dialogue. I want to address souls, or at least engage soulful thinkers. Perhaps a viewer will be encouraged to interrogate his own notion of soul, both the word and the phenomenon behind the word. Thus I would like this video to serve as a PSA for all those who, like me, see good, bright souls expiring all around them. Not knowing quite what they are, I believe in souls nonetheless. And I sense the larger ones, in their presentation of an irresistible target, being singled out for an ever-more bruising assault. One’s tempted to ask, who or what is behind this campaign? Though I have my theories, the perpetrator and his motives lie beyond the immediate scope of this inquiry.

But first, some words about the word itself. What I'm really glued to here is soul and its compelling Heideggerian autonomy. At this belated cultural stage, the word should have been stripped of all evocative power, a clichéd outcast within serious poetry circles. Indeed I've seen the word appear on poetry no-no lists, right alongside solace, crimson and gossamer. Despite its overuse, soul still carries a stubborn relevancy that suggests an ineradicable authenticity. By all rights it should be dead as everyone uses it continuously and in all manner of trite, banal ways. Yet it clings, supernaturally, to itself. This tenacity is enough to give one religion.

Now for a brief word on the mechanics of ‘video-poetry’: As I applied this poem to video, I found it becoming less and less a traditional poem. That is, I edited it quite a bit from its original poetic structure, finding the need for it to become more tactile --more a lyric than a poem, each line a compartmentalized self-sustainment. After all the reader can't 'pore over' a video as he would a written poem. For one thing, it's moving, like time itself, from past to present to future. Immediacy, an irrevocable element of the form, obliges a surface or tactile relevancy which, I would hasten to add, need not be superficial. Deeply ruminative images simply do not befit a video presentation’s penchant for movement.

A thought or two is to this mid-stream transformation. Beyond a common building block –words-- song lyrics and poetry share very little else. The former avails itself of language, while the latter, at its best, recovers language back to Language, case sensitivity intended. The modern song lyric embraces cliché. Convention demands for example that every love song address the love interest as 'baby'. Inventiveness --all that poetic business about language-resurrection-- is not a goal of the lyric, though it is a central tenet of poetry. Certainly Heidegger would discard lyrics out-of-hand as simply another genus of fallen language.

Here's a laugh for starving artists everywhere. Heidegger and Holderlin both regarded the poet as among the most 'essential' of human beings. More so than the scientist or philosopher, he or she is the guardian of Man's single greatest repository of Being, Language. For its part, cliché is language leaked of meaning through time. As language undergoes the restorative ‘process’ of poetry, the latter becomes not so much a progressive tradition as a reclamatory one.

When Heidegger speaks of the poet "determin[ing] a new time", I immediately think of T. S. Eliot's still point in The Four Quartets: "Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future, /And time future contained in time past./ If all time is eternally present/ All time is unredeemable." Though on the contrary, I think Heidegger might say all time IS redeemable, provided the poet succeeds in his mission of 'time determination'. In his essays, Eliot expounds further upon the unified-time notion and, I'm paraphrasing here about how the truly contemporaneous poetry must encompass the past in order to be authentically present --in the present. Time --its role as a corrosive force on Language-- can be suspended, if the latter can only be gathered back up into its still-point. Formerly a unity, time, for reasons that can only be speculated upon, commenced a process of ‘leaking out’ to become a dissembling sequence of events --a history. Poets are charged with returning the leaked air to the punctured, hissing tire.

Authentic poetry also launches against the conventional notion of language as a value-neutral workhorse of communication, a mere transactional conveyance. It further undermines the 'me-emanation' of confessional or didactic poetry, the overtly assertive voice that so pollutes the current corpus. Too many me's is a sure sign the fox is renting a coop in the hen house. Language is once again being 'used' for ego-advancement and self-aggrandizement. Day-to-day conversation is conducted, as Heidegger instructs, in a depleted or fallen language, one might say, in a language that is a vestige of Language. The last thing poetry needs is to trail the profane into an already besieged, sacred space ('Ode to the Dirty Sock' et al), however that is exactly the direction in which many ‘poets’ appear to be moving.

Poetic souls are shepherds charged with gathering up the Word gone into the world. The poet's role is salvivic. Whereas reportage, prose-poetry, prurient confessionals, masturbatory daydreams and yes, video-poetry, are decidedly 'of the world'. Each has its own relevant, albeit subservient, place in human affairs. That said Season of Affliction is about poetry without being poetry. The non-poetic nature of the piece notwithstanding, I believe the warning contained herein is of no less import to our greatest souls, the poets.




season of affliction


norman ball