Whilst thinking about writing this I realised that something has changed. Not so very long ago if I came across something that I didn’t understand then I automatically assumed that this was my problem, that I was insufficiently educated, inadequately read and what generally ignorant. I now realise that this is no longer the case. When I encounter a similar piece of bafflement I now assume that the problem lies primarily with the poet rather than with me. I’ve also noticed that I’m less bothered by elitism, not because it isn’t a sin but more because it seems to matter less. I think I might need to worry about both of these because there’s clearly some softening occurring and this does not sit at all well with my carefully honed rugged Northern working class persona.
I have no idea when these events occurred but they do seem to be exemplified by the Dot Problem.
I started reading Keston’s Stress Position at the very end of 2009 and was very impressed which is unusual because most kinds of poetic polemic manage to be both childishly agitated and tedious in equal measure.
I’ve written with enthusiasm about SP many times since then but I’ve always managed to glide gracefully around the dot device. Initially this was because I didn’t understand it and felt that this was due to the above issues. I was also very happy to overlook the dots because SP is full of many, many good things that I do understand and can write about. So, I was quite happy to file the dots away until some rainy day when things would become suddenly clear. However the dot (I now notice) has returned in The Odes to TL61P and I am trying to say intelligent things about these because I think they might be Quite Important.
So, I’ve been back to SP’s dots and have to report that they’re not any clearer now than they were in 2009. Section 2 (The Workings) opens with:
To the anagrammatic Diotima I am a bare intuition of Vietstock so we split - on a skiv run down The Street like a milky gutter of burnt silk singing 8000 BAHT the girl with the waggly tail my eyes too. A billion negligible eggs in a rectangle pruned to a triangle, pruned to a dot. Making the parts of a sky inside you shift, think, and you too, reliving Svay Pak. Across the road Tajik scag, Satyr alive on theft, metanarcissism.
Now you might think that this is a fuss about nothing, that this particular dot makes complete sense given where it sits. However, this is the second half of the third stanza:
I can’t understand how beautiful it is, my thin heart thrashes at
the limit it sets in stony flesh flooded by brilliancy
later unknown, this is the real dot I hear my final voice
repeat as the shrinkwrapped air collapses spinning into the floor.
I would ask you to note the italics above because this is all of the fourth stanza:
Now I want you to repeat that back to me in white noise lived with static that comes in grey when put on the black market, like truth faded into. I turn the hole in her foot into a man called DOT, it is not a person but a multicoloured and immaculate silhuette of whom it thrills me as I eat a chthonic donut, which, if you lick its sugar, tells the story of my dot, of Black Beauty, of the gastro yacht, of poetry.
It doesn’t end there, there are two real dots and and some dots that are all joined up, italicised, upper case dots and a capo dot further on. Now, perhaps it can be seen why I decided to leave well alone, the poem (apart from this and a couple of other tics) is brilliantly inventive and does what poetry can do at its very best. My initial response of being too thick to work out what might be going on has been given over to annoyance. First, I’m not a fan of changes in type to hint at a variation of meaning. Second, I’m not too sure that I can be bothered to work out what the dots might, if anything, signify. Third, I have a lingering suspicion that Section two of SP may be too elaborately affected for its own good. All of which is a pity.
We now come to The Odes of which I am the most enthusiastic fan / advocate / reader. I continue to think that it’s a really important piece of work in that it reaches out to the world well beyond poetry, it’s uncompromisingly honest and incredibly brave. Unfortunately, I’ve just noticed a dot. I hadn’t noticed it before but I am trying to write intelligent things about Ode 1 and this involves me paying more attention than usual. There may, of course, be other dots but this is the first:
...................You task Madiha Shenshel with cooking your breakfast (hawk eggs in fried milk high in polycollaterals), then finishing it, then making it again (fuck, a dot), automatically spitting shells out; you prefer the boxes to the toys; Deborah's photo of herself crammed into her college wardrobe, ad infitum; the hair on a thousand mothers; infinity ad nauseam; the internal level counter is stored in a single byte, and when it reaches 255 the subroutine causes this value to roll over to zero before drawing the fruit.
So, there are two alternatives, I can note that the offending conceit is in brackets and therefore can be ignored or I can take a deep breath and start with all those dots in SP and work out what might be going on. It then occurs to me that the brackets argument doesn’t work because, by that argument, I’d miss the collaterals quip which does make a difference to what’s around it.
So, this isn’t my problem, I’m not missing the ‘point’ or, if I am, the ‘point’ isn’t sufficiently clear. One of the issues that I still have with SP is that sometimes it becomes a little too pleased with itself and occasionally Keston lets his cleverness (he is very clever) get the better of him so that the substance gets a bit lost. Nevertheless, it seems that it’s time to revisit The Workings.
I’m wondering if there’s something in the dots (just from reading the excerpts you’ve quoted here and not from wider familiarity) about irreducibles, the sometimes inconvenient facts that small or imagined-as-negligible things nonetheless exist and you can stub your [imperialist] toe on them, so to speak?
Probably way off and not helpful I guess, but you’ve got me interested in reading further!
Damn! I’d just an exactly similar thought and came here to say so. Or perhaps not exactly, so I’ll say it anyway. Are those dots symptomatic – I’m trying to choose my word carefully – of the irreducibility of the aesthetic object to, say, precis-able meaning? At a larger level, that of the phrase, for example, KS’s formula is translateable/explicable/rationalizable/etc; the dot is his alone, and in that sense, his signature. Of course – and this is why I tried just now to choose my word carefully – if I’m right, there’s a strong sense in which I too rationalize the dots…
But anyway, if two of us have a similar sense, might we be right?!
Yes, you may well be, am thinking of launching a thorough dot investigation because it has been pointed out to me that I missed the dot in the foot. Love the precis-able adjective, incidentally.