“neither wit nor gold” (from then) by Ammiel Alcalay
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2011)
Street Mete: Vertical Elegies 6 by Sam Truit
(Station Hill of Barrytown, 2011)
“searching the streets for a face / putting a face to time”
- “neither wit nor gold” (from then)
“a lone which is always a matter of fact in city / the one fact you cannot escape”
- Street Mete: Vertical Elegies 6
These are books of disparate parts. There is little cohesion towards conclusive development and that is central to the ends each project seeks locate.
Locate but not reach. There’s more gesture towards description than any nailing down of hard narrative—although that’s not entirely true.
The concern is the record of the passing of time. Or rather, to present records of certain past occurrence, of which there is evidence.
Looking into the past, reflecting the present now immediate.
As far as happening to be classified as being books of poetry, these are extremely idiosyncratic endeavors.
The “author’s note” in the back of Alcalay’s “neither wit nor gold” (from then) describes his dismay as he struggled to assemble a manuscript of his early poetry. In short, it just did not work out to his satisfaction. Finally, as he says, “As I spent more time with the earlier work, it seemed like it needed some kind of response from me, to further investigate and elucidate the world it emerged from, and so I began to sift through date-books, notebooks, journals, memorabilia and, most significantly, a phase of time when I was involved in photography.” Photographs and other visual paraphernalia are very much afloat throughout the book. It’s more documentation of Alcalay’s personal life than anything else. This is a deep dive into his psyche. Everything is kept immediate and raw. There’s a shapeliness that is at once dodged, or missed at rather than hit. In fact, it appears that Alcalay inclines towards including the rugged occasion over those perhaps more refined. And he consciously leaves in, as he says, “perhaps, some nostalgia.”
Someone once said the sun did you in
but I don’t think that’s true –
my heart once broke and now
it’s breaking again
There are many clear hits of juvenilia here. And indeed that’s part of the point. But this is not merely an exercise in looking back, yet rather a bringing of past documents into the present. An archeological digging that insists on objects not for what they have to say of the time in which they came to be, but rather what meaning might emerge from bringing them together now.
The sky changes
a benumbing ink that stains the sea of our minds
our names are left like leaves of grass
tough as grass that survives cruelest seasons
leaf around leaf ranged around the center
links of dance undone
in ways I did not think of,
are facts not flowers and flowers not facts
or poems flowers
or all works of the imagination
Time is a shine caught blue
from a martin’s back.
The book is primarily composed of untitled pieces which more often than not appear as starts towards a poem, or at best as in “IV” above, unfinished or at least unpolished wholes. As here the rather mundane and overly dropped reference to Whitman in “our names are left like leaves of grass / human greeness” is sharply contrasted by the stunning “Time is a shine caught blue / from a martin’s back.” The writing is as Alcalay originally got it down. There’s an earnest purity, filled as it is at points with the yearning towards well-crafted poetry. But in this book Alcalay achieves different goals than what “poetry” as such has to offer. He lets fractures and ruptures (conscience or not) stand.
In Shirley Clarke’s film about Ornette Coleman
the moon looks like a white woman’s body
with wide pink nipples – in the story
of the circumcision Ornette concludes
that male and female exist but
man and woman are
scarface and fratricide
homesick time speaks
under rocks and
(I wanted to
and the insistence
As it goes, with the exception of the Appendix—which is a rather terrific masque composed by way of cento from the writings of Anne Bradstreet, John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, John Dryden, Andrew Marvell, Alexander pope and Jonathon Swift—“neither wit nor gold” (from then)ultimately pays little regard for, nor attempts literary greatness. Why would it bother? The concerns are entirely too human here in this odd, engaging book.
Sam Truitt’s Street Mete: Vertical Elegies 6 is equally odd. In what is part blurb and part untitled preface, Craig Dworkin writes, “Truitt has produced a site-specific poetry triangulated between the transcript of improvised language, snapshots, and the tenuous, tremulous breath of an embodied speaker.” The book presents various scenes of writing composed in response to what’s happening around Truitt and in his thoughts and in the writing itself. Truitt strives to scan several passing moments of his brain’s activity and transcribe them as direct as possible to the page: an eye-mind-eye-page transmission.
There are diary-like dated entries where stream of consciousness prose breaks into moments of poetry while detailing personal reflections on transactions witnessed.
How can we show our faces they are not ready if you are not feeling anything then you
are not meaning anything as you are in a cold sweat
think about nothing but what I must do man watch oil pass into the hole the sweetest
smell of kerosene also made for burning like ourselves photography and feeling to capture
something on the gel believing really only on that expanse of flesh that is a woman’s torso
taking time to remember how it slips the pelvis the area between hip and the bottom of the
shelf of breasts a few thoughts how much we are giving each thought this moment this
shape prise open the form the realization like a flower further off remember this trace
(“Thursday, February 8, 2001” p.39-40)
And these entries are in column form, with numbered notes in nonlinear order arranged alongside. The following ones appear next to the above passage.
114. Email pieces of your heart
128. Recollect in spring the bright red maples of fall last year in the Catskills.
114. Email pieces of your heart.
48. Freeze sad faces survival subway ride home Harlem.
104. Talk awhile among your selves.
8. Observe the glory of London plane and linden trees lining Convent.
It’s a seriously different kind of book.
There are the more traditional “poems” to be found here, as well. Near the center of the book is “august 2002: 101 things to do in kauai” which really is just that, a list of 101 things you (Sam Truitt) might find yourself doing after flying to a Hawaiian island expecting romance and getting jilted by an ex- (?) lover, mutual self-torture being high on the list of course.
13. Watch M. pad naked in her lithe, tan, tense body under a heap of hair billowing down to her waist swaying self-importantly, longing in her heart to be rid of you because your presence tips up the fact that this is all an act and that under it all is a scared child forwarding with ego a shell all too ready to collapse—just like you.
And then later comes the surprised
85. Wonder what happened.
Along with the ominous
99. Remember mushrooms are the flowers of death.
Truitt wears his disappointment on his sleeve, but wears it well. His continual unflinching willingness to face what his relationships with himself, lovers, friends, the city itself throws his way and to do so by way of documenting the occasion carries the book.
the titled tower hand signal attitude
dexterity to catch what is there in the flare
of the light of the tunnel of the bundle
of the nerves out there
the only thing that holds the only thing
is inside the device the habahebeho
what broke off
falls forever through us
This is Truitt’s journey. A vast, quick moving record of his experiences as if scanned down onto the page. And Truitt doesn’t back away from that possibility. He has a “note to the reader” in back of his book at the center of which is a QR code. This is a barcode insignia which hi-tech cell phones are able to “read” and then display info from off the web. As Truitt describes, “The bulk of this book consists of transcriptions of things I spoke into voice recorders: both my early work with audio tape, titled by dates; and a series of audio-visual poems called Transverse made on an Olympus W-10, which allows for photographs to be tied to a sound track and played back as they were taken.” This all sounds more than a bit sci-fi like. Nonetheless, it is Truitt’s assertion that listening to the recordings as you gaze upon the images “will allow you to interact more fully with the Transverse series.” Best take his word for it. Thankfully, there’s the book itself, the poems as well. Vertical Elegies is ongoing, several other volumes have appeared and there’s more to come. It is about as near a life-project as any poetry might wish be.
Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works in Gleeson library at University of San Francisco. His most recent book is There Are People Who Think That Painters Shouldn't Talk: A GUSTONBOOK (Post Apollo, 2011), other writing of his appears in Amerarcana, Barzakh, The Critical Flame, Fulcrum, House Organ, New Pages, Poetry Project Newsletter, Rain Taxi, Sous les Paves, Switchback, and Wild Orchids.