31 May 2012

Still: Of The Earth As The Ark Which Does Not Move

The “Whitman orb is humming” (109) writes Matthew Cooperman in his most recent collection Still: Of The Earth As The Ark Which Does Not Move (Counterpath, 2011). Indeed, Whitman's inclusive view of the United States (and the world for that matter) rears its head once more, but updated by Cooperman for the twenty-first century in an expansive but distopian catalog that harnesses the “wall of / information streaming across” (77) our contemporary landscape.

In the preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, the gray-bearded bard claimed that “Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature,” and that the “United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.” But far from imagining a nation and its people as poesy incarnate, Cooperman envisions America and its ilk as “a civilization that destroys things.” Yes, at some point during the past one hundred and fifty-six years, our country became not a concept for poets to praise as a model of “the fittest for its days,” but, instead, a problem that begged the question: “who will survive the American Ark?” The answer?; “few animals, very few negros, and no crackers at all” (115). In Still, America the beautiful transforms into America the desolate, a nation undone by its own hand.

Of course, in Cooperman's book, America isn't necessarily desolate, strictly speaking, just devoid of the “compassion” Whitman experienced “at the sight of numberless brothers answering our equal friendship and calling no man master.” Occupying the void, instead, are new catalogs filled with new masters:
Industry Leaders: Carson, Sno-shovels, Michelin Tires, Carhart Jackets, Amish Logos” (1)

Product Launch: Doubting Thomas: Jesus' Hole; 3M Camo Gloves: Serving Those Who Serve; Nikon Infared Binocs: Seeing the Craven Enemy Crouching in the Dark; Nihilism: A Perfume; ACLU: Bringing Freedom to Court” (18)

Pain Reliever: Tylenol, Advil, NyQuil, BENGAY, GAME BOY, PlayStation, PlayBoy, OAKLEY (51)

Mascot: wild indian, Wild Turkey, Nestlé, DUPONT, Sponge Bob Sponges (67)
Where Whitman understood that “the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislature...but always most in the common people,” the speaker of these poems believes that the “common people” of today's United States may no longer have a voice. In fact, the speaker himself is “not here at all” (40); and if he momentarily appears, he only does so allegorically in the form of “impatience, greed, jealousy, [and] ego” (89). It would seem that, today, there are only executives and legislatures because those are the identities that what we, as a nation, yearn to inhabit. We have become, literally, the information, technology, warmongering, and commercialism that envelopes us; so when poem “Still: Here,” states, “in the end, I'm still here,” it speaks the truth: we are still here, but our “countenance” (112) looks remarkably similar to the inventory of images Cooperman's catalogs provide for us.

In the face of such pessimism, one might rightly ask: what, then, is the point of caring, trying, or resisting? Toward the conclusion of Still, we discover our reason for persevering: “the ark of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” (114). Our immediate circumstances may appear bleak, but belief in a just outcome ought to instill in us a patient, but proactive resistance. Or, as Cooperman writes: “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's” (114).

In developing one's own system, in other words, a “form about / a person or / the forms about / a country,” one “awakens / beyond himself” and sees a “gathering in things / that belong / to peoples sad / and a time” (106). Stated differently, we, the sad people of our times, must awaken from the deadening slumber of a technologically-based, consumer culture and collectively realize that what surrounds us at this moment is of our own construction. Just as we have created these material conditions, we have the ability to alter them. For Cooperman, the forms of catalog and counted verse in Still are his systems, and their contents are the things he's gathered; through them, he begins the task of reclaiming his voice, himself, his country, and his world.

25 May 2012

Profil Perdu: Art School Retrospectives, Chicago 1987-1990

Jennifer Pilch's chapbook Profil Perdu, or “Lost Profile,” which is subtitled Art School Retrospective, Chicago, 1987 – 1990 (Greying Ghost Press, 2011), explores the inherent mysteries and difficulties associated with the process of producing art. In the opening lines of the collection, we find:
Far from the spectator
the silhouette suggests movement

It frustrates
this act if turning away

Stumps an intuition (3)
A “silhouette,” perhaps of the “spectator” herself, “suggests movement” at a distance. But whether the suggestion is actual movement or the appearance of movement, we cannot tell. The ambiguity of the unknown both “frustrates” the viewer and “Stumps [her] intuition."

If, in this case, a silhouette functions as a shadow painting or distorted representation of a real body, then it shares certain affinities with an art object. To explain, art objects tend to impede one-to-one correspondences between themselves and their real world counterparts because a movement, whether conceptual or representational, will always be suggested between the two. In other words, nothing is as it appears to be, including these so called “reflections.”

Certainly the poems within Profil Perdu are reflections, but they are also a “series of agitations” (7), in the sense that
once the view secured another aspect
to conquer, glances melded—these fits
—minnow stew (7)
Yes, an anxiety or agitation develops within the reader of the poem because once a particular “view,” reading, or understanding of the text is “secured[,] another aspect” or reading appears, which itself must be “conquered” or comprehended. Once an audience member secures that comprehension, the different readings must be “melded” together in an effort to form some composite knowledge of the text; but the aspects continue to multiply, necessitating additional melding, and further “fits” or agitations.

In addition to reflections and agitations, these poems are also “a trail of punctured translations” (17), in the sense that poems are thoughts transformed into words, which always leaves an irreducible space or “puncture” between them. But the punctured translation more often than not clears a space for beauty, as in the following poem:
Waking shaken
each groove felt between brick
something coating the exigent
a body of negative light
pearled edges

A bird flew

I didn't notice
I was drawing them from idea
thick strokes resembling wood cuts
black on white blinds flickering (10)
While one cannot be entirely certain of what occurs in the above poem, we know something poetic happens in the “Waking shaken” moments where dreams and reality merge and create “a body of negative light”: a being illuminated with darkness. Likewise, a bird flies by the speaker of the poem unnoticed, but she still manages to draw the bird “from [an] idea.”

The logic of these poems need not be questioned, for logic within a poem or an art object is not of primary concern. In fact, Pilch writes:
Difficult to plant oneself in a preconceived aesthetic

One should rather wait to be supplanted

by an emotion keen to geometry
of trace clouds moving through a jigsaw (5)
Indeed, the source of the poem, of any art, does not derive from over thinking, planning, or designing (i.e. “a preconceived aesthetic”); instead, the speaker of the poem believes the poet or artist should “be supplanted // by an emotion.” And not just any emotion, but one that is atmospheric and ephemeral, yet also as precise as the “geometry / of trace clouds.”

This, of course, is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, the moment of entering a particular emotional geometry necessary for the production of art can be painfully difficult:
Cruel about losing trains of thought

emotional knots to work their way out

Emptier passages the closer one gets
to keep (10)
Access to the emotional geometry necessary to write a poem can be “cruel” in that once someone touches upon a relevant concept, the train of thought that took them their can easily be lost. Likewise, once one attains the essential “emotional knots,” they can quickly “work their way out” and leave us with an empty “passage” and a failed attempt at poetry. But if one harnesses the necessary emotional geometry, poet, artist, and audience alike can revel in the beauty of creation.

22 May 2012

The Waste Land and Other Poems

In “Swift Boat Veteran For Beauty,” the speaker of the poem declares: “Let me be the first / to underscore the insignificance of lineage” (30). If a poet's lineage truly is insignificant, how should a reader approach a collection that, by its very name, discourses directly with lineage and “recapitulates the ancient / ceremonies” (15) that came before it? By choosing to title his book after one of the most iconic poems of the twentieth century, John Beer seems to engage the writing of T.S. Eliot in his first book The Waste Land and Other Poems (Canarium Books, 2010). But is this, in fact, what he really does?

As one might guess, declarations about “the insignificance of lineage” are tongue-in-cheek; in fact, the significance of lineage on Beer's writing is great. Rather, the “insignificance” Beer invokes is the insignificance of Eliot's lineage, not of poetic influence wholesale. For indeed, the title The Waste Land and Other Poems is a dodge: through and through, the collection is a tribute to Jack Spicer, to whom Beer dedicates the title poem. As Beer writes, “nothing returns as we ask it to return” (12); and when the “dead return[,] we don't recognize them” (62). In Beer's poems, then, Spicer returns wearing an Eliot “mask in a poem infected with masks” (20); thus, we can be forgiven for momentarily thinking he is someone other than himself.

To get a better sense of how Beer's The Waste Land and Other Poems is an homage to Spicer, it's important to return, briefly, to the latter's first book. At the beginning of After Lorca, Spicer playfully pens a letter in the voice of the Spanish poet, admonishing himself (i.e. Spicer) for the project he endeavors to undertake:
Frankly I was quite surprised when Mr. Spicer asked me to write an introduction to this volume. My reaction to the manuscript he sent me...was and is fundamentally unsympathetic. It seems to me the waste of a considerable talent on something which is not worth doing.
Mr. Spicer seems to derive pleasure in inserting or substituting one or two words which completely change the mood and often the meaning of the poem as I had written it. More often he takes one of my poems and adjoins to half of it another half of his own...Finally there are almost equal number of poems that I did not write at all...executed in a somewhat fanciful imitation of my early style. (The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, 11)
Spicer writes through the persona of the dead and disgruntled Lorca as he comments on Spicer's misguided translations. In doing so, the poet sets the collection's tone: mischievous, but respectful; acknowledging tradition, while simultaneously undermining it.

Beer's poetry echoes this paradoxical tone as well. Yes, he honors Eliot by co-opting his title, but within “The Waste Land” we find:
O O that T.S. Eliot
he's such a shrinking violet
and if you think I sigh a lot
try life with T.S. Eliot (12)
According to the speaker of the poem, one sighs quiet often when sharing a “life with T.S. Eliot.” Perhaps this sentiment expresses some tired melancholia or literary ennui induced by the deceased poet's chronic self-importance or solipsistic voice devoid of humor and emotion. Certainly, the invocation of Eliot, and Beer's tendency to produce “fanciful imitation[s]” of his style, serve to recollect the poem; but to call the poet “a shrinking violet” who elicits sighs certainly evokes a pejorative assessment.

Likewise, just as Spicer inserted and substituted words into Lorca' s poem, conjoined his own work with Lorca's work, or wrote poems entirely from his own imagination, Beer conveys a similar belief:
Not the moon you lovers see,
the moon as it appears to me
and me alone, my eyes refined
by distillation in the mind. (15)
If the moon, in this instance, functions as a metaphor for the poetic tradition, then indeed, Beer worries little about Eliot's “moon.” Instead, he creates a “moon as it appears” within his own mind: a product not of the canonical poet's influence, but the imagination of a contemporary writer at odds with the past; or, at least, a contemporary poet echoing Spicer, who wrote: “A diamond / Is there / At the heart of the moon / ... / And there is nothing in the universe like diamond / Nothing in the whole mind” (The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, 21-22).

But Spicer's conceptualization of tradition (and by extension Beer's) was more complex than merely bedeviling a deceased poet's reputation through pantomime and revision. In After Lorca, he writes that tradition “means generations of different poets in different countries patiently telling the same story, writing the same poem, gaining and losing something with each transformation—but, of course, never really losing anything” (The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, 15): a retelling wherein something is both lost and gained, a transformation that provides us with “the coolest month” (10), while always mindful of the “cruelest” month.

Of course, tradition becomes all the more complex when the author is also dead, writing from beyond the grave. In “J. Beer 1969-1969,” the speaker informs us that: “It was when they determined that I had been born dead / That my life became easier to understand” (26). John Beer is dead, but unlike Spicer's Orpheus who received Cegeste's poems from Hell via a car radio, Beer cannot transmit his words because “There's no radio for the dead” (26) anymore; and even if there were, it wouldn't matter because “There's nothing to say because nobody listens” (26).

Claiming that “nobody listens” to poetry (that poetry, ostensibly, is dead) could be read as an expression of self-pity, but, in fact, it's part of a grander, self-conscious realization. Beer acknowledges that poetry is “words that no one read[s]” (26), but he also knows that poetry “writes it[self] in flashes / across the pale pink sky” (43). People might not read poetry, but it exists within the world nonetheless: a paradoxical recognition of both poetry's irrelevance and its ubiquity.

14 May 2012

Fjords Vol. 1

Zachary Schomburg's Fjords Vol. 1 (Black Ocean, 2012) is a book of death, and the speaker of these prose poems announces this directly at the outset of the collection:
From the beginning I knew exactly what would kill me. Regardless, I convinced myself that it could be anything. I convinced myself that what would kill me would be made up of any of the random things that would kill anybody else. (1)
Yes, even though the speaker of these poems knows “exactly what would kill” him, which incidentally, comes “late one night, booming with slowness, from the fjords” (1) of Spitsbergen, he creates a series of “random” micro-narratives that detail what these possible deaths that he constructs in his imagination would entail. Take, for instance, the opening of the poem “Lake”:
I dive into the lake and cut my chest open on a piece of broken glass. The giant shard of glass goes through my chest and out my back. When I stand up out of the water I look like a statue in a blood fountain. (10)
Similarly gruesome is the speaker's death in “Meat Counter”:
I touch my palm to the glass and leave a red palm print before my grandfather picks me up, gently like a baby, and begins to saw me into parts on the meat saw. He breaks my neck and cuts my head off, then breaks my legs and pulls it from my hip. (18)
Whether spurting “a blood fountain” from his chest, being sawed into parts by his grandfather, or any number of tragicomic endings, the imaginative landscapes of these poems become “beautiful” because of—not in spite of—“blood pumping wildly” throughout them.

Ironically, though, the speaker's greatest fear is not death, but the possibility that “we'll never make it...to any actual ending, that we'll just keep on living forever” (5). But this fear is not realized; for, indeed, in “Reckoner,” the collection's finale, “a woman in a long black dress and a black scarf” welcomes him to Spitsbergen, “lifts up her dress [and] Nothing happens next” (57). The speaker dies when the reader reads the last page, the narrative ends, and, obviously, nothing happens next. The world is “always as it is, and always as it seems” (15), which means the “I” within a poem will expire when no more poems remain. Even characters succumb to the inevitability of time.

But it is not just the speaker of Fjords Vol.1 who dies. In fact, everyone dies. Whether it's a father who is “lost in the Arctic Ocean” and found by his son “face down in the white [in] a frozen obedience” (6), a lover who is kicked off the side of the Eiffel Tower, an airplane full of passengers who perish in a fiery crash, a bank-teller mauled by a lion, a woman trampled by elephants, or even “some cats” who “die in a series of shivery fits, right in front of us” (49), no one escapes The End.

In death's universality, though, we not only can rejoice, but we also can experience love. No more clearly does the bond between love and death occur than in “Someone Falls In Love With Someone”:
Someone falls in love with someone but that person falls in love with someone else, and that person falls in love with a different person, and that person falls in love with someone else too. I am the third person and you are the fourth person. I am an ambulance driver and you are an ambulance driver. I am resuscitating someone in a basement and you are resuscitating someone else in the same basement. Are you falling in love with someone else? I ask from across the basement but you can't hear me. I am being strangled by the asphyxiated person who I am resuscitating and you are being strangled by the asphyxiated person who you are resuscitating. (14)
People in love and people dying: the archetypal tropes of humanity's existence writ large in the dual, comic deaths of lovelorn paramedics who are strangled by the asphyxiated victims they came to save.

Of course, no one (not Schomburg, not any other poet, not ourselves) can tell us “what death really is,” and even to imagine the experience will “seem implausible until it happens” (25). But we are human, so we must die; and if we are to die, then we must eventually confront death. In order to do so, then, Schomburg suggests that we hold it in our loving embrace; or as he writes: “Falling in love with the death thought is a way of never really dying. You let an idea hold you in its real arms” (4) so everything you have ever loved will never slip away.

10 May 2012

False Spring

False spring is that time of year when it's “85 degrees & sunny” for a few days; but soon thereafter, there is “snow falling on the daffodils,” which dashes our hope of a more permanent reprieve from wintery conditions.

Using this protean season that “fools everyone / into thinking things are going to be okay” as an overarching trope, Gina Myers's chapbook False Spring (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2012) is a sequence of twenty-seven, primarily nine-line, untitled poems that explore both the city of Saginaw, Michigan and a poetic consciousness that shifts with the seasons. Take, for example, the following:
Unexpected doctor's appointment has me
sweating next month's rent. I've never learned
how to get ahead. In Saginaw, there are people
working to make it better, community organizing,
planting trees & gardens, cleaning up,
trying to battle the perception that this place
isn't worth anything. That a life here isn't worth
anything. Still, I feel more disconnected
each day. Always dreaming of running away.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, Saginaw, like many cities in Michigan, has seen an increase in social problems and criminal activity that relate directly to its high rate of unemployment. To the extent that people in the city are “working to make it better” via “community organizing,” the speaker perceives the possibility of hope. Yet, she still “feel[s] more disconnected / each day” and is always “dreaming of running away.” The speaker's ambivalence about her city, then, mimics the atmospheric alterations of false spring.

But far from being a placed-based text that estranges readers not from Saginaw or similar Michigan cities, the poems extend an empathetic reach through the speaker's engagement with modern information systems, such as cable television and the internet. For example, we find the speaker “Checking updates on [her] phone” to fulfill her “24/7 need to be connected.” Unfortunately, the connection reveals that the world outside Saginaw does not fare much better:
sweeping through the southern states.
Nuclear catastrophe in Japan.
Protests everywhere.
Whether it's a natural disaster, a “Nuclear catastrophe,” or disenfranchised protesters united in the hope of economic equality, the deteriorating quality of life worldwide does not make escape from the oxidized remnants of a forgotten, once-industrial town seem much better. In fact, the speaker tells us that “this story / could take place in Chicago, Buffalo, / Cleveland, Philadelphia & an assortment / of other places. But these days / my thoughts always wrestle with Saginaw.” In other words, while the hardships described in False Spring contain a certain universality, Myers's choice to orient them within a particular location provides readers with an immediacy founded in personal experiences.

With such widespread misery, readers may wonder whether or not False Spring offers any intimation of hope for a better life. While the poems do produce a rather bleak, social outlook, there is a silver lining, which is, not surprisingly, rooted in the microcosmic level of daily happiness:
I just want to listen to music, read books,
eat food, drink beer & occasionally whiskey,
dance, and travel, see my friends & spend
my time with you.
The speaker desires only simple pleasures from life that she can experience with friends and a lover. Perhaps these rapturous banalities are her only solace, our only solace, in a world perched precariously at the precipice of disaster. If such a response seems naïve, the speaker of False Spring does not deny its preciousness; instead, she acknowledges it straightforwardly: “It sounds like I'm fifteen, / believing this could actually be possible.” But in a world where “the people / are losing,” and all we can do is ask “what the hell kind of life / is this anyway,” perhaps are only remedy is, as Breton wrote, to “turn back toward...childhood” in order to buttress ourselves in a world gone wrong.

06 May 2012

The Flasher

Adam Peterson's The Flasher (Springgun Press, 2012) is a series of sixty prose vignettes (and the occasional diagram) that documents the life of a character named “the flasher.” Given the title of the collection, as well as the protagonist's name, one would expect the book to detail the exhibitionist exploits of a man who exposes himself in public; but that is hardly the case. In fact, not until the final page of The Flasher does the flasher flash:
First, it's the belt of his trench coat dangling down to tickle his knee. Then it's his hat. After that, it's his sunglasses. The daylight blinds him. He can no longer see her, but she can see the whole of him. He counts to one instant then closes his coat, his eyes. His mouth is still open. And open. And open. (60)
While this lone scene may be the “one instant” of premeditated, public exposure (once, the flasher accidentally exposes himself, and twice he is nude), it reveals to us the main character's desire to connect with another human being, literally opening himself to an other in hope of forming an intimate bond through undressing.

Intimately connecting with an other in a world in which we are “intractably alone” (8), then, is the overarching theme of Peterson's book. Throughout The Flasher, readers encounter scenes wherein connections are not made. Take, for instance, the following excerpt from “The flasher moves into a dollhouse”:
He tries to explain what has gone wrong to the blonde girl sitting next to him, but she cannot be bothered. No one is hungry. No one says welcome home. (10)
Yes, scenes like the above occur often in The Flasher and present us with a portrait of a man who “sings [his] song alone” (17). While the flasher attempts to form a relationship with the girl who works at the muffin store throughout the course of the collection, the two never develop a meaningful rapport. In fact, the only person who appears to understand the flasher, at least somewhat, is his mother:
He chooses Julius. Because even though he's never wanted to be a Julius, he's always wanted to be someone who was once Julius but became Frank. But Frank doesn't work either, so he's Billy and Ernie and Debra before he settles on Clyde, but she keeps calling him the same thing when she hands him his muffin. He hasn't told her, he hasn't told anyone. Somehow his mother knows. She calls to say, O, Clyde, how did we grow so far apart? (14)
Regardless of how many times the flasher changes his name, his mother still knows what to call him; but even she acknowledges that they have grown “so far apart.” When she finally succumbs to “sky cancer” (42), his world becomes “grey and cold and confused” (12) and lonely: a place from which he has “disappeared years ago” (24).

Desperate loneliness, though, is not a condition unique to the flasher; he's just one of the few to realize its pervasiveness. In “The flasher gives up the ghost,” Peterson presents us with a scene where “the girl and the ghost go off...skipping into the sunset hand-in-hand, not stopping to look into the other hand” (32) to know that it's empty.

Ultimately, the world of The Flasher is a world vacant of love, in which people say the words “I love you” only as “accidents” and “don't mean anything to the person saying them” (51). Yes, in this world, life is “a punishment considering [how] rarely” its inhabitants are “happy” (44). So foreign is the concept of love that, when the flasher tries to draw a heart, he can only muster a series of seemingly random symbols:

◦ (58)
How, then, should the flasher live his life; how, then, should we live our lives in a world crushingly devoid of understanding, intimacy, and love? The answer, it would seem, is to remain “open. And open. And open” in hope that one day we can foster a connection with someone else and share our most naked, exposed, and vulnerable instants.

01 May 2012

The Hermit

To categorize Laura Solomon's The Hermit (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2011) as a book of dreams would not be incorrect, but more properly, it is a book of joyous confusions. For instance, one such confusion Solomon explores in the collection is that of gender. In the poem “Dream Ear, Part I,” she writes of “the man and the woman and the space between” (5); and in “Dream Ear, Part II,” we're told that “what is between / a lot of I don't know” (7). What is the difference between man and woman, and how can we know anything of that difference?

Of course, for the speaker of the “Dream Ear” poems to propose an unknown difference between genders is already to propose too much; for in “Dream Ear, Part III,” the speaker informs us that she's “not sure / do you even know for sure if this not sure is taking place” (9)? Confusion layered upon confusion in order to produce a hall of mirrors that reflects a distorted vision of the subject so that “you will lose you too” (10) in the proliferation of reflections.

Gender confusion manifests itself memorably and humorously midway through “Dream Ear, Part III” in the form of a waking dream narrative:
I mean I became a man in my dream on the train to Avignon
I did man things ate man snacks wrote man poems I had a penis
when I fell asleep on the train I dreamed man dreams
when I had an orgasm everything collected inside a bucket behind my balls
when I thought a thought it was clear as semen is white thought I shot

my clear white semen everywhere

but woke to find it was only a shadow on the window
and I was embarrassed
it was only on the window not everywhere like I'd dreamed
my semen running away from me like so much rain
and right in front of the woman I really was
dreaming (11)
The female speaker dreams she has a penis and a bucketful of semen she shoots “everywhere” on the train. Upon waking, she finds that she hasn't ejaculated everywhere, but “only on the window.” The space between man and woman, thought and semen, or waking and dreaming collapses and leaves us neither “outside or inside” (13) these distinctions, but “divided” by the act of “tethering them together” (32).

Gender, though, isn't the only confusion in which Solomon traffics. In her sprawling and gorgeous poem “Philadelphia,” the speaker informs her readers:
                                                                                       it's dumb
to differentiate between ordinary and miraculous things
is to miss the point (37)
To distinguish between “ordinary and miraculous” is both “dumb” and “to miss the point.” What the speaker proposes is, perhaps, a Deleuzian “AND-logic” that promotes both the ordinary and the miraculous simultaneously: indissolubly both and in complex relation with one another. Moreover, the syntax of the excerpt serves to highlight the “bothing,” in the sense that the lack of punctuation creates a inextricable fusion between two grammatical structures: “it's dumb / to differentiate between ordinary and miraculous things” and “to differentiate between ordinary and miraculous things / is to miss the point.”

This is not the only instance of Solomon's use of meta-critical language to intensify the confusion addressed in her content. For example, the interplay between English and French languages allows for her to create homophonic, translation-based puns. In “French Sentences,” readers find:
there is fever in forever but also there is or

or which means or in English but which in French means gold

billions of people and how many words in how many languages

is there anything lonelier than a lost glove?

gold and or

dust (23)
There is “fever” and “or” in “forever,” but the more compelling linguistic play occurs within the cultural confusion: the fact that “or” signifies both a conjunction (and thus relational part of speech) in English and a precious metal in French. As such, “gold and or” can be read as a simple statement of fact (i.e. the metal is called both “gold” and “or”), as well as a phrase in a larger syntactical unit that answers a question (i.e. gold and/or dust is lonelier than a lost glove). With “billions of people” speaking so “many languages,” the opportunities for playful confusion within translation appear to be unbounded.

Yes, confusions proliferate throughout The Hermit, which might lead one to think of Solomon as a bit of a linguistic genius. But, of course, to call her one would be both foolish and condescending because “becoming a genius is neither interesting nor important. You get the idea. Many geniuses however do not or at least not right away” (26). In a witty skewering of genius, Gertrude Stein, and Alice Notley, the speaker of “The Autobiography of Alice B. Notley” knows that it is only the “genius” who, full of self-importance, remains confused about the fact that their “genius” is “neither interesting or important,” merely a bourgeois concept that requires you “to be born[,] sojourn in Paris,” and fill out “paperwork,” which will then be handed over to “official people” and “circulate[d] indefinitely” (25). Instead, call Solomon confused as she “speaks [in] a dialect for which there is no book [we] can study” (56) so that “it's hard to imagine properly / what [she] means” (35). Reader of The Hermit, let the sounds of confusion wash over you and “love them more and more” (21).