24 July 2012

Green Is The Orator

In “Repetitions of a Young Captain,” which Wallace Stevens included in his book Transport to Summer, the poet wrote:
        The choice is made. Green is the orator
        Of our passionate height. He wears a tufted green,
        And tosses green for those for whom green speaks. 
        Secrete us in reality. It is there
        My orator. Let this giantness fall down
        And come to nothing.
While excerpting these lines from their larger context infuses them with ambiguity, reading them within the context of the entire poem does little to clarify some basic question. Who, exactly, is green? Who speaks green?

What can be determined, though, is that during the height of our passions, green, ensconced in green garb, delivers an elaborate and well-crafted public speech. Yes, green articulating green secretes us into reality. Or, stated differently: words aid in the development of reality, albeit slowly. And it is these words that allow us to remember that we “stood in an external world” that it had “been real,” but now, because of them, we live in “the spectacle of a new reality.” Language creates, then alters our material conditions.

Sarah Gridley's second collection, Green Is The Orator (University ofCalifornia Press, 2010), borrows its title from the aforementioned Stevens poem. The namesake, then, functions as a suitable access point to her book. To begin with, she attempts, in her own way, to unearth the mysteries of green in “Second Inspirations of the Nitrous Oxide”:

To arrive at the core of “green” in my thesaurus
I go through the thinking of “greenness”—

virescence, verdancy, verdure—through the feeling of green places—
sward, park, greenbelt, turf—through the music of its pigments—celadonite,
chlorophyll, viridian— (51)

For the speaker of the poem to “arrive at the core” of green, she relies upon her thesaurus and searches for all its linguistic permutations and off-shoots. For, it would seem, just as Stevens claimed that language constructs our world, so too does Gridley. But to “arrive at the core” of a green, or at the core of anything for that matter, does not equate to an understanding of green. In fact, the poem “First Inspirations of the Nitrous Oxide, Pneumatic Institute, 1799” opens with the lines:

the purpose is not to explain the significance of words
they being apparently obscured by the clouds
in endless succession, rolling darkly down the stream
in which were many luminous points similar (47)

Indeed, “to explain the significance of words,” whether “green” or otherwise, is not the purpose of a poem or a poet. Even more so, it's a futile endeavor because they are “obscured by the clouds / in endless succession.” Instead, when we “arrive at the core” of language and the world it creates, we do so by connecting the “many luminous points similar.”

In many ways, these “luminous points” echo Adorno's concept of “constellations,” which are a series of ideas that circle an object and allow us to momentarily unlock its “sedimented history” through “internal immersion.” Again, this is not explanation or understanding, but a brief immersion into an object's (in this case a word, which happens to be the world) history. What then do words, which compose our world, offer us when we connect their luminous points to arrive at their core? “Coefficient,” the opening poem of Green Is The Orator provides us with a key:

inside of things I call politeness, things I liken to super-
intendence, seashells, pale hosts of erosions, fadings
I like to insight. There in the window
of your soloist house, I think that nothing
is holding up

this thought that is feeling you moving. (3)

Once we access our world through words, or getting “inside of things,” we discover a host of “erosions” and “fadings,” which can be likened to “insight”: slivers of ephemeral thought providing us with brief glimpses of the world's core. But, perhaps most importantly, these insights or thoughts are akin to “feeling”: a visceral connection to the word made flesh. Or, as Stevens wrote in “Repetitions of a Young Captain”:

something that I remembered
Overseas, that stood in an external world.

It had been real. It was not now...

In the spectacle of a new reality.

The “something that I remembered...in an external world” that “had been real” creates the “spectacle of a new reality” for the poet in a poem in the world. And, in Gridley's Green Is The Orator, it is green that orates these passionate discoveries of faded and eroding insight.

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