Thursday, December 14, 2006

Logicalogics, by Ronald Palmer.


I think this syllabus is unreasonably biased toward people with the last name Palmer.

Logicalogics was a fun way to go out. It strikingly reminded me of the sort of work I saw working on my high school's literary magazine. I realize that has to come off as a pretty dubious compliment, but it's only meant as positive. Obviously, the spoiler here is the level of craft; in the sense that Palmer knows very well what he's doing, and most high school students don't (I certainly didn't). This important distinction aside, what strikes me as common to both sets is the directness of emotional vectors and an openness in experimentation.

These statements deserve some clarification. Every text we've read has been "experimental," in varying degrees and contexts. To a lesser extent, many texts have been charged with an emotional translucence: Claudia Rankine, E. E. Cummings, Diana Vreeland, and so on. One of the things that was interesting in the work submitted by high schoolers is first that experimentation does not appear to be hierarchically sorted as it does by older writers. If I am going to choose to experiment with a poem or a story, for example, I might act on an inspiration for a draft, but in revision I am very soon considering in a more discrete, abstract way the intent and effects of whatever variation I've introduced. Ironically (and almost with chagrin), I suspect that Ronald Palmer is doing the same thing… the fact that this collection took a decade to assemble, and his consideration of physical space, balance, rhyme, and meter can only suggest that things are very closely considered indeed. There's something inexplicable and almost deceptive, then, in the conspicuous and seemingly spontaneous idiosyncracies in Logicalogics.

Part of his, I think, is simply a matter of flair. The frequent use of colons ("Their fears: then jump up to reinvent the world for us:" (18)), occasional bolding and italicizing of text ("All entries must hook the mind into a question." (23)), and almost constant interruption of words mid-utterance ("Don't get hysteric: al: beit eso: teric:" (34)) are not only very visual choices, but on first glance, they have the appearance of chaos. The same could be said of the liberal use of blank space, but between stanzas and paragraphs and between individual sentences and words, the unusual shape of the book, the texture of the paper, and even the seamless way that poems proceed unannounced from the dedication and acknowledgments, as if these were poems themselves. On a deeper level, the free play between sex (as seen in Sex Addicts: In Love: "I lick it like a steady job: like a tedious pig: like a studious slob." (56)), metaphysics ("I have failed at being: falsely ecto: morphic." (56), "So let me dine: on Wittgen:Steinian color: logic" (57)), literature ("I picture Foucault's bald head: with a lyrical halo:" (56)), and politics ("In 1978: / when I was twelve: my body became a game of logic // with a patent." (57)) seems equally extemporaneous. As a result, Palmer's experimentation feels improvised and a little wild.

The directness of emotional vectors is equally apparent. As with experimentation, I felt that in reading high school submissions one common feature was a measure of unself-consciousness in exhibiting emotion, Logicalogics arrives at a similar effect, perhaps by coming from a very different direction. Quite simply, I just think that Palmer was restrained in use of irony. Certainly, both joking ("75: Co: lons: for A: R: Am: mons" (2)) and sarcasm ("(O holographic ideal world!)" (31)) are common. However, both are clearly positioned at points within a poem as a device, whereas each poem has its own emotional signature, some providing evidence on nearly every line: ("Maybe we should pause this: till I move to the city: / Till we stir in the nitty gritty: with Pity me: Pit me: / Now you gotta trust me: (Your body's so easy to free!) / And I'm counting hour: by hour: beyond the logic of power: / Where every berry: gripes: then re-ripens to sour." (19)).

For me, the cumulative association of Logicalogics with poetry I haven't read since I was eighteen was quite emphatic and precise. It's interesting to me, then, that I didn't have the additional handicap of associating the book with the weaknesses I expect from inexperienced writers. More than avoiding the trap, Logicalogics was refreshing, in that it reminded me of what interested me in poetry in the first place.



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