Message and Measurement
Matthew Cooperman, Still: Of the Earth as the Ark Which Does Not Move (Counterpath Press, 2011).
In Mathew Cooperman’s latest book we find the poet addressing a cosmological framework in a moment of ecological concern. This publication follows two full-length books DaZE (Salt Publishing, 2006); A Sacrificial Zinc(Pleiades Press, 2001), and three chapbooks, Still: (to be) Perpetual (Dove | Tail, 2007), Words About James (Phylum Press, 2005); Surge (Kent State University Press, 1999) and constitutes a creative extension of issues emergent in Cooperman’s scholarly production at the intersection of deep ecology, criticism and contemporary poetics. Several distinct sections of the work conjoin a series of poems and counted verse previously appearing in several magazines and journals with new poems experimenting in punctuation, erasure, and font, transgressing the fugitive limits of language. Two lines are particularly instructive of the type of writer we might take this poet to be:
Critic: turning these fossils to liberty smoke, he wants a wide apocalypse, to say
the earth takes serious umbrage (4).
In Still Cooperman continues an ongoing engagement with the word + image, in dialogue with photographer Marius Helene whose work features on the cover. The visual and sonic responsiveness of the poet’s language to the materiality of everyday life poses a challenge to the specificity of critical theory and rivals the vividness of the cinematic apparatus:
Critic: having to convey a new sense, his eyes make pictures when they are shut and, while there exists a degree of talent in pure imagining, it is more vivid triumph by its frames than its intentions.
Banner: “Harvesting the American Grain one conflict at a time”
Vantage: the sky is a debris field, hard is who’s looking at the problem (5).
Galvanizing by lines such as these a global English language worn threadbare by the frictions and contradictions of its uses, Still revives the capaciousness of Walter Benjamin’s defunct storyteller in the figure of the poet rising from the grave of history-as-progress. For Benjamin the demise of the storyteller was symptomatic of the massive upheavals in modern social life whereby diversified and communal ways of knowing became uprooted by constantly circulating information bound up with the production of individual experience ad nauseum.
Still works a “liberating magic” upon this posthumous sky-as-landfill tableau. In the manner of Benjamin’s conception of the “fairy tale” which “does not bring nature into play in a mythical way, but points to its complicity with liberated man” (102), Cooperman reveals poems as messengers between worlds at a time when another world is not only possible, but necessarily imaginable. Upon this burning ground the poet lists and listens:
and the lanterns coming on: the oil price rising ($135 crude), the old furnace / functioning (2/3rds capacity), the body count rising (38%, 1/20/01 – 3/20/11)
Snowman: made of salt, or the salt made of man, a pillar standing in Whatzistan / a soluble symbol, a salient salve, desert, deserted, desertification (1).
The cosmological and biblical overtones of the work as emphasized by the title summon to mind Martin Heidegger’s late work on the role of the poet in the creation of the world. Heidegger’s poet vitalizes and preserves the world by making meaning of human agency against the limitlessness backdrop of the heavens. In an “upward glance [which] passes aloft toward the sky,” the poet’s vision returns to fall upon the earth below (218), and so places the totality of world possibilities within the cosmological contexts of lived experience. With and against this notion, Still seems to make of writing an implement and issue of its own inspection, harboring suspicions toward its own mediating role in the measure-taking of the co-relation of earth and sky. By what magic are these kept apart?
Caught, it would seem, for Cooperman, in their inter-play, sun and earth become reciprocal in the worlding of the world given by poetry, a reciprocity of light and material exchange in an ethics of dis-placed togetherness gleaned through the poet’s look (away, or down). Through an averted gaze that gazes on, which starts by gazing to wander the horizontal break/down in eco-social sustenance, as if suspecting inscription itself of something indescribable, Cooperman rounds up a host of unusual suspects; monotheistic memes passing as corporate logos, patented fonts trademarked, and nothings in capital letters for the lineup of poetic assessment:
Product Launch: Doubting Thomas: Jesus’ Hole, 3M Camo Gloves: Serving Those / Who
Serve; Nikon Infrared Bonocs: … (18).
Shortly we receive another clue about the work’s projection of the real/reel of the text, a light-sensitive photo-mechanism which animates language as a sensible assemblage through the (dis)continuity/editing of punctuation:
Author: why this colon mode is a psychotic limb (18).
The colon in Still appears first in an entry in the table of contents, an initial, persistent (re)mark following the epigraph, and bringing each subsequent poem title into its eschaton: “Still: Winter,” “Still: Fire,” “Still: Initial,” “Still: Otros,” etc. Each repetition holds forth as something other, some other thing, in the semantic and somatic play of an excess within writing beyond language, engendering a study of what Jennifer Brody has aptly named the “different and differently related sexual organs punctuation marks” (135). The colon’s phantom-limbic performance makes visible the supralinguistic mediation of punctuation/marks “between speech and writing, performance and gesture” (Brody, 12), and raises a question about the value added to the linguistic system of poetic measurement by the supplement of that which is itself unsayable, which cannot be accounted for in discourse, yet which might be plainly told in the intercourse of organ(ism)s and (celestial/terrestrial) bodies.
Orifice: widening, taking it out on the poles (Cooperman, 2).
Still proceeds by visceral fits and starts, in the locution of a set of visual frames and internal callings, to project a spontaneous b-roll of everyday life; bungled, oracular accountings, a roll-call of social life on display in a radically manifold ecology:
This world of
more and counting
who did what
to whom and
make your mind
accountable to days
black single thread
of things enter (42).
In a series of disruptions occurring throughout the book we read what appears to be a white text set against a black background where what appears to be inscription is actually the negative imprint, or distinctive absence of a mark:
If you hear the d gs
Keep on going
If you ear gunfire
Ke p on going
If you hear sho ts nd footsteps
Ke p going
– Harriet Tubman (28).
As if remarking on the formula and designs for the explosive force of art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cooperman turns to address address itself with a vengeance: “address: to combustion, boom! you who leave the light on, boom! a re- / definition of place in the coming century” (3). Boom! For real. Through the fresh measurement of Cooperman’s glance across the heavens we get a glimpse of things and/as beings upon the earth encountered and encountering themselves anew, surveyed not through surveillance, but assayed by the gaze which marvels, after the Sufi poet Hátif, on the counter-intuitive intimacy of earth and star: “Split the atom’s heart and, lo! / Within it thou wilt find a sun” (qtd in Baha’u’llah 12).
Here in Cooperman’s scope, “the reconciliation of / brides and bachelors / they look at / the sky with / memory with pain / stairs stretch up / they will go down the trees / are stretched between” (34). Still‘s final frames conduct the work’s rhythmic resonance beyond the borders of the text which knows none; extending its echoes, subsequent and possible (re)readings through each thought and fragment, packed into the ark(estra), still in place; still: to come:
Matthew Cooperman continues his image + text project in Still: Imago forthcoming from Jaded Ibis Press in 2013.
Baha’u’llah. The Seven and the Four Valleys. Wilmette: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1991. Print.
Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. Print.
Brody, Jennifer DeVere. Punctuation : Art, Politics, and Play. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008. Print.
Cooperman, Matthew. Still: Of the Earth as the Ark Which Does Not Move. Denver: Counterpath Press, 2011. Print.
Heidegger, Martin, and Albert Hofstadter. Poetry, Language, Thought. Works / Martin Heidegger. 1st Harper Colophon ed. New York: Perennial Library, 1975. Print.
Reviewed by Damien Marassa
Damien Marassa is a graduate student in the program in English at Duke University. His scholarship and pedagogy deals with spirit, performance, and writing systems in 19th and 20th century African diaspora music and literature.