Something Solid: Aughts Philly: The Studio on Argotist Online Poetry

From the Aughts Philly mid-section of Something Solid, the double sonnet The Studio is now up on Argotist Online Poetry. Many thanks to Jeffrey Side.

The Studio is also available as an individual mp3 page on PennSound

from LTDM (Letters to Dead Masters): "#11"


         In December 1915, Picasso wrote a missive to Gertrude Stein which begins, “my life is hell.” The world was largely a charnel ground, then and now. And as you live through the decomposition of an empire, you realize that everything gets burnt, nothing is spared. But then, I wouldn’t be having these thoughts if I watched television. It is an opiate for the masses on an unforeseen scale; a thought-repellent that guarantees, like certain sedatives, a good night’s rest. What do I do between 7 and 11? Nothing— I look at the walls, note how shadows start creeping with greater and greater rapidity in August, then try to ignore the light created by the top of the utilities building across the street (as it flashes the time, temperature, advertisements, etc). That kind of time, raw time, filled by interior realities rather than exterior ones, has been losing ground for sixty years. That’s why the academics can never be too penetrating about someone like Beckett; you’ve either lived with raw time or you haven’t. It doesn’t have to be a lazy wallow— all kinds of surprising connections manifest, as your mind creeps out into the universe. Who knows, you might think; maybe there are races of beings out there who’ve subsisted for 200 billion years. They probably perceive us to be spoiled babies. If you choose to stay grounded, you may have the realization that each of your lovers secretly hates you. The human race who bother to love at all, love what they hate and hate what they love. That’s why Trish Webber, for example, was always giving me things and then taking them back: devotion, attention, willingness to submit in a wifely way. Love and hate in her could never resolve. The application of a non-palliative becomes palliative just in itself, in this kind of daze, with thoughts of this depth— you feel subtle currents run through you, moving you towards some kind of totalized realness or reality. Throw in kids and a wife, and you can forget about raw time; on this level, I still savor bachelorhood. A conventional situation will never do for me; I have no idea how I’ll be permitted to configure these things. Except freakishly. 
                Talking about conventional situations, I got to the Grind early today, in order to give me some time with Picasso unimpeded; I like his early stuff. Across from me sits Reed, who fronts a large jazz-rock band in the mold of the Weather Report. He’s got on a Gilligan hat, and a black vest over a blue polo; he’s working at his laptop. This guy is my friend on Facebook, and I’m on his e-mail list. After we exchange brief nods, I realize he’s lost about fifteen pounds since I last saw him. He’s either four or five years younger than me, I’m not sure. But he carries himself with the affected assurance of the eternal up-and-comer; the one who always wants to tell you, boy have I got plans; and this time (for once) there’s no looking back. Truth be told, I was in this position for many years; I’ll never forget that claw in my stomach that always said the same thing— something remains unproven, and you may or may not be able to prove it. That’s the arts— a high school with few graduates. And if you’re a poet, you can graduate and stay broke. To be Darwinian, I’ve got all the varsity “Vs” I need, and this guy doesn’t. All the same, I wish him the best. Especially as there aren’t too many graduates in Philly, and our version of “Arts High” is the inverse of Ridgemont— slow-paced and dull. But you better not start whining about what’s in Manhattan, because nothing is. 

Equations #20 (draft added July 2023)

But what the Devil does falls down around the heels when withholding is the only option. Ginny teaches me this, despite the great difference in our ages (my thirty-three to her twenty-two). When we try to escape, its’ to a place of no consummations; when we go up, it’s like a tarantula’s leg that points back down again. Ginny must withhold because she belongs, in every sense, to her family. The luscious red hair, bulging green eyes, extreme voluptuousness of her appearance belie her raison d’etre: to bind and fasten. As she binds and fastens, there’s more looseness than she realizes: you have to give in sometimes to get the goods. The truth emerges, after several months of “almost there”: Ginny is a virgin. Ginny withholds because her parts have defects. Because she is sickly, her gorgeousness is one of the universe’s cruel jokes. The joke is on her and her would-be lovers, and, like most of the best jokes, it isn’t that funny. Ginny is one of those strange girls that seems to have no interests in life; that thinks that her body is her only mind; and that her body that is her mind must be so much an issue of blood that to blood it must return. To be a tart is simply recreation; but there is no sense of seriousness or duty behind it. Yet Ginny stands on the mountain of her own pulchritude, and surveys the carnage at the bottom with calculated niceness. She has never known submissiveness, even as part of a strategic plan, and never will; so she perpetually awakens to see she’s done no real damage. Her mountain is a reverse mountain, which runs from the soil into hell. At a key moment, in the middle of a summer at the end of the Aughts, with Trish unhappily in Manhattan, Tobi fading, the Free School a memory, Ginny and her friends take the Drop hostage. I earn the right and privilege to be in Ginny’s apartment (on Pine Street, down the street east from the Drop) several times, which resembles Julie’s, high ceilings, wooden floors. Ginny sits next to me on her sofa and watches children’s movies on her laptop. I try nothing. She wields an axe, and her physiology is resolutely shut-down, compacted. The Drop waves the white flag, and, as I knew even then, an era was ending. Everything about her group signaled that we’d all been having too much fun, and that the Center City-wide party was over. Actual sex was passe, beside the point. Besides, it was noticeable that when I walked around Center City that summer with Ginny, which I did, everyone looked at us as though we were a couple. Only I knew what was being withheld. The image crafted made me look studly. To her, that was more than enough. Funny: she wouldn’t do bars. She just did her translation of bar-life into coffee shops, Temple classrooms, occasional drama productions. She was, herself, her own production— when she wore low-cut tops, or dresses, she was showing everyone who she was, and her breasts were a bared switchblade. That equation: sex used as an over or undertone to or for violence, or just the threat of violence: was big for her. Her tits were a weapon which could extort from the world what she wanted. All our idealism was replaced with back to the grind cynicism. Ginny’s favorite dress for special occasions was black, and bared the fangs of her cleavage the right way.

Desmond Swords on Apparition Poems: UK List-Serve (2011)

Built into the structure of the Internet is a certain amount of depth and density. Google searches do not bring up everything; some sites are "embedded" more than others, and it varies from country to country, continent to continent. Excavation can become a wonted task, and old texts that were not widely noted upon release can be recuperated. Excavation and recuperation are not just Internet processes; they are artistic processes as well. One goal I set to/for myself with the Blazevox book Apparition Poems (2010), was to excavate and recuperate certain aspects of the Romantic ethos. More specifically, the ethos that was set in place by William Wordsworth in his Preface (to Lyrical Ballads). That the task of the self-respecting Author was to enlarge the mind-capacity of his/her audience; that the dignity of the human mind is inherent and indestructible; that the human mind may be subtly, rather than grossly, stimulated; and that common situations can embody portentous meanings when recuperated with and by imagination; this corpus of notions hinged on other interests that were certainly not Wordsworth's (what about sexuality and sexual situations?) Almost precisely eighteen months after the release of the Blazevox book, I was able to excavate the following List-Serve directed (and quite jocular!) missive from a UK website, scribed by Desmond Swords:
Bob Sheppard's Star Student Scott Desmond's Words Flyte Fielded,

Yes, yes, one read the pose by this 'poet, critic, and musician' colleague, currently where erm, you were a year ago, nearing the end of that long hard road to attainment as a pro in doctoral po-biz, Jeff - collegiately alleging a claim that nearly everything to follow Four Quartets has been 'dross'.
One chuckled at the ambition, audacity and foolishness of deploying such a term in the forum of Letters; before turning one's focus to adducing the verse and other critical prose assays by the author Adam attempting to pull off such a theatrically audacious play as this.
"She told me I love boy/girl poems, love scenes in them based on a deep degeneracy
inherited from too much heat around my
genitals, as manifest in tangents I could only
see if I was getting laid. She told me this as
I was getting laid in such a way that any notion
of telling was subsumed in an ass as stately as
a mansion, which I filled with the liquid
cobwebs of my imagination."
Yeats would be proud of the cant and ergo argoist, very very classy Adam Fieled's verse. Proper spillage. High Art indeed from our playboy crown-prince doing what one does.
Effecting agreement among this reader, on X and Y being the only two one is on collegiate amity and perfect accord with Adam about, as a bosom buddy chum and prophetical practitoner with the imbas to know why, when, what and how, for example, Eliot can successfully operate as a symbol for agreement between Fieled and oneself.
High and Low Art in the 'making' of verse activity, you know, as a 'poetry' there's often very little agreement about, and in America, poetry atomized into 10,000 different individual, unique and original practices, all curated by a genius with big ideas about what kind of reality Poetry is, adam, the only critical debate in AmPo parish at present, as you know, has one essential point of agreement most practitioners of contemporary American poetry found as your datum: MFA.
After this, a forking occurs and we diverge into our own pool of plod and production sailor, not believing any of it matters. That our thinking is nought but a performance in print, anything other than that: Not real. Thought, Fielding.
Have a think about it. I'll get back to you.
What is interesting (and gratifying) to me about this piece is the context it arose from. I had just published a piece in the UK online journal The Argotist Online entitled Century XX after Four Quartets. The gist of the piece was that poetry in the English language decayed horribly in the second half of the twentieth century. Other critical forays from this period, like On the Necessity of Bad Reviews and The Decay of Spirituality in Poetry got a bigger instant public reaction than this one did. A response that defended me with my Apparition Poems, and their excavated/recuperated Romantic ethos, was written and placed in a manner that straddled public and private spheres. Did Mr. Swords know he was being archived? The letter mixes jocularity (even, at points, to the edge of absurdity) with serious overtones. What could have been a post-modern performance from Mr. Swords was nudged in the direction of the Romantic by earnest edges. The dynamic between Century XX..., the Apparition Poems, and Mr. Swords piece are interesting; on one level, radical and provocative conservatism is getting "filled in" by the ironic humor which is post-modernity's metier. The Apparition Poems form a middle ground here, as a site not bereft of absurdities or earnestness, ironies or direct statements. The meta-nature of the poem quoted is heightened by an intellectually challenging and substantial narrative. Mr. Swords chose to defend me with a poem that would be offensive to a "pure" Romantic ethos. It includes sexual slang, and pornographic overtones. But that I was excavating and recuperating something Romantic (and many consider Yeats a latter-day Romantic) is hinted at. The structure of the Internet has created many circles like this in poetry. Excavation and recuperation are processes that force the issue of repetition. What is, and matters most, must be repeated.

Equations #45 (added July 2023)

Growing up with Emma, who had been in my class at CHS, wasn’t like growing up with Roberta. It wasn’t like anything. Emma, a lanky blonde with long, lank blonde hair, a chiseled, cat-like face, and long limbs, looked like a stunt double for Trish, and had been merely an acquaintance. She was quiet, and kept to herself. Her friends were among the geeks of the class. Why and how Emma knew to show up now, in the midst of all this turbulence with Trish, I have no idea, but she did. I laughed because she so resembled Trish, but I was also aroused. I liked the idea, past N and Roberta, of a real hook-up within my class, even ten years after the fact. She was there, at the Last Drop, on a succession of key summer days, in a sleeveless white blouse. After all these years, her cat-face grew on me as enchanting, compelling, suggestive of something her whole presence insinuated— she identified heavily with Trish, and had a female impulse to demarcate turf which could also be hers. Whether she’d been stalking us or just heard what was happening with us from the suburbs, I still don’t know. I knew she was commuting to Center City from somewhere. What she wanted was just one night with me, I later concluded. When, on the one late afternoon I made my way with her back to Logan Square, we were ensconced, she took out a bottle of Robitussin as though it were an aperitif, and she were Trixie Belle. She wanted, as she said, a Robo-trip. It was part of the magic of that night that Emma wound up encapsulating for me so many different partners at once, including partners merely being anticipated. I found it easy to begin making love to her, because she made it easy. Her equation was interesting, about female levels of awareness— everything about her physiology screamed, you always wanted me the most, but you just didn’t know it. You’re a man— you don’t know these things. I have delivered myself to you because you need me now, and I need you. Now you may begin to learn who you are. And we made love with great fluidity and rapidity, and then we made love again. Her fluidity was like Heather’s would be, and the sense of being lulled into a trance of perpetual, high-intensity intercourse, on the bed, then on the living room floor, on the couch in the living room, from the front, from the back, was like Jena. We each gave the other a show-stopping performance, manifesting (as was odd, and as I was not too dumb and callow to notice) an inversion of our years of starving for each other. The absolute ecstasy of several mutual orgasms was the tactile insignia, as it might’ve been with Roberta and N, of an eternity of denial overcome. This, even as what was built into us both had been noticed only by her. Why, in sex equations, women usually hold the cards: women are receptive to sensory data on a deeper level than men, and have a primordial understanding of physiology, of bodies and more bodies, which men do not. When bodies speak, women listen more. Emma and I shared a home, but only she registered what our bodies shared, what was in them. When Trish showed up, it was a red flag from nature that it would be Emma’s time to show up too. Even if it proved to be the cosmic design that after one night, I would never see Emma again.


From Galatea Resurrects, 2008

Beams by Adam Fieled is an e-book from Blazevox. It is a multifaceted work that is both formally and typographically inventive, as well as being linguistically intriguing. To do full justice to the poetry in this volume would require a much longer and detailed review of essay length; such is the complexity and multifaceted nature of this work. So, all I will attempt in this review is to isolate certain features that can be readily recognized. Beams comprises four titled sections: ‘Beams’, ‘Apparition Poems’, ‘Madame Psychoses’, and ‘Virtual Pinball’ (this latter being composed with poet Lars Palm). Each of these sections contain poems stylistically different to those of the other sections. An important aspect to the ‘Beams’ section is Fieled’s poetic aesthetic regarding it. The poems in it represent his concept of the poetic “beam”. The following is an extract from his exposition of this poetic, which can be read at
[A beam is] a short poem, 8-20 lines [not] necessarily impersonal or personal, but it must transcend mere subjectivity […] single lines interspersed function as “beams of light”. They're pure shots into poetic space, flashes of imagery, insight, gist-phrasing, etc. Light-beams illuminate built-beams [ie architectural structures], built-beams support and buttress light-beams. Together, they posit the BEAM as a kind of “light-house” or “light-structure.”
The manifestation of this poetic aesthetic in the ‘Beams’ section applies to all of its poems, but other aspects tangentially related also pertain, particularly where colour (light) and matter (objects) are made to amalgamate in such a way as to produce an almost iridescent affect which draws attention to the “variability” that underlies phenomena (according to quantum theory). The aesthetic result is that material objects are seen to display less than palpable qualities: light becomes semi-palpable in ‘Creep’ (p.7) were it is described as ‘Sponge-light’, and in ‘Leaves’ (p.12) matter becomes semi-iridescent:
Leaves tonight are leaning spots of light […]

The use of such affects serves to give us a sense of the underlying subatomic volatility that forms the objects of the observed world. It has a sort of Blakean sense whereby the visible world is seen to envelop a subtler one. The world is not all it seems to be. In doing this with words, Fieled makes almost tangible to our senses what can but remain only rational inference if we are reliant on same from a study of quantum physics. No small achievement for a poet. However, the poems are not limited to such affects. They also manage to concisely represent the vicissitudes of human experience in all their variations. In ‘Razor’ (p.8) we find lines such as,
edged like needle-scars along arm-veins
everything I can’t puncture is there

which in association with the lines,

bottoms grow hardened from rubs
& sharpness be a baby’s candy

not only produce an interesting juxtaposition, but also represent birth and death. They suggest the bitterness, regret, and frustration that is the lot of humanity, yet they also suggest hope in that we become hardened in order for that suffering to become almost as acceptable to us as candy is to a baby.
Throughout this collection, a recurring motif relating to sexual struggle is evident. In ‘Sex Hex’ (p.9) we have a deft account of man’s unremitting desire for sexual fulfilment described in almost “biological determinist” terms, yet alluding to the nuances inherent in any discussion of male dominance within a given society, as is suggested by the mention of Foucault:
take her up, stroke her belly, she’ll think of Foucault

The biological controlling impulses of the male driven to physical action is counter-balanced by the cerebral passivity of the female who, by thinking of Foucault, both gives in to the male’s seduction ploy but also demonstrates an intellectuality that is not evident in the male at this particular time in their relationship. The problematical relationship between the sexes is further evinced in terms of consciousness in the ‘Madame Psychoses’ section. In ‘Sarah Israel’ (p.33) we see how memory almost reinvents or remodels the past regarding a yearned for “other”:
I saw her in a seeing not seen by any eye,
& the “I” that saw, saw my eye not at all.

Here, identity and perception become entwined as the punning of ‘eye’ with ‘I’ demonstrates. This punning acts as a poetic device to illustrate the very real inextricable union that identity and perception must necessarily have. It is a union so binding that the two become mutually exclusive causing the poet confusion as he struggles to wade his way through something of solipsist maze. In ‘Paula’ (p.37) we see the ultimate expression of male sexual and emotional yearning that represents the lot of Everyman:

chaos, order, clipped bird-like into
wings & cries. I could only ever
think; paula. all the thrusts &
pumps that could never be. "all"
that must be withheld, & that
it might be better that way.

you gave me the gift; savouring
wanting. how it really was you
I wanted. not a body but a soul.

I tell myself I've "been through
you", forever & never. zero here,
same as two. empty.saturated. dark

I have quoted the entire poem. Such is its universality pertaining to male desire any commentary by me would be more than superfluous. Indeed, it would not be outlandish to suggest that in this poem Fieled has articulated more than John Donne allowed himself to in those poems of Donne’s that evince similar concerns.

Jeffrey Side

From moria poetry, 2008

I was very fortunate to pick up a copy of Opera Bufa when I did. I went to see Andrew Lundwall and Daniela Olszewska read at Myopic books and was browsing the authors-who-have-been-here shelf before it started. I went upstairs and sat down. Andrew was late; he lives an hour or so outside of town. I started reading. 

I don’t know too much about opera, but I think that it would be a lovely experience in the spring, as is Adam’s book, as is going to a good poetry reading, which is what I meant that I was fortunate to pick up a copy, right now, especially, when the spring is creeping in and melting up a bit of winter’s hard and coldness. The book had some kind of similar effect on me, like music, as it is music, as it really is, and as it also uses as its larger metaphor. 

The themes start and they start to mix. The way that they mix is the first part of the opera, a part which is sustained for a very large portion of the poem; so long, in fact, that I thought that was what the whole poem would be like. But it did change, and I very much appreciated that. I imagine that operas change partway through. I know our lives do. Adam writes, "as if you were a cup of finished ice-cream, I’d be a brown-eyed moon goddess"(11). Is this a good time to mention that I told Andrew after the reading that my favorite line of his was, "I want to eat some ice cream. I want to fuck my face with vanilla. Seems like it." Adam mentions right off that the rhythms are pitiless because we do not know how they began and this is a good example: "Rhythms become streams of possible shoe-lace, slugs of 3 a.m. Scotch, lust after thy neighbor’s daughter, mooning on the lawn"(7) and later "You become gum"(36). 

Adam latches onto rhythms that are already at play in the world and sifts into them his mix of observation, word play, conjecture, description, subversion and other games of linguistic and logic, testing out our frames of reference. Many sentences land themselves in a music of metaphor that made me keep wanting more. In this weird time of wanting to start a book that I see wing past my window on Goodreads or having guilt about setting one aside that I’ve already committed to publicly, it was just an absolute joy to want to keep reading and reading until I was finished. And, though I hate to admit this for fear that it reveals something about my attention span, this is rare. Also related to spring, I felt very fortunate to be reading about so many actions that are happening outside from section to section, so much grass and color and even running along the Schuylkill, which makes me miss Philly in the springtime, too. In terms of the balance that Adam’s creating in the book from section to section, he’s bringing in a real record of the outside world to pour into his metaphors. This is not only a great springtime thing to think about, but also an important poetic for getting the poet outside of themselves. It was riveting to watch Adam’s real-time reactions as he wrote the world into the opera, which must ultimately be sung with a voice. 

Well what do I want to say about the end of the opera. The opera begins to end and then it begins to know it is ending and then it is ending and then it ends. At one point, at the very beginning of the ending as I saw it, Adam writes, "I only knew two scales, and I played them every which way"(44) and then he writes, "I saw a thousand hues, and each was differently used" (49) and how can they both be true? Well they are in this opera. In the first statement, he admits that his initial range might seem limited, but in the next he shows that what he observes in the world is much more multiple. Although a bounded being, external experience is what, looking back to the first statement, allows him to create real complexity with his writing. A writer has only so many words but each encounter is new and provides new materials, new ideas, and new combinations of thoughts and words. There’s an attention that Adam is drawing to this paradox of language that poetry permeates as he draws his opera to a close. Perhaps one of the things about opera is that it transmits a vital energy; besides its mimetic purpose as theater, large swells of sound are projected with so much skill into the confined space of the hall. Within Opera Bufa, there is real life stirring inside the language as it finds a climax out of the constraints of its own conjuring. 

I finished Opera Bufa while I was getting my hair cut, another spring thing, getting rid of the heavy mess of growth on my head that had gotten out of control over the winter. Now I feel lighter. I guess that when it’s time to finish a book of really fine poetry, "it is the hour of feeling, when singing must cease" (59). Adam writes, "If only I felt that life, concentrated into song, could be fruit juice for thirsty joggers. Alas, it is not so" (62). Well, maybe I’m in an especially optimistic mood right now, but I disagree. 

Laura Goldstein, 2008

Opera Bufa: "Divertimento Giocoso" or Coping with Absence?

Time, as a linear construction, tends to herd people into viewing their lives I in terms of memory, present sensual stimulation, and hypothetical premonitions. The English language reflects this structure by allowing us to speak in various verbal tenses, and narratives that employ multiple temporal settings can transport the reader or auditor into emotional states contingent upon a temporal location designated by the author. We construct our perceptions of the world based not only on language, however but also on images that elicit emotional responses and generate new thoughts or ideas. Memory works in a similar way, by cataloguing images corresponding to one’s emotional and physical state in the past, like a physical stamp on one’s brain that tries, then, to translate it into words. Memory, which can take such a strong hold on one’s perception, depends upon loss for its own creation, such that one must lose something in order to look back on in it memory. Poets have long been tackling the problem of forgetting and memory, coping with grief, mourning lost lovers or friends, and feeling out the concept of nostalgia through their work. In Opera Bufa, Adam Fieled builds an entire opera out of prose poems, weaving through it themes of sex, music, literature, and drugs, all of which become threads that attempt to explore this concept. His emotional release onto the page is a highly poetic form reduced to potent and poignant prose that describes losing as a means of artistic creation.
Throughout Fieled’s opera, he remembers past lovers and the loss of physical objects, but he continually highlights the arbitrariness of the “what” that is gone, profiting from a focus on the expression engendered by absence. Afterall, the first line of his poetic musical score reads, “Losing is the lugubriousness of Chopin.” (5) By equating “losing” with an interpretation of Chopin’s style he transforms the concept of absence into the great work of an infamous composer in six words. Fieled underscores the importance of what comes from the emotional reaction caused by deprivation rather than the object or feeling originally lost: “It is simply bereavement that leads us here, to these images.” (16) Loss engenders these “images” that eventually lead to new thought, creating inventive juxtapositions and fresh concepts. He goes even further by drawing attention to his own creative process and his reconfiguration of mourning when he says,
What has been lost thus far? It’s just tar on a highway, bound for ocean. Or, it’s the migratory flight of a carrier pigeon. It is all things that move and breathe, coalesced into sound…It is octaves, repeated in a funhouse mirror until a decibel level is reached that a dog alone may hear. I am the dog that hears, the dog that conducts, the dog that puts bones on the table. (50)
In this citation, the poet refers to himself as the ramasseur of the fragmented pieces created by loss. He “conducts” the broken pieces into poetry to be put onto the table for the public to digest.
Furthermore, Fieled directly mentions memory, saying that it is “as sweet as reality” (59) and then relates the two of these to dreams. This statement disregards any difference between the past and the present in terms of experience and one’s emotional state. His comparison to dreams, then, links them all together through their capacity to provoke strong emotional experiences and vivid imagery. However, he separates the dream world from the others by saying, “I have learned to what extent dreams are real. They may not be solid as a cast-iron pot, but they are enough.” (59) But enough for what exactly? Here Fieled suggests that dreams suffice as inspiration for artistic expression. A few, short lines after, he sums up this theory of creation in stating, “It is the hour of feeling, when singing must cease.” (59) Here, “the hour of feeling” refers to the present, profiting from the woman he finds himself next to in order to experience the moment as the present. However, as he states himself, these privileged instances of living in the present moment exclude the possibility of creative release; during these moments, “singing must cease.” In one of his other poems in which he references the power of imagination, he says, “I know that I had to dream an opera to really sing. I know I had to dream singing to really write.” (54) The poet’s creativity cultivated in this dream world derives directly from the concept of losing control. Once his subconscious eliminates all barriers constructed by reason or rationality, Fieled really starts to sing.
Opera Bufa bulges at the seams with drug references to describe an elimination of control. Cocaine and mescaline dispossess users of their governance over their own visual faculties, causing hallucinations and amplifying all external stimuli. This state of being induced by drugs parallels the dream state that Fieled exploits for tapping into new creativity. Drugs, however, grant extended access to this alternative existence in which one’s subconscious yields to consciousness, whereas the dreamer forgoes all control involuntarily. Fieled references the prevalent drug culture of the psychedelic rock scene in San Francisco during the 1960’s and 70’s to infuse his poetry with this theme: “stay where shadows press themselves in upon you. Stay with the purple riders and their sage buttons.” (16) This is the first drug allusion of Opera Bufa, and boldly opens the doors for others to follow. His mention of “purple riders” adorned with “sage buttons” points directly to the band New Riders of the Purple Sage, a country rock band that emerged from this drug and music culture of California in 1969. The term “purple riders” describes users of a mildly hallucinogenic aromatic herb found in Southern California commonly used in Native American ceremonies. Though Fieled makes this insinuation early on in his work, he picks up the thread again towards the end when Maria Callas says to him, “We are all purple riders” as she slowly exhales a ribbon of smoke. Though the author also mentions the use of cocaine, this theme of hallucinogenic drugs is more tightly weaved into his story as he openly associates it with Maria Callas, one of the narrator’s inspirations, his former lover, and the woman who performs his Opera Bufa.
In addition, the poet dissolves boundaries signifying binary opposition to destroy conventional associations and meaning. Many images created by Fieled seem cryptic, and the reader must often wrestle the sentence into some sort of submission from which he or she can draw any digestible meaning. For example, he says things such as, “The history of popcorn is a minor third that can be squelched by intense bed-thuds,” (31) or “keep your pug-face for the aesthete tax collecting slobber-heads.” (28) He also tests one’s logic by using such hypothetical reasoning as, “If you were a cup of finished ice cream, I’d be a brown-eyed moon-goddess.” (11) These lines disorient the reader and also reflect on Fieled’s own state of mind during the creation process. In describing his own style, Fieled says, “As for fluorescence, those crayons were always my favorites anyway. If the color is off, it’s because my set collapsed, if not into nullity, then into plurality.” (54) He tears down the blatant contrasts separating nullity from plurality and life from death to create a space in between, seemingly void of sense and control, from which poetry and song spring forth in abundance. He says that “song cannot be spared when life and death adhere,” (56) and it is within this grey space that Fieled writes. Inside this space, in which everything seems arbitrary and undeterminable, people create new connections between words and images, create new meaning, and better understand themselves.
In losing control and sacrificing reason, Fieled actually gains control over his own creative style and the structure of his work. The opening sentence in which he mentions Chopin establishes the poet’s theme and perspective that he will tease out during the fifty-nine poems to follow. He relies heavily on the concept of absence and its multiple contributions to the creative process in the first quarter of his opera before he enters into other themes. In his first poem, Fieled says,
What’s lost might be a sea shell or a tea cup or the bloody scalp of an Indian; it hardly matters. When you are lost, the heart recedes from exterior currents, too much in sync with itself, its groove vicissitudes. Each encounter, rather than revealing new rhythms, is experienced as a clangorous din, a pounding…to push the heart deeper and deeper into pitiless darkness…We squirm within ourselves to the sound of the Devil’s opera bufa. (5)
He disregards what sends him into this “pitiless darkness” to focus on the experience he lives once there. Fieled plants the seed of an idea that should slowly blossom in the reader’s mind through their experience with his work and returns to the original concept in his final poems. Eight poems from the end, he begins an “inventory” of what is lost, of what remains, and of what has been gained. A few poems before that, he says, “What has been lost thus far? It’s just tar on a highway, bound for ocean,” (50) lines that provide deeper reflection upon an idea that was similarly stated in the first lines of his work. In using this structure, Fieled has created a strong thematic foundation that circles back on itself, and he fills the middle with layers of relevant ideas, juxtaposed colors and images, and a stylized imagery presented in a simple, yet very rich and highly poetic style.
Stacy Blair, Loyola University Chicago, 2008

Sex and Shadows: Mary Walker Graham and Stacy Blair (2009-2023)

The poems I would like to explore today belong to Boston's Mary Walker Graham. Many of Graham's poems adopt the stance that the protagonist seems either to be a sort of victim, or caught in the throes of self-castigation; veer towards the straight Confessional, but always with an added dimension and depth (imaginative capacity) which places her (to my eyes) squarely within the confines of post-avant. The following is a prose poem, entitled A Pit, A Broken Jaw, A Fever:
When I say pit, I'm thinking of a peach's. As in James and the Giant, as in: the night has many things for a girl to imagine. The way the flesh of the peach can never be extricated, but clings— the fingers follow the juice. The tongue proceeds along the groove. Dark peach: become a night cavern— an ocean's inside us a balloon for traveling over. When I said galleons of strong arms without heads, I meant natives, ancient. I meant it takes me a long time to get past the hands of men; I can barely get to their elbows. How a twin bed can become an anchor. How a balloon floating up the stairwell can become a person. Across the sea of the hallway then, I floated. I hung to the flourescent fixtures in the bathroom, I saw a decapitated head on the toilet. I'll do anything to keep from going in there. I only find the magazines under the mattress, the Vaseline in the headboard cabinet. A thought so hot you can't touch it. A pit. A broken jaw. A fever.
This poem oozes creepiness. Among the aspects I find most notable: the way that Graham's protagonist self-infantilizes (regarding herself not as a woman but as a "girl"), the imagery that conflates the sexual with the horrific (Vaseline butting against a decapitated head, broken jaws, fevers), and the intimation that what is at the heart of this confrontation is some sort of compulsive relationship. Yet the poem is intriguing because, despite its intimations, it never abandons the first person singular. Whomever the "you" happens to be, we never see them, they are never addressed, and the poem posits no "Other." There is solipsism at work, which cuts the implied "you" down to size; the narrator may be involved in an unhealthy relationship, but the primary feeling we get is one of self-loathing and self-disgust, expressed with compelling (and disturbing) intensity. The generalized phrases, addressed to men, serve to illustrate, as is Graham's wont, the narrator's alienation from whatever specific man is sewn into the situation, interior and exterior.
There is also an unlikely quality to Graham's metaphors: what exactly could "balloon" imply, in this context? How can it be connected to the "peach" that Graham puts it up against? At one point, Graham creates a metaphoric chain, all meant to represent the same thing: dark peach, night cavern, ocean, balloon. The most obvious interpretation is that the metaphor is meant to signify the female sexual organ. However, the metaphoric chain is distorted, phantasmagoric, and macabre. A stretch is required to allow the metaphoric chain to work, just as Graham stretches to convey what she wants to convey, which is equally brutal and surreal, and supports a consistent persona. The following poem, Double, first appeared in Ocho #11, and works an analogous angle:

Here is a box of fish marked tragedy.
Is it different from the dream

in which your alter ego kills the girl?
You are the same, and everyone knows it,

whether tracing the delicate lip of the oyster shell,
or sharpening your blade in the train car.

The marvelous glint is the same.
Though you think you sleep, you wake

and walk into the hospital, fingering
each instrument, opening each case with care.

The scales fall away with a scraping motion.
You are the surgeon and you are the girl.

Whether you lie like feathers on the pavement,
or coolly pocket your equipment, and walk away...

You are the same; and you are the same.
You only sleep to enter the luminous cave.

I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that this poem places itself in an introspective realm of infantile sexuality. Yet that it is written from an adult perspective gives it a kind of double edge. If there is terror here, it is terror of the protagonist's own sexual power. The interest and pleasure for the reader is in trying to understand the different levels of self-evaluation that are going on, and how they affix to the narrator's sense of herself— how her persona is constructed. As in A Pit, there is a level of sexual solipsism inhering in the protagonist which becomes a maze, in and of itself. There is also a level on which the poem exteriorizes its own discomfort through the use of "gross" imagery: box(es) of fish, blades, surgeons. What is the nature of the operation? What necessitates it?
Reversing A Pit, the poem is given added depth because it is presented in the second person: not "I" but "you." It takes on the quality of a narrator talking to herself about herself, and makes the poem an exercise in imaginative self-consciousness, more so than A Pit. I find this admirable because it recuperates the tone of Confessional poetry, but puts it through a new kind of synesthetic light filter. What Graham sees as "Double" could be a split between her body and her mind, or between her sexuality and her intellect, or even between herself and another. Whatever it is, it has left her in pieces, and the poem seems to be an attempt to reassemble herself. Both of these poems, and other Graham work, present a consistent persona, a tangent to Stacy Blair's: a polymorphously perverse girl-woman lost in the never-land of her own body (and polymorphously perverse can imply a body of thoughts and ideas in addition to the mere physical mechanism.) Though possibly mainstream-consonant, as has been duly noted, through usage of conventional narrative techniques, and exploration of familiar emotions, it would be difficult to get more edgy, in the parlance of this discourse around post-avant, than that.

The second portion of the Sex and Terror post is being scribed at a later date: January 2017. With the addition of new material to P.F.S. Post from Stacy Blair, a Midwestern poetess, there is more to see and say about the pertinent issues hewn into these texts the creation of a new kind of female persona in American poetry; a new approach to female sexuality and the female body; and a continuing, obsessive interest in the dark or shaded portion of both sexual and human reality. As of January 21, the poem by Stacy Blair which crowns PFS Post is called Photo Experiments:
Blonde locks jut out over the tops of pigtails,
bleached beach/sand-color by the sun.
Time's short between this photograph and my regard.
Picture: no flower lays or shoes, just
young grass hips. She is, I am, we were,
very young. The entire page of this album
flanks history; under my mind, another
helpless time explosion. I was, we were, are,
naked newborn, as our little limbs on film.

What might strike the reader as most urgent thematically the artful insinuation of pregnancy is buttressed by the same strain of self-castigation, self-reproach, and self-mistrust we find in Graham. Like Graham, "young grass hips," "flanks," and "flower lays" are all heavy innuendo about carnality. What makes the poem so fascinating are the divisions and precisions Blair incises into her perceptions of identity who she was, who she is now as two distinct selves; who she is and who her assumed lover is, also as two distinct selves; and the third entity they create together (possibly the unborn child) being distinct from them as another gestalt entity. It is difficult not to read "helpless time explosion" specifically as a reference to pregnancy and equally gripping, because addressed, text-wise, with taut, terse authority. Caesuras here create a sense of hypnosis for the reader, brief incantation. The poem ends in irresolution, purposefully and the chiaroscuro edge (or edges) of what I called post-avant many years ago is very much in effect, on display. Why the Aughts created this sense of dread, of foreboding, along with the shadowy seductiveness of stark eroticism, is anyone's guess; a reaction, perhaps, to the stunted quality of the female body (and the female brain in response) in century XX art?