Apparition Poems: Apologia (two-part preface '13-'22)

Though no sustained narrative buoys it up, Apparition Poems is meant to be sprawling, and epic. An American epic, even one legitimate on world levels, could only be one made up of disparate, seemingly irreconcilable parts— such a state of affairs being America’s, too. The strains which chafe and collide in Apparition Poems are discrete— love poems, carnal poems, meta-poems, philosophical poems, etc. Forced to cohabitate, they make a clang and a roar together (or, as Whitman would have it, a “barbaric yawp”) which creates a permanent (for the duration of the epic) sense of dislocation, disorientation, and discomfort. This is enhanced by the nuances of individual poems, which are often shaped in the dialect of multiple meanings and insinuation. Almost every linguistic sign in Apparition Poems is bifurcated; either by the context of its relationship to other linguistic signs in the poems, or by its relationship to the epic whole of the book itself. If  Apparition Poems is an epic, it is an epic of language; the combative adventure of multiple meanings, shifting contexts and perspectives, and the ultimate despair of the incommensurability of artful utterance with practical life in an era of material and spiritual decline. It is significant that the poems are numbered rather than named; it emphasizes the fragmentary (or apparitional) nature of each, its place in a kind of mosaic, rather than a series of wholes welded together by chance or arbitrary willfulness (as is de rigueur for poetry texts).
This is the dichotomy of Apparition Poems— epics, in the classical sense, are meant to represent continuous, cohesive action— narrative continuity is essential. Apparition Poems is an epic in fragments— every poem drops us, in medias res, into a new narrative. If I choose to call Apparition Poems an epic, not in the classical (or Miltonic) sense but in a newfangled, American mode (which nonetheless maintains some classical conventions), it is because the fragments together create a magnitude of scope which can comfortably be called epic. The action represented in the poems ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the heroic to the anti-heroic; there are dramatic monologues set amidst the other forms, so that the book never strays too far from direct and directly represented humanism and humanistic endeavor. The American character is peevish if not able to compete— so are the characters here. Life degenerates into a contest and a quest for victory, even in peaceful or solitary contexts. Yet, if the indigenous landscape is strange and surrealistic, it is difficult to maintain straightforward competitive attitudes— consciousness has to adjust while competing, creating a quandary away from the brazen singularity which has defined successful, militaristic America in the world.
Suddenly, American consciousness is beleaguered by shifting sands and multiple meanings— an inability, not only to be singular but to perceive singular meanings. Even as multiplications are resisted, everything multiplies, and often into profit loss, rather than profit gain. The epic, fragmentary narrative of Apparition Poems is a down-bound, tragic one, rather than a story of valor or heroism. The consolation for loss of material consonance is a more realistic vision of the world and of human life— as a site of/for dynamism, rather than stasis, of/for multiplicity, rather than singularity. Apparition Poems is a vista into “multiple America” from Philadelphia, its birth-place, and a city beleaguered also by multiple visions of itself. No city in America has so much historical heft; nor did any American city suffer so harsh a demotion in the brutally materialistic twentieth century. Yet, as Apparition Poems suggests, if a new America is to manifest in the twenty-first century, it might as well begin in Philadelphia. If the epic focuses on loss followed by more loss, rather than eventual, fulsome triumph, then so be it. And if Apparition Poems as fragmentary epic imposes a lesson, it is this— the pursuit of singularity in human life is a fool’s game; the truth is almost always, and triumphantly, multiple. 

With twelve years hindsight, and with a sense of affection for the text, combined with an acknowledgement that I am partly being arch, it seems to me that Apparition Poems has established itself as a less-than-wholesome book. The sense, in the text, of both perversity and perversion in a generalized sense, creating textual angles meant to cut or incise rather than (as is more usual in America) to caress, make an approach to this text after all these years what could, possibly, be considered superfluous. The problem with an abrupt dismissal, and it is a less-than-wholesome problem, is the recourse the book has to philosophy and philosophical thought, still within the bounds of the aestheticized, as a reaching or attempted journey beyond perversion, or into perversion transcendentalized again into allegory, loaded metaphor, and formal reinvention. Once poetry here has attempted intercourse with the higher frequencies of discursive thought, we deduce that an interrogation is necessary as to whether this intercourse is possible, in a real way, at all. To answer this query, it must first also be interrogated, even into more open air than we might like, what intercourse is possible between poetry and philosophy; further investigating, when we understand what the possibilities are, whether this form or manner or intercourse is desirable or not.

The apparition which haunts the book: a sense of depth and solidity, held within an individual consciousness; a sense of wholesomeness; leads the protagonist beyond the landscape of the carnal, and of jejune inquiries into language, which fall short of achieving more intellectually than stylization or stylized modes of disjuncture and deconstruction. The only oxygen which reaches him, which can propel the shards of a decimated consciousness into at least an imagination of wholesomeness, is that supplied by a desperate surrender to discourses aimed higher than aestheticized language is designed to reach, and at the conditions and terms the aesthetic generally offer. The image arises of a Don Quixote figure, pacing the streets of Center City Philadelphia in the middle of the night. In the state of perversity, perversion, and the less-than-wholesome within which the book was written; a trance of sorts; it never occurred to the author that a reliance on the aesthetic, and on stylization in general, could give way to limpidity if control was relinquished into those more limpid discursive spaces. Rather, bifurcating the philosophical so that it could also fulfill the terms of the aesthetic, and of stylization, seemed a viable tactic towards giving vent to that sense of the fragmented, the jagged, the incisively sharp, which animated his consciousness.

Philosophy, and philosophical discourse, aims, at its highest pitch, for the most objective kind of truth. Language becomes a conduit for vistas opened, meant to answer questions that cannot be answered by the quantifications of scientists— the being of beings, the precise nature of human consciousness itself. The poet’s aim is more about a sophisticated form of entertainment— language as a conduit for the pursuit of sumptuousness, imagination strained to make things, or things-of-the-world, transitive to other things (metaphor), along with a lower, compromised version of objectivity, functioning in harmonious balance with imperatives to imagination and melopoeia. The real intercourse possible between philosophy and poetry is thus a borrowing, by poetry, of a more objective lens with which to view poetry’s traditional objects— eros, affectivity, metaphoric creativity. What philosophy can take back, in its turn, is a something intermittently useful to the philosopher and his discourses— a sense enjoyment or playfulness in a lower mode of discourse— waters warmer, if less ultimately nourishing, to splash around in.

 The assignation of desirability or not desirability to this congeries of circumstances manifests a sense of ambiguity, which can only be answered by individuals forced to confront it. If I continue to affix my own assignation of less-than-wholesome to Apparition Poems, it is because the point at which philosophy appears in the book has a hinge to a less-than-traditional poetry aesthetic, which substitutes rancor, discord, and semantic/syntactic explosiveness, in several directions, for sumptuousness, and metaphors constructed and perpetuated in a textual Theater of Cruelty, to borrow from Artaud, all of which push against the bounds of what might be considered entertaining, for poetry’s conventional pursuits. What entertainment could then be derived from Apparition Poems, would be the emergence of philosophy, as an objective antidote to a subjectivity jaundiced by immersion in a jungle of overly sharp, hostile metaphors— thus alienated from the wholesomeness of the conventionally aesthetic.

As an individual, confronting a text, it may be acknowledged or unacknowledged that Apparition Poems creates new waters for higher discourses to play around in— play, here, being a function of metaphors-as-toys, aesthetic landscapes as stomping grounds, idiosyncratic syndromes as vehicles of possible universalization. The book, in other words, cannot cure itself, make itself wholesome— though, through its sense of reaching for philosophy, it tries— but philosophy itself, engaging in a mode of investigation here (ransacking the Theater of Cruelty for points of interest) can do for the book, what the book cannot do for itself. If all these things happen amidst an ambiance of mischief, of willing transgression, so much the better.


Adam Fieled, 2013-2022