Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Apostrophe and the Post-Romantic Part 3: Doxsee, Göransson, and Wenderoth

So in Part 3 I'm getting to my argument.  In the next part I'll get into my argument's argument, something I even turned in to my professor as an "afterword" that was the whole reason for me writing this paper.
(fast forward to 2:28 for a reading)

In this era of so-called “hybrid” poetry, there are new “levels” of apostrophe that have emerged and existing levels that have been taken to such extremes that they become new, alien experiences for readers of twenty-first century poetry.  Contemporary poets are beyond all the levels that Culler describes and are breaking more ground than those that Keniston investigates.  They are not taking pathos as a given for poetic address, they break form and genre more forcefully, and if their address falls into one of the levels, they are more likely to take that level to extremes.

Emotional appeals in Post-Modern poetry often have to be tempered with irony or humor or a sense of self-consciousness so that the reader knows that the poet is aware of their pathos.  This is how a Post-Modern poet writes about emotions.  But, if a poet is writing in a genre, like apostrophe, that is inherently pathetic, can the poet opt out?  In Objects for a Fog Death, Julie Doxsee apostrophizes for the entire book, yet never seems to make an overt emotional appeal.  Doxsee uses surrealist gestures to wiggle around the use of pathos.  To talk about sex, Doxsee brings up knives:  “With a fingertip you cross/my chest beginning to end &//we graduate gradually/to knives” (75).  We can see this very intimate and sensual tracing of fingers across a chest eventually leads to violence.  To talk about longing, she uses HVAC and typography:  “I lined the ductwork//with emails you wrote from Alaska/& the heat thrums, now, on the low//moan linking serif to serif” (56).

Doxsee evades pathos in the apostrophic address through surrealism, though she is also able to address the thing that is somehow eluded as directly unaddressable as a you, though Waters mentions it as a this, and that is, the poem itself (Waters 6).


On this day
I take a bite of 

of glow & become
part of you.  I eat

a fireball in someone
else’s wooden yard.

When we fissure
smooth water

with fishhooks
I am handed the

legal pad of words
you hide in.  You

are a lizard in the
headlight but I see

only angel and tail.
(Doxsee 68)

In “HALO”, Doxsee addresses the poem itself, “the legal pad of words” that the poem hides in.  Her speaker becomes a part of the poem.  This fits into one of Culler’s levels, the creation of an event, the biting “of glow”, where the speaker is united, or reconciled with, the other, in this case, the poem.  Now, this is the case with all speakers, right?  That the speaker is a part of the poem?  Doxsee does this consciously, creating a twist, or expansion, of one of Culler’s levels.  It also shows that characteristic longing to address present in apostrophe, though it is done with despondency as opposed to pathos, (You//are a lizard) even though the poet wants to romanticize the object (but I see//only angel and tail).

Evading pathos through surrealism isn’t the only way that younger poets are doing so.  Johannes Göransson’s Dear Ra: A Story In Flinches evades pathos, even though it’s entirely composed of apostrophe, through invoking the grotesque, hyperbolic, language of the conspiracy theorist, the serial killer, and/or the psychotic.  It’s a poetic that feels fresh, though disturbing:  “Kidnap a car thief.  Talk to him as though you want to be slammed in his trunk like a bag full of rocks.//Talk to me in the woods.  To my chest.  With your fingers” (31).  The achieved effect is often humor, though taken sincerely, the effect is anything but humorous.  This may have to do with the form.  Who reads/writes poetry sincerely anymore?  Hopefully not this poet.

The grand abuse of emotion in Dear Ra actually expands apostrophe out of Culler’s levels.  Göransson undoes one of these levels:  the creation of an event in which speaker and addressee can be united.  Göransson creates an event in which the speaker can be united with the other, but through the speaker’s disturbing discourse the event becomes one of alienation.  Even the reader as addressee is fully isolated from the speaker:

Dear Tourists,
You can grope for moist souvenirs in the basement, 
but you’ll need patience 
because nobody down there will warn you about the floor.
In the streets you’ll find squirrels; on my scalp, bumps.
If you want proof for the folks back home that you’ve surged
like a seagull, print your name and number in the bathroom.
If you want a seagull for a pet, talk to my therapist.
If you find her, tell me where she lives and where her daughter
goes to school.  If you want a piece of me, suck my dick.
If you want to sell trips to the general public, take my pulse 
or my coffee-table picture-books about Italy.  
If there’s a house in the trees, throw up a hammer
and see what falls down.  The bleeding kid isn’t 
the best prize and you can’t return it, so be careful where 
you walk when you’ve had a few.  
If there’s a nettle between your shoulder blades 
and you’re having trouble breathing, tell the teacher, 
but don’t tell her it was me because it wasn’t.  
I was just watching, maybe even laughing at your gurgling sounds.  
(Göransson 39)

Much of the criticism surrounding lyric and apostrophe sees the speaker as one who turns away from the audience, forcing the audience to “overhear” the poet/speaker.  I feel that the opposite happens with Göransson.  The audience turns away from the speaker, or he keeps yelling at you like a crazy person on the sidewalk.  There is no “overhearing” of Göransson’s speaker because he is quite loud and he is talking to everyone who is reading and everyone that is in his poetic fiction.  It’s very hard to do a close reading of Göransson’s work because of his low culture diction, syntax, and subject matter, and the fact that his poems are buried in irony and satire.  This also points to the third level.

Like Göransson’s absurdist apostrophe, Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s, uses the epistle address often to comic effect.  Letters to Wendy’s is a conceptual/procedural book, in that Wenderoth went to Wendy’s almost everyday for a year and filled out their comment card with a poetic address to the company.  Some are purely absurd:  “I drink tea at home but would never at Wendy’s.  Tea lacks the necessary brutality.” (December 22) and some are purely meditation on poetry:  “Eschewing verse, I’ve assumed it best to break my lines like prose.  I’ve assumed a visit (to Wendy’s) a full thing—a thing demanding as many words as possible” (December 31).  Letters to Wendy’s fits strangely into Culler’s levels of apostrophe because the event is created in equal parts by the poet and by the speaker.  Wenderoth, the poet, goes himself to Wendy’s, and then, when composing, chooses the mode of address for his speaker.  The event then is equal parts actual meeting of the other (the other being Wendy’s), and the fictional event that Wenderoth creates on the card to foster another meeting, another possible place of unity.  Even the act of going to Wendy’s everyday, is in a sense, creating a fiction (who really goes to Wendy’s everyday?).  It’s also a way of showing this passion for address.  In some ways, it is more akin to Pre-Romantic apostrophe, where the audience is literal and could have a literal reaction to the poet’s performance.  

Letters to Wendy’s is also interesting from a genre perspective, as it’s part memoir, part poetry, part diary, part theory, part Dadaist game.  Because of this blending of form/genre, Wenderoth is able to chronicle and critique his own actions:  eating fast food, capitalism, poetry, even his daily apostrophe:

September 3, 1996
There may be no you—no other to receive and understand
these revelations of myself.  The Post Office may burn them
for all I know.  It’s not important.  I only need you as a good
idea—to make me apparent.  I love you, even if you don’t
understand me, even if you burn my attempts to reach you,
even if you are no one, nowhere.  After all, I warm my hands
by the same fires.

Here we see a poem that fully explains the concept of apostrophic poetry, and it’s also a poem that exemplifies all of Culler’s levels.  It has the passionate intensifying address, even a passion for address itself, “I only need you as a good idea—to make me apparent.”  It has the creation of an event where a relationship of you and I can happen, the letter itself and the relation as possibility as opposed to concrete.  This poem has the intensification of the I, “these revelations of myself.”  And it has the conflation of the I and you, “I love you, even if you don’t understand me, even if you burn my attempts to reach you, even if you are no one, nowhere.  After all, I warm my hands by the same fires.”  Wenderoth achieves this sign of a successful apostrophic poem in a radically different form and with radically different content than Culler might expect (or pay attention to).

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