Everybody in the blogosphere involved in the American academy ought to read this report, “How Many Ward Churchills?” promulgated by something called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. The report’s seemingly dispassionate tone can’t hide that what it amounts to is a set of “evidences” to support the vile David Horowitz’s nefarious “Academic Bill of Rights.” Of course, the ACTA entirely ducks out of presenting any solid alternative to the entire body of critical thinking that it attacks – leaving Horowitz to seize the role of knight-on-white-horse.
I’ve only known Tony Tost from a few emails, from his always thoughtful blog, & from his editing of the excellent Fascicle. I was very pleased, then to get ahold the other day of his excellent first book, Invisible Bride (LSU, 2004). The book reminds me intensely of Eric Baus’s similarly excellent The To Sound (Verse, 2004). Invisible Bride consists of prose poems in a personal, conversational voice that is at the same time distanced, historicized – the speaker reflects on the events of a life as if he were Robert Lowell or Adrienne Rich recalling his childhood & personal circumstances, but the events & impressions recalled are surreal, aestheticized: seemingly random, incoherent tho cohering at a larger scale. A dream-like logic operates from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph.
There are moments of wonderful mathematical obsessiveness (see Beckett’s Watt), like “Unawares,” in which “Tony” contemplates the best method of measuring the average distance between plums on a plum-tree, & speculates on how one might measure the distances between letters in the alphabet & work out the relationship between their sounds & their positions.
Some folks are unable to talk on the phone in a noisy office or airport while others can make a call from anywhere. Some folks break the phone because they are afraid it will ring. My father feared the ferry-boat that took us to our summer vacation home; when the horn blew he would throw himself on an imaginary sword. During my lifetime, I’ve made at least 200, 000 observations. for example, clouds often just disappear.The preferred mode is the observational, the statement of “fact”; preferred verb tenses are the present and the simple past. This lends the book an air of great calmness, of deceptive lucidity – the straight-faced recitation of a grade-school primer, rather than the balanced subordinations of a Samuel Johnson or Sir Thomas Browne. I think of the “ambient” poetry which Adalaide Morris theorized in her talk at Louisville back in February, a poetry of an even, calm surface whose individual bits of mosaic – the sentences, the paragraphs – pulse with differentiation, pull themselves in gently opposed & eyebrow-raisingly surprising directions.
What I hear are the somnambulists coming down the hall. About eight of them. They’re quick. Right now everything smells like buttermilk, but the world is still distant to me, like a cloud to its shadow. I’m the shadow. Of something bigger. I think. Like the memo says: the world is merely a path made visible and we are allotted only so much time to be strangled by it. So my advice is to go out there and raise some hell. Like the somnambulists. The fat one dreams he’s cutting a dangerous path through Arkansas back before anyone even bothered calling it Arkansas, when everyone stayed up all night smoking and worrying about the new shit popping up on the maps, when a disease could spread across a city like coffee spilled on a map. This fat one moves quickly because in his dream there’s less history to drag around. I find this genuinely moving. [….]
I love trivia.
Did you know that Rick James and Neil Young played together in a band called The Mynah Birds? Did you know that Thomas Jefferson was once given a 1,235-pound hunk of cheese, giving us the term “the big cheese”? That sleepwalkers are not allowed int eh armed services because of the threat they pose when they have access to dangerous equipment and are unaware of what they are doing? I have razors hidden throughout my room, so I’m curious as to what will happen when all the somnambulists get in here.