On Poetry


Understand form and make due with form.
This is a new page, thusly a new idea or
at least a different one than the one on the
preceding (preceding?) page. Spelling. Telling.
A train comes, still blanks, still pushed against
the lens. Culture. Look at it wiggle in the dish
out of its jean jacket onto an industrial tile floor,
to build a titanium house folded like a napkin.

Copyright ©Christopher Stackhouse, 2005

Taste is a complex matter. It is not merely about form or sound or shape, easily recognizable characteristics. Often, it might be about mediation, what theorists are now calling the sensorium.

I begin with this “disclaimer,” if you will, to explain the sense of shame and alienation I have been experiencing since reading Teju’s homage to Seamus Heaney. Heaney leaves me absolutely cold. Totally, absolutely, completely cold. No doubt, given time, I could appreciate his particular brand of technical achievement; I might even teach him for his particular “sensibility.” But he leaves me unmoved.

In contrast, Christopher Stackhouse’s poem, from his wonderful chapbook Slip, delights and frustrates me to no end. Sound fractures and disseminates meaning. In the first line, for example, “due” calls to “do” and “dew,” suggesting the richness of debt and the possibilities of fertility.” To “make due [dew] with form” is to look backwards and forwards, to invoke history and futurity, understanding form as that which is, in Raymond Williams’s terms, “residual” and “emergent.”

Indeed, the “idea” of originality, the “new idea,” becomes located, quite literally, in the temporal and spatial movement of reading, “new” because on a “new page.” Reading is invoked as a material practice through which we apprehend time. At the same time, we are warned not to understand spatial movement as temporally significant, here the claim of “Preceding (preceding?).”

“Spelling,” which invokes a certain idea of magic, moves into “Telling,” reminding us that, quite often, both are inextricable. Arguably, as the poem proceeds, the movement becomes more frenetic, more associative. When “A train comes,” it can only shoot “blanks.” Here, the word “still” functions temporally and materially: a still from a film, the notion of arrested motion, the notion of ongoing motion. Again, we are in world where language explodes yet, poses as it does so.

Perhaps my excitement about this poem is how incredibly generative it is, self-consciously so. While I experience Heaney’s work as a well-wrought urn, I experience Stackhouse’s as an invitation to a wonderful party, where sound bleeds into sense, sense arrests and implodes time, and meaning loses privilege as it proliferates.

3 thoughts on “On Poetry

  1. “I experience Stackhouse’s as an invitation to a wonderful party, where sound bleeds into sense, sense arrests and implodes time, and meaning loses privilege as it proliferates.”

    The most peculiar thing is that I would accept this as a description of what Heaney’s poetry does for me–it’s playful, contrary, full of embedded shrapnel.

    The breadth of our tastes is a Trojan horse that carries inside it the constant threat of alienation. The impossibility of explaining to my grandmother what I do for a living, the incommensurability of some of my musical enthusiasms with anything my father has (or ever will) experience. In fact, by now, there is no one who isn’t seriously left out of some of the things I’d die for. Those who applaud my fascination with Mahler and Shoenberg are faintly bewildered by my enthusiasm for rap.

    But shame. No. We can’t afford that. The time is too short, you see?

    It’s a lucky enough thing to love some of the same things. (And in our case, what is that? Interrogating words?)

  2. Of course, as you know, shame is not a bad thing in my book. I find it difficult to move away from the notion that poetry should be oppositional, in form, content, and origin.

    While I now have a better appreciation for the canon, teaching will do that, I still revel in the underexplored, the experimental, the perverse.

    I just received my copy of Seismosis, a wonderful collaboration between John Keene and Christopher Stackhouse. When time allows, I will attempt a partial review–so very difficult to speak about the interaction between the visual and textual when one is limited to text.

    To answer your question: shared love is enough. (Which makes us sound like language polygamists.)

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