Friday, August 20, 2010

Matthew Zapruder - Come on All You Ghosts

Matthew Zapruder’s Come on All You Ghosts is an achievement, an achievement for where Zapruder's work has gotten, but also an achievement of a way poetry can mean. Different ways of writing are different ways of seeing, and this book is a powerful enactment of one (or several) of those ways of seeing. “I don’t understand but I understand,” as he writes in the poem “Aglow” (below), which is him thinking about Paul Celan, but it’s also a way to understand that aspect of contemporary poetry often called “skittery” or “hybrid” or “Post-Avant,” that includes Zapruder, and so many other poets I like to read. This is a formidable book.

Here, to illustrate a bit of what I’m talking about (though the book is cumulative—it’s very good at the poem by poem level, but it’s different again, and even more powerful, as a book):


Hello everyone, hello you. Here we are under this sky.
Where were you Tuesday? I was at the El Rancho Motel
in Gallup. Someone in one of the nameless rooms
was dying, slowly the ambulance came, just another step
towards the end. An older couple asked me
to capture them with a camera, gladly I rose and did
and then back to my chair. I thought of Paul Celan,
one of those poets everything happened to
strangely as it happens to everyone. In German
he wrote he rose three pain inches above the floor,
I don’t understand but I understand. Did writing
in German make him a little part of whoever
set in motion the chain of people talking who pushed
his parents under the blue grasses of the Ukraine?
No. My name is Ukrainian and Ukrainians killed everyone
but six people with my name. Do you understand
me now? It hurts to be part of the chain and feel rusty
and also a tiny squeak now part of what makes
everything go. People talk a lot, the more they do
the less I remember in one of my rooms someone
is always dying. It doesn’t spoil my time is what
spoils my time. No one can know what they’ve missed,
least of all my father who was building a beautiful boat
from a catalogue and might still be. Sometimes I feel him
pushing a little bit on my lower back with a palm
made of ghost orchids and literal wind. Today
I’m holding onto holding onto what Neko Case called
that teenage feeling. She means one thing, I mean another,
I mean to say that just like when I was thirteen
it has been a hidden pleasure but mostly an awful pain
talking to you with a voice that pretends to be shy
and actually is, always in search of the question
that might make you ask me one in return.

When I talk of his achievement, I’m thinking of his ability to embrace content (the dead father, the beloved, friends [some by name and some not], San Francisco), but also his ability to mix tones and levels of diction:

“I hate the phrase ‘inner life’,” he writes plainly, but in another poem he’s writing:

Go we must in search of searching
not very helpfully said the little red any
attached to the golden chain attached to
my wrist. He was no bigger than a
molecule, the chain was a quantum chain.

It’s a fascinating combination that accrues, as we can never be sure, as readers, just where this book is going to be next.


At 8/20/2010 1:27 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Reminds me of Eileen Myles.

At 8/20/2010 6:32 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I see that (and some Ron Padgett, too). There's a lot of second wave NY school about Zapruder.

At 8/23/2010 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's NY Schoolish, but 'lite'. At worst MZ's a hipster bore, a trend slave, at best he's mildly refreshing--but ultimately forgettable. His best poem was that one about Canada in The Pajamaist.

At 8/23/2010 12:24 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I read him in a much more friendly way than you do. There IS a NY school element to his work (all things come from somewhere), but I believe that the "hipster bore" tag is a misreading. Sure, there's surface going on here, and it does have the associative dexterity of his idiom, but he has a lot of underneath going on as well. There's a lot of not-boring emotion and content that underpins the surface. I think it's an excellent book.


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