Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Jennifer Moxley and the Canon

Approximations 1, MaJo Keleshian

Jennifer Moxley’ Clampdown reads something like an anthology of the last 100 years of American poetry, as she shifts between modes and voices, sometimes in a chatty, post-New York School, way, as some poems even proclaim “after James Schuyler” or “after John Ashbery.” But just as present is the voice and style of much earlier poets like E.A. Robinson, as she writes of Robert Creeley and for Robert Kelly, with epigraphs from figures as diverse as Jack Spicer and Blake (and the above mentioned Robinson). There’s even a long poem in seven sections “written while looking at seven paintings by MaJo Keleshian.”

Unified? Not hardly. But neither is it schizophrenic. All in all, it’s an impossible book to pin down, and that fascinates me. Below is an example of what I mean.

How to describe this poem? It seems to owe as much to Wallace Stevens as it does to Jack Gilbert (interesting the number of male examples surrounding this book). Is this what we mean by a hybrid aesthetic? Probably. But yikes, in a way, as well, the ways this book, wherever one opens it, seems like a completely different thing. Above all else, Clampdown seems to be asking a question of form and voice, and the answer it comes to is one that is against the unitary aesthetic.  Again, I'm fascinated.


and I cannot choose to remember you.
I remember the look on Nurse Diesel’s
face as she ate her fruit cup, a slight moustache
dusting her lip, in Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety,
but I cannot remember a single spoon
entering your mouth. I have near perfect
recall of the “Grotesque Old Woman” hanging
in the National Gallery, and the sleek coats
of Stubbs’ horses, with their high-strung eyes
rolling back in their heads against the walls
of the old Tate, but of your similar ocular dramas
I have no adequate picture. In moldering
snapshots you’re there, but you aren’t.
A level emotion provoked by an image,
hollow and shameful, like an orgasm
coaxed from a dispassionate body,
a cruel exploitation of instinct.
Antiseptic odorless visual memory, it
works with art and film, but becomes
mere tedious unfolding of things: which is,
via the photo album, a self-justifying
story shown without drama to eyes
from which politeness has driven the life.
Would that there were no photographs.
A documentary impulse driven by millennial
fears or spiritual unrest. Today’s maladies.
They cannot compete with the irreducible,
gentle eddy of wind, the familiar
sweetness which seems to recapture
several lost lifetimes, illusory maybe,
but possessed by the quality, most lovely,
of evanescence. A beautiful privacy
belonging to no one, not even the skin
it thoughtlessly taunts into shivers
of pleasure. Art stops change, and thus
we can see it. My own face is less clear
to me than the faces of a thousand starlets
immortalized upon the screen. What will I
see the next time I see it, mirror-reflected,
busy with hygienic chores? I will see
something, fear perhaps, or the denial
of change, but I will not see what others
see, nor will a picture make a difference.


At 9/08/2010 6:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clampdown is an interesting book but I want to know the reasons behind it. There is a somewhat twee formal lyric poem about a mouse in it - which is about as far as I can think from previous work by Moxley - I'm not convinced by it, but am curious as to why she wrote it anyhow - would it be like Kay Ryan trying to replicate a Christian Bok style or some other arbitrary stylistic face-off? Is it a book of ventriloquisms - if so, that's laudable and intriguing. But I'd like to know why she did this - is it a change of heart or an experiment?


At 9/08/2010 6:08 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I also felt that way about the one for the cat struck by a car. If it's a change of heart it's a change of heart into I'm not sure what.

And that, as I say, fascinates me. As well, though, it makes me wonder about the poems outside of the poems, as if there's somethign about the book I'm not catching.

At 9/09/2010 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's always problematic to construct (construe?) a career narrative from a single book by a contemporary poet--simply--who knows when Moxley wrote these? If these are recent, who knows what poems/books she can't get published that might be missing links. Like most of us, I bet she has a closetful of manuscripts. There are precious few poets who publish in chronological order. Thanks for the tip, John, she's always fascinating.--Ned

Oh, John--is Clampdown an apt title? The book sounds (ugh) more like Sandinista than London Calling.

At 9/09/2010 1:21 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You have a point about composition. Who knows? I now that I have four unpublished manuscripts. One of them was written between my first and second books, so if it ever comes out, who knows what that will seem like (well, if anyone’s counting).

But we can still look at it as a unit, and as a unit, yeah, I’d say there’s more of a Combat Rock vibe, myself. Some “Ghetto Defendant” mixed with some “Should I Stay or Should I Go Now” maybe.

Well, not really. The book is dedicated to Alice Notley. So there’s another wrinkle.

“we will teach our twisted speech . . .”


Post a Comment

<< Home