Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lawrence Joseph - The Game Changed

Another poem suggestion from the comment stream:

Lawrence Joseph
The Game Changed

The phantasmic imperium is set in a chronic
state of hypnotic fixity. I have absolutely
no idea what the fuck you’re talking about
was his reply, and he wasn’t laughing,
either, one of the most repellent human beings
I’ve ever known, his presence a gross and slippery
lie, a piece of chemically pure evil. A lawyer—
although the type’s not exclusive to lawyers.
A lot of different minds touch, and have touched,
the blood money in the dummy account
in an offshore bank, washed clean, free to be
transferred into a hedge fund or a foreign
brokerage account, at least half a trillion
ending up in the United States, with more to come.
I believe I told you I’m a lawyer. Which has had
little or no effect on a certain respect
I have for occurrences that suggest laws
of necessity. I too am thinking of it
as a journey—the journey with conversations
otherwise known as the Divina Commedia
is how Osip Mandelstam characterized Dante’s poem.
Lebanon? I hear the Maronite Patriarch
dares the Syrians to kill him, no word
from my grandfather’s side of the family
in the Shouf. “There are circles here”—
to quote the professor of international
relations and anthropology—“Vietnam, Lebanon,
and Iraq . . . Hanoi, Beirut, and Baghdad.”
The beggar in Rome is the beggar in Istanbul,
the blind beggar is playing saxophone,
his legs covered with a zebra-striped blanket,
the woman beside him holding an aluminum cup,
beside them, out of a shopping bag, the eyes
of a small, sick dog. I’m no pseudoaesthete.
It’s a physical thing. An enthusiasm,
a transport. The melancholy is ancient.
The intent is to make a large, serious
portrait of my time. The sun on the market
near Bowling Green, something red, something
purple, bunches of roses and lilacs. A local
issue for those of us in the neighborhood.
Not to know what it is you’re breathing
in a week when Black Hawk helicopters resume
patrolling the harbor. Two young men
blow themselves up attaching explosives
on the back of a cat. An insurgency:
commandos are employed, capital is manipulated
to secure the oil of the Asian Republics.
I was walking in the Forties when I saw it—
a billboard with a background of brilliant
blue sky, with writing on it in soft-edged,
irregularly spaced, airy-white letters
already drifting off into the air, as if they’d
been sky-written—“The World Really Does
Revolve Around You.” The taxi driver rushes
to reach his family before the camp is closed—
“There is no way I will leave, there is no way—
they will have to kill us, and, even if
they kill every one of us, we won’t leave.” Sweat
dripping from her brow, she picks up the shattered,
charred bones. She works for the Commission
on Missing Persons. “First they kill them,”
she says, “then they burn them, then they cover them
with dead babies . . .” Neither impenetrable opacity
nor absolute transparency. I know what I’m after.
The entire poem is finished in my head. No,
I mean the entire poem. The color, the graphic
parts, the placement of solid bodies in space,
gradations of light and dark, the arrangements
of pictorial elements on a single plane
without a loss of depth . . . This habit of wishing—
as if one’s mother and father lay in one’s heart,
and wished as they had always wished—that voice,
one of the great voices, worth listening to.
A continuity in which everything is transition.
To repeat it because it’s worth repeating. Immanence—
an immanence and a happiness. Yes, exquisite—
an exquisite dream. The mind on fire
possessed by what is desired—the game changed.


At 11/11/2010 4:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boring. Sounds like ten thousand other poems I've read or heard.

At 11/11/2010 5:54 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/11/2010 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Mahlab" is a spice produced by grinding up the pits of a certain cherry. Isn't that great?

At 11/12/2010 4:33 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I find this poem anything but boring. I hadn't read much from Joseph before this poem was suggested. I've now ordered the book.

Just saying.

At 11/12/2010 7:08 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Anon #1 -- ten thousand is the magic number these days. And I agree, there are a lot of poems "like" this one, though mainly I find those poems lacking where this one is more than sufficient.

Anyway, of those ten thousand, is there one that you'd say epitomizes this style? I'm not that interested in comparing our tastes, I just want to get a sense of what suffices for you.

At 11/12/2010 7:58 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This is tremendous. I didn't know about it.

thanks to Jordan Davis for pointing it out!

At 11/12/2010 8:30 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Kent, always a pleasure to provide you with interesting reading material.

At 11/12/2010 8:52 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

And I'm glad it's such a pleasure for you, Jordan!


At 11/12/2010 9:52 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Get a room, you two!

At 11/12/2010 12:36 PM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

I'm Anon #1. I wrote too hastily. The poem bores me not because it sounds like ten thousand other poems, but because it's a kind of poem that has always bored me. I've never cared for socially engaged, plain-style poetry. I've tried to like it, but there you are. Years ago I heard Joseph read some autobiographical, Levinesque poems--one of them was called "Sand Nigger," I think--and I didn't care for it. I found it blandly prosaic and flat, lacking in aural appeal, safe. Workshoppy, like his conventionally gerundival and incongruous title "Shouting at No One." ("Running in Place," "Sailing Alone Around the Room." Flipping the Bird at the Blind, Skiing in the Sahara. Dancing with Myself.) I wanted more texture, more subversion, more kooky. I wanted--and want--something more prosodically adventurous than a column of loosely pentametered prose. Now this poem may be better than the old stuff. I'll concede that the discursive intellection here is more impressive than the typically logopoeiatically challenged workshop poem. Nevertheless, it trips my bullshit-detector. It reeks of that eminently publishable workshoppy spuriousness that has always bored me. And it's partly about lawyers. I'd rather read an instruction manual for a Waring blender than a piece about lawyers. Well...The Trial is pretty good.


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