Thursday, September 26, 2013

Introducing Surge

Mickey Mouse is mentioned twice in Louis Zukofsky’s “A,” on pages 63 & 283 in the UC Press edition, a fact we know – and can verify – because it appears in the book’s index, a curious feature composed by Zukofsky, albeit with contributions & some prodding from the ever-present Celia, who – like Paul, the Zukofskys’ lone child – is a constant, even over-bearing presence in the latter stages of that long poem, although neither appear in its index. Rachel Blau DuPlessis, in her brilliant, subtle, combative Purple Passages: Pound, Eliot, Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley, and the Ends of Patriarchal Poetry, notes just how rare it is for a poet to provide an index for his or her own poem, identifying Zukofsky’s as “the actual final section in the book.” She traces this “paratext’s” roots back to Zukofsky’s “Poem Beginning ‘The’,” a parody of Eliot’s self-important annotations that DuPlessis characterizes as having been Zukofsky’s “calling card” to Ezra Pound.

DuPlessis notes that, having permitted Pound to hack away at the body of The Waste Land,

Eliot changed the poem definitively once more…. Eliot completed his own poem by adding the notes inside it… He thereby fixes his own queer poem by framing it with rhetorics of scholastic mastery; he also extends the range of the poem by a powerful, authoritative, and influential subjectivity. In the notes, a highly literate and literary voice claims an allusive comprehensive engorgement of masterworks of European culture.
This revision, DuPlessis suggests, may have been as crucial as Pound’s edits.

So it is no surprise, I suppose, in reading Surge: Drafts 94 – 114, the final volume in DuPlessis’ 26-year-long masterwork, to find that there is indeed an index here, and that it appears as Draft 113, which is to say that, unlike Zukofsky let alone Eliot, it fully acknowledges its own status as poem, even if it plays with the full sleight of hand, being not the final section at all – Draft 114 immediately follows, although that also is neither the 114th poem of the project, nor the final text of DuPlessis’ in this marvelous book. There are, after all, notes, and, earlier on than this volume, the curious Unnumbered, Précis, which a parenthetical note at the bottom of the poem’s graphic grid – page 169 and its true last page – indicates as “after 57, before 58.” The actual final words of this poem.

I simply want to note this one little detail, without getting bogged down for example in a history of the index poem in the work of the New York School, a different discussion altogether, in order to point out that Surge is a book quite unlike any other. For DuPlessis has done something here nobody else seems to have accomplished. Her long poem reached completion! If there is anything that joins the long poems of so many of the other mostly male writers who have produced same, from Pound to Williams to Zukofsky to Olson to Duncan to yours truly, it is that completion is an issue. Surge is a book that knows its project is going to end and this knowledge is embedded in, and radiates from, every page. It is the subtext of every line, suggesting as it does that this also must be at some level the subtext of every poem, by any poet whatsoever. So it is not an accident that this index is Drafts 113, not 114, or 112 or 43. And it is at least as playful, incomplete and mysterious as that of Zukofsky’s as well. 

There is no mention of any of DuPlessis’ family or immediate peers, for instance, tho quite a list of butterflies. Pound we find not with his own entry, but rather indirectly as a category under “Livre,” “see also Pound, Ezra.” Mallarmé, Moore, Eliot, Tolson & Apollinaire are likewise alluded to in this manner, and Williams even more obliquely, And All specified as one category under Spring. Actually named in the index are Adorno, Benjamin, H.D., Isaac, Oppen, Rachel, Rilke, Simon Rodia (he of the Watts Towers),  Stein, Tristram Shandy, Wireman, the Philadelphia, that anonymous autodidact sculptor whose works graced Salt’s first edition of DuPlessis’ Drafts, plus of course, two from the end,

Zukofsky, Louis, oh yes, Zukofsky,
This is the only line in DuPlessis’ index to end with a comma, perhaps because Zukofsky like so many Objectivists had once been a comma-nist. The last line in this index is blacked out, as if redacted, a device used elsewhere in Drafts, and a style that the national security state seems determined to render popular. In between we find the Italian noun Zuzzurellone, a term that itself might illuminate LZ’s lingering comma.

At 19 pages, Zukofsky’s own index looks much longer than DuPlessis’, particularly as it has more lines per page, though both are printed in double columns. But Zukofsky’s index is cluttered & padded with something DuPlessis wisely does without, page numbers. What, I ask you, is an index without page numbers? The purely linguistic, a message from the land of nounness – in an index even verbs become nouns – the ultimate (to employ a term of craft from the practice of magic) in misdirection? An index transforms a list into the hieroglyphic, a state of almost pure lyricism, deflected only – and I want to emphasize that – only by meaning.

There is a truism that is of course utterly false about literature equating any great book with a “page turner.” Surge is certainly riveting & filled with suspense, but it reflects the test of the truly greatest writing, that work in which the reader is reluctant to leave any page, stanza, line, word. I reread them all, sometimes taking hours to turn the paper & come that much closer to an end. I didn’t so much read this book as swim in it, at times to depths well over my head, but never without pleasure or profit. Surge is unique, I am convinced, in the project of Drafts as well as in the history of poetry. Although nowhere can I find, certainly not in this index, any mention of Mickey Mouse.