Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Book of Ocean

Maryrose Larkin launched her new The Book of Ocean at a reading with Catherine Daly and Donna Stonecipher in Portland last Sunday.

Stonecipher opened, kicking off with her poem in the latest issue of New American Writing, an “Inlay” piece that inserts in its middle a quotation from Elaine Scarry (“Daydreaming originates in the volitional.”) The poem’s an extended riff on the interplay between the architect’s ideals and the cities that keep falling short of them, an image of the distance between the world as we find it and the structures we want it to fit: “Facts are finite, but ideas feed on facts to achieve infinity.”

She continued with a generous selection from Souvenir de Constantinople, a “love poem to travel and the exotic” that creates a sort of Cornell box-like travelogue out of a distinctly Continental nostalgia for the sensual East, all magic lamps & antimacassars & “thousands of intermediary perfumes.” The writing pushed off from the pasteboard Orientalism to a point where the veracity of the representation took a back seat to its metaphoric possibilities, so that Constantinople and the tourist, the everyday “home” self and the longing for self-estrangement (“I wanted to be translated but O, not translatable”), resolve into an algebra where desire equals exactly desire, or its ornate little markers, the souvenirs of having once been subjunctive.

Catherine Daly, who just sold her vintage 'Stang to buy 100 ISBNs for her new i.e. Press, read a number of poems from her number of books, many of which showed a powerful attraction to the pleasures of the list (especially of food items), the tongue-twister, and the politically allusive disruption of words from their usual orders of sense and sound. The work Daly read from suggested a poetics of abundance, where any formal economy of the poem is a by-product of the generative procedures used to assemble the words (a walk through the aisles of a grocery store in Joshua Tree, CA; tongue-twisters tweaked and looped through voice recognition software.) She performed one longer piece from a book with the poems designed to be read top to bottom or bottom to top, at your will, laid out in such a way that by the time Daly got near the end of her selection, we were suddenly moving back up among familiar phrases in their reverse order, a clever tweak to the usual sequential hegemony of the page and also a formal enactment of that perennial mythic puzzler, the ouroboros. Catherine Daly, who just sold her vintage ‘Stang to buy 100 ISBNs for her new i.e. Press, read a number of poems from her number of books.

Maryrose Larkin began from the beginning, taking us through the first of the six books folded inside The Book of Ocean. “Book of Natural History” opens with a poem, “brief gravity,” that served as a kind of origin tale for one of the collection’s governing interests: the problem of placing ourselves—the self—in a natural world that presents itself simultaneously as an object of science (Newton’s apple, “a force based on the world”) and the subject of myth (Eve’s, “only to have been here/invested with the character of a sign”). I noted a lot of play with the concept of “bodies”—the envelope of skin that seems most intimately ours, the masses that gravity forces into relation, the objects that light bounces back from, making color, and the cold balls of hydrogen or whatever that fill the heavens but also inspire thoughts of its emptiness. They’re short poems of laurasian-sized ideas that treat the page as an energized field of space and space as “the infinite assemble of distance.” Here’s one Blogger shouldn’t skew too bad:
[Is Muscle and Fragile]

Is muscle and fragile

Is difficult stung breathe and dialect is ochre in love

Is texture truant chronicles verge

If the body is the text an atlas of crimson invisible if

—Maryrose Larkin, The Book of Ocean


Hayes said...

i enjoy maryrose's poems very much...sorry to have missed this one...

Chris said...

Thank you for the report; I was very disappointed to miss this reading, as I think Daly is fantastic and of course of course Maryrose. (I'm less familiar with Stonecipher.)

I feel like I have a lot to say about The Book Of Ocean; at the very least, it really seemed to clarify a lot of MRL's project for me, and your reading is on the right path for sure.