on Lissa Wolsak

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Squeezed Coherence

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Introduction to Lissa Wolsak’s Squeezed Light: Collected Poems

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[forthcoming from Station Hill of Barrytown in 2010]

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I

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We have here a body of work at home in its own elusiveness. Language sculpture? That’s one possible, though unlikely, name for what we find here, about which it can be said: it carves into time, as if, in the actual time of writing, poetic process had incised directly into “time matter,” cutting through to undisclosed layers of undertime. Or, from another angle of experience: once inside this elusive work, this unfolding language substance—feeling its attractions (some strange, all at least partly not-yet-known)—one senses a multidirectional crossflow: so much is happening from moment to moment, so much is coming through, one hardly knows where to stand. Quite clearly the poet has chosen her words at a level resistant to immediate thought, no doubt in part for their musics, their senses, and their sensualities.

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I insculpt
the gasp of individual perception

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Lissa Wolsak tells us so much and in so many ways that there is no central focus. She holds us, it seems, in a sort of split perspective—a perspectival doubling—that challenges readerly identity even as it forms, and she does this by keeping us inside poetic movement while pushing us out to one edge or another, instant by instant. It can require a radical bi-focal reading, a manifold awareness rippling through the poem; pulling in and keeping out, welcoming and alienating. The reader might imagine it to be somewhat like rafting the rapids (to metaphorically extend an element from The Garcia Family Co-Mercy) while simultaneously standing on the riverbank watching the flow, verbal things passing, angling in the recall of how to civilize at a far periphery.

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Yet she does invoke, among these felt perspectives, certain near-recurrences, instances of special attention:

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Quantum physics engages the term ‘qualia’, defined as, those temporary states flagging our ‘immediate’ reality…“no more than dispositions…things that can float free.” The “redness of red, the painfulness of pain.” The whatness .. that which gives things qualities. Qualia are the essential feature of consciousness.

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(“An Heuristic Prolusion”)

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Implicit here is a curve of her poetics, an aspect, as it were, of qualia poetics, which allows for a certain unexplainable and irreducible singularity in direct experience through language. The inconclusive debates in philosophy of mind, epistemology, consciousness studies, and artificial intelligence—as to whether qualia even exist—are not in play here; their force is mainly academic, but, in terms of Wolsak’s poetics, argument as such seems largely inconsequential. Here is a principle of another kind, whose scholarly particularism by no means skips intelligence and discriminating awareness.

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A work so deeply founded in principle sees its insights and discoveries in multiple frames, on separable planes, and with variable functions. It views in compounds and linkages—aesthetic-sensuous, interpersonal-social…— instances of what finds a working name, “co-mercy,” “the art of harmlessness”

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where the same relation may be observed throughout the whole
universe, where significance “bleeds into an unconstrainable chain.”

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The statement that a work has a poetics can be seen as indicating a continuum. It would mean, on the one hand, a self-evident notion applicable to any realized poem or, indeed, any intentional discursive act, that there is something that makes it hold together; and, on the other hand, a self-conscious operative principle of singular coherence. (And among the latter there could be another range of distinctions reflecting the degree of self-consciousness in furthering the core principle and its extent of operation.) Yet it is no longer strange for a poet to embody both ends of the continuum (if it ever really was so strange—think of Chaucer); that is, consciously seeking out, as a matter of principle, the hidden integrities of actual speech (including “found” speech), language as it happens in life and develops in text, yet rendering it in a further order of attention that generates an unknown coherence, revealing possibilities intrinsic to language. Such might be a starting point for Lissa Wolsak.

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II

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We could begin an assessment of her work virtually anywhere along the continuum, because there is no correct approach, no main angle, no right place in poetic history to which she belongs. As a poet whose real work begins relatively late in life (like Charles Olson in this respect), she has only mature work; she creates an oeuvre from the start. No juvenilia in evidence. No manifest process of development. No imitations and no extensions of literary/poetic precedent. This is not to say that she has not worked at every point in a conscious relation to “tradition” (in a sense residually relatable to T.S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” minus the attachment to a dominant Western tradition). On the contrary, as can be seen in her collected poems here, her intensive connection to a range of poetic modalities and letters in general, rather than positioning her as “belated” in a lineage of mastery, frees her to choose a path both resonant with poetic relations and clear in its actual singularity.

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She’s a poet everywhere tracking the emergence of a poetic principle. At one level everything she engages is a work in poetics to the extent that it moves intentionally through reflection of its own principle. To discover her poetics one participates equally in the poetry and her writing about it, if indeed her key statement, “An Heuristic Prolusion,” can be said to be “about” her work as such; no doubt her statements of and about poetics are themselves performative of that of which they speak. In a related way, Robert Duncan spoke of his own work and that of Charles Olson as requiring that one read that work—all manifestations of the work—at the level of their poetics. And poetics in their sense embodied a full-scale view of reality—indeed a vision of, for instance, the “human universe” (Olson) or the “open universe” (Duncan).

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Poetics for such poets indeed discovers itself through the technical, formal, stylistic, and compositional considerations behind their work, yet it also involves the very foundational principles by which a vision of reality constitutes itself at any and every level. If poetry is the “visionary vehicle,” Blake’s “Chariot of Genius,” then poetics might be the intuitive design and also the processual means by which it moves forward—and beyond itself. And this beyond might require that poetics be not only a constructive principle but the contrary, however one would characterize that. Maybe Wallace Stevens’ “Poetry is a Destructive Force” is tonally out of register (“like a man /
In the body of a violent beast”)—but maybe not entirely: “I want to work within or near consciousness-collapsing events.” (“An Heuristic Prolusion”)

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Such a notion of taking things apart can have a range of nuances, not always easy to specify. Destructing (after Heidegger’s Destruktion and including of course deconstruction)—de(re)structuring—further structuring. It can have a lot to do with how language comes to its possibilities. And how it serves the complexity of one’s actual experience and activity of mind—by letting the intricate forces find their way in the poem under hand. Being in time, language takes up its own time, right at the time.

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III

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Almost any interesting poetry can expose questions about the nature of time—mostly unanswerable questions, yet necessary ones that keep us in touch with the impermanent “constructions” we live by. But these questions are hardly in the foreground of attention. In a certain sense all art forms suspend time or transmute it into non-clock time, co-opting its flow by way of intentional/constructed “art time.” Some poetry does this with radical intentionality by suspending the directionality and spacing of reading/listening time. It opens a threshold between time and non-time, or the temporal and the atemporal, by urging the mind into a time of its own, a self-conscious timing sense. To mention it here is to directly emphasize what certain poets already carry out indirectly. There are poets, in fact, whose retemporalizing constructs open singular perspectives on time, or make time seem to reflect its own artificiality—an artifactual reflection that’s rather like self-reflection put into orbit.

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Lissa Wolsak brings intimacy to the disruption of time. Its sudden eros in sensuous fragmentation instantly embraces what it scatters. You can almost feel her breath still clinging to a partially released phrase. So much is let loose in the flow of the text, so many different self-asserting entities of speech rising into the readerly audium, yet not much comes out whole-bodied. A theme may show itself with the arhythmic display of apples falling from a tree, a ripe one here, a riper one there. We may never come to see the tree. We know in any given poem that a trunk or some other organismic spread is operative, whether rooted or rhizomatic, but we know it by circumvolent soundings: whirrs and thumps; cracks; musical twisters; vocal incursions.

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The scattered limbs, the poetic parts, come together only in the mind of the engaged reader—the poem-entracked, -enrouted mind, whose journey through the work is itself a configuration of the text. It’s as though this process elicits from the reader a more intense responsibility in performing the text at the level of its integrity—a responsive engagement in a polyvalent field. The poetic has an immediate function—leading. It guides toward configurative happening, recurrently regathering the limbs of the text. (Osiris reconstituted in every move of the poem—by reading one back to oneself.) Whatever this poetic process takes apart—the logic of rational projection, history, politics, myth…—is subject to open-spacing, which creates the condition for sudden configurative flashes, and renders them clear and vivid. And in the newly open-spaced field, each vivification is now a spark point for yet another space arousal, an axis of a new beginning—a place inspired with the speaking breath, as if the lingual site recited itself.[1]

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The grit and traction of such a site is often first of all a cut through familiar discourse, which implicitly lays bare certain limitations behind the silencing of self-true speaking. (“I speak as one silenced,” begins “An Heuristic Prolusion.”) The very act of partial or altered citation, as a recurrent fact of composition, offers critical or even analytical focus, a taking apart in process that is also an opening, allowing unaccountable accords with possible saying. In this way composition also comprises multiple acts of decomposition in the “formation” of a moving field of flashes and weaves.

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IV

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Composition unfolds through field reflexivity. In such practice the underlying force of coherence is a species of activated poetic faith in which attention is somehow double-visioned to include both center (the verbal “object” in immediate focus) and periphery (the fluid context emerging in process). (We mentioned above the perspectival doubling signaled by the poet’s earliest work, The Garcia Family Co-Mercy, which opens this collection.) Objects in the field “relate” in mysterious ways, but whatever the way, it’s non-hierarchical, barely narratological, and “rational” only by an unexampled “logic” of possibility and singularity. Yet even to speak of a logic is to say too much, to impose lofty justification for something already complete in itself, and hardly in need of further lift.

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Poetics, to get its bearings here, may have to abandon literary history, at least temporarily, in favor of discovering an operative poetic principle on grounds other than what might be available by precedent. Eventually one may have to do so by way of the poetics of principle itself, explored through provisional perspectives, invoking the spirit of Blake’s “Anything possible to be believed is an image of the truth,” yet following the poem to the heart of things. We can think both Wallace Stevens—“The accuracy of accurate letters is an accuracy with respect to the structure of reality”—and Jackson Mac Low— applying mimesis as “the imitation of nature in its mode of operation.

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The focus here is on a certain quality of field awareness. Since Charles Olson’s “composition by field” (“Projective Verse,” 1950), there clearly have been many approaches with some relation to his generative insights, approaches that, like Olson’s own poetics, are in part retrospective (to Pound’s Pisan Cantos, Williams’ Paterson) and yet original to emerging work. Lissa Wolsak’s work, the ear that hears relations, certainly draws from this poetic stream, amongst others. And yet at every point it speaks so definingly for itself that one is ever faced with characterizing what seems to retreat from definition. Its hold on the field, its power to churn energies at large, resides both in the particulars and in the space that opens out from them. Saying, as it were, is at sea, where things said are definite objects set free, which in turn beacon back to directing attention further, to an immediate elsewhere. What is past, the previous, has no authority but resonance. What is retained carries forward mainly as a certain aura.[2]

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V

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Things said have the force they do in the moment of saying; something concrete is handed over. Yet, immediately, another significance rises into view, another sense of the phrase’s en-nested-ness, say, in phrases gone before, another set of signifying relations. There is a movement here of a compelling sort, that will not lend itself to precise determination, if only (but not only) because it is each determination that sets the thing in motion.

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All of this is occurring in real time—the verse geared not of course to a meter or set of procedures/parameters but to the unfolding speaking as the occurrence of the text—listened to and through within the emerging field. And yet “real time” here does not become a constant in its own medium, the medium at hand, as might be in the case of video or film (the same in each replay), because here the experienced time is a function of a particular act of reading—the reader’s, which includes the poet’s as reader/re­reader. Reading is a variable.[3]

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So there is actual time, reading time. This is a singular act. While such unique timing may in some degree always be the case in reading, the difference here, in Lissa Wolsak, is that the verse directly attends this unstable time as the real one, the real real time, as it were—a concrete actual forward-moving open time. A created time that is actual, actually the case, inside reading. The emphasis is not on the created object that may come to hang constant in the gallery of hierarchizing attention, but on things hanging in the air in listening space—blowing with the breeze, following the breath.

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Now, there is something important here that cannot quite be said: the breathing in the verse attracts a readerly breath, a further breathing. Inspiration, so it seems, draws into conspiration, textually. There is a synchrony that is also synergy. A co-performativity: unfolding events in language are registered not only cognitively but—well, we hesitate, because any term here risks over-concretizing something liminal to psyche and actual body. The singular time-event occurs as a co-creative oscillation between text and reader, and accordingly the event is registered both at the threshold of mind and body and as itself a threshold. The reading itself, as limen, opening upon (to use Olson’s words) the further nature of the poem.

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VI

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The activated threshold, the vibratile limen within reading, creates it own sense of space. The challenging notion of “time-space,” even as a continuum, has a particular coherence inside reading, and most particularly reading made conscious of its configurative responsibility. The poetics we have been drawing upon here inherently understands the time-space notion, one might say, as mutually self-modifying: time refocuses space, and space, time. Focus on the one calls the other into play. Into intensive process.

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One wonders if it would ever be possible, or even desirable, to have a stable or consistent notion of time or space. How they appear to be, in a Wolsak text, is a function of a between. In many senses. And here is one of the places where this register of poetics may be said to contribute to a revisioning of “reality.” Whether viewed as temporalized space or spatialized time, it brings forward the liminality of space and time, which may be the experienceable aspect of the time-space concept—that we are literally caught in the middle. The torsional journey between motivates an originary articulation within language, which cuts through space (the page) and edges time toward a mercurial outside (voice)—vocalized intensities.

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Intensity? No doubt one of the possible definitions of poetry is intensified discourse—or, rather, self-intensifying discourse. But whence this intensity? The question returns us to the sense of poetics that addresses technique, rhetoric, form, etc. What’s interesting in this regard about Wolsak’s poetics is that the issue of concrete means and the discovery and actualization of a view of reality are synchronous/synergistic, co-performative, and operative on the same plane.

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VII

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We have mentioned Wolsak’s connection with a lineage, one could say tradition, of intentional poetics in, for instance, Olson’s and Duncan’s requiring that a reader engage their work in poetry at the level of their poetics; one could add any number of precedents—Gertrude Stein, Mallarmé, indeed William Blake! But we can also look beyond poetry as such to a practice of conscious language amongst those who attempt “impossible speech.”[4] We have noted Wolsak’s “I speak as one silenced”; she also cites Michel de Certeau’s “Why write, if not in the name of impossible speech?” And she quotes Maimonides:

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the prophets use in their speeches… equivocal words and words that are not intended to mean what they indicate, according to their first signification….

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This connects her with the practice of apophasis—what is usually called “negative saying” (as in “negative theology”) but which Michael Sells corrects to unsaying.[5] We would suggest yet another refinement in the distinction: the apophatic points away from fixed indication of meaning and toward a further saying. The energizing state of discourse, beyond fixation, is to be speaking further than the last thing said or thought. This further speaking might simply be what an attentive reader configures in her hearing as she receives the text. As such, it may or may not correspond to processes of thinking with which the poet might identify, an issue of some importance in much literary interpretation. Yet the poetic apophasis that we are addressing as furthering knows that its opening extends beyond interpretation as such, the poet’s as much as the reader’s. Poet and reader are in a certain sense equal in being carried forward—or might we say, honoring the non-linearity of the process, outward.

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VIII

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The means by which such furthering is brought about is never fixed but is a function of its singular operation in the readerly event. One could perhaps say a lot about Wolsak’s self-interrupting process; her quasi-neologistic resuscitation of strange, arcane, archaic, even technical words in alien contexts; her rhetorics and sonorities divagating in textual tangles, crisscrossing in musics of their own invention. But this is not the place to risk interfering (by way of extended interpretation) with a process that refuses to stand outside itself in cognitive relief. No breathers for the academic mind (especially one’s own).

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The text converses with itself to make space for reading. In fact, reading is what it’s already doing, by way of textual self-dialogue and inquiry into the roots of its own conception. In the very density of the text is an always unknown kind of spaciousness. Perhaps something like this is carried by the Japanese word ma[6] which can be rendered as space, time, gap, emptiness, negative space, or the space (time) between structural parts.

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When a text spatializes itself by disjunction and furtherance of inquiry, it charges the space between any still activated elements. Saying, unsaying, resaying, further saying—the process creates a meaning-saturating open-spacing that can range, experientially, from free-fall to stop-time and time out. The poem itself may serve as limen between temporal and atemporal. It would be a site in which a fall from time seems to reverse something we take to be primordial—the fall into time. Such a reversal, a metanoia, initiates a fundamental re-orientation—a still point and, therein, a refocusing toward what could be called fortunate focus. Analogue of fortunate fall/feliz culpa, it stands for the unspeakable happiness possible precisely inside creation. Malgré tout.

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IX

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Saying and unsaying are continuous in the work here, and indeed can happen nearly simultaneously or at the same site in syntax. Even the title of this collection, Squeezed Light, compacts in two words various meaning possibilities and has polyvalent force. A technical term from physics, “squeezed light” requires fairly advanced math to understand fully, but in the raw, so to speak, it’s richly suggestive. On the important scientific applications of the concept, one website starts out: “Can light be squeezed? In fact it is the quantum noise of light that can be squeezed. Such squeezed light (a squeezed state of light) is a special form of light that is researched in the field of quantum optics.”[7] Obviously the poet occupies a zone of resonance that takes very little from the actual science in the immediate order of meaning—and right from the start, we’re already inside the poem in saying its name. Its title: standing in the fore of the book, it first of all images—a coloring (senses of squeeze) in waves of suggestive connections, hardly (for the majority, one assumes, of readers) indicating science. That comes in a remove from image-power as such—an unsaying to make space for an uncertain other saying, a definition in physics that most readers can scarcely reach into. We play with the metaphoric ranges of its saying. We think it part way. And stop where we stop.

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The title is its own field, and holds the poetics with a sharp indeterminacy—a saying that is already an unsaying, yet still unfolds. Like many words or definite phrases in the poems, it can indicate a (partially hidden) sentence, an extending domain, an entire but incompletely available phenomenon, a fragmented discussion of possibility, a speculation about measure, a reflection turned back on itself as collection of poetry—and more. Its immediate metaphoric purchase might seem to characterize the highly wrought texture of Wolsak’s verse itself, and at the same time the physics term sits back in pristine scientism, a footing presumed to be real, yet which for the uninitiated amounts to inaccessibility. Something real but not quite fully said—or spoken as by one silenced.

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X

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A word means what it means in the place we find it, and yet it is both unsaid and said further by resonance with something else—connecting with an actual elsewhere rendered ambivalent in its identity, its very self-sameness. This field effect of resonant language uncovers non-locality as poetic phenomenon, a metaphoric sense of the physics term indicating a direct influence of one object on another object at some distance, in violation of the principle of locality.[8] (LW: “…the mind is non-local….”)

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Yet perhaps “non-locality” and “direct influence” are also a bit misleading as terms, in that any given event is experientially local to itself (however connected to others), and simultaneous separate but connected events may well be neither direct nor accountably influenced. We might more usefully consider such events as instances of further locality, extending the very sense/sensoriality of place, and dynamically radial in formation. Such an approach may relieve us of the need to account for what thrives beyond description, minus even the illusion that physics or any hard science can save us from (uncomfortably necessary) unknowing. Lissa Wolsak inhabits a living principle of (self-)formation, and her own poetics furthers the force of local in the complexity of field, registered as: “The pressure/horror and the beauty of Being .. everywhere at once.”[9]

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XI

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Like the title, many words and sometime terms seem to remain in a partial state of reclusion. For example, who, we wonder at the start of Pen Chants, is Na Carminagua? (One suspects that, unlike Pound’s Cantos, an annotated index of references and special terms would not help all that much, and indeed, if monumentalized as Index à la Cantos, might even be misleading or distracting as a divergence from implied terms of free readership.[10]) Each unclear meaning is its own unsaying—yet it retains a hint, a hope of saying something. However unattested or open the meaning-site, it radiates to its own effect. Each (relatively) clear meaning is unsaid by the next, only to be further said, retaining past meaning as resonance—an enrichment of aura and, it might seem, a squeezing of aura. A confluence of meanings at a single site jumps time to a radial, rather than sequential, perspective.

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The implicit poetics draws upon and extends a truth of semantic complexity, namely, that it is inherently radial: meanings come up hyper-locally in the temporal process of reading, connect round about in memory, and continue asynchronously in researches and subsequent reading. Wolsak often chooses packed words that unfold in relational process, and once in play tend to circulate, suddenly returning in a sort of boomerang effect. We call this ambi-valencing process axiality, an inherent property of language brought forward, a primary openness to new inflection in use, such that it lets language evolve toward possibility as singular instantiation.

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Thus a possible path (not a required one) through Wolsak’s work is searching word meanings, which would seem to follow a practice in her own relation to words—a practice motivated by affection for words, an amorous relation to language that verges into the sensual and erotic. An example of her variable semantic play—its affect of infused qualia, or what might be called open semiosis—is the word ana, used in “A Defence of Being” as part title: “First ana,” “Second ana.” This usage follows one convention of ana as “section” of a written work; but there are many others that a simple internet search reveals.[11] One might come to a sense of “ana” almost as a feminine entity and a name used in invocation there at the start of the “defence of being”—an unfamiliar word that feels more like a name for a living being than a thing. Perhaps it signals an actual life in language, language that is being asked to speak for being. Is “ana” for “A Defence of Being” what “Na Carminagua” is for “Pen Chants”—a word-entity with a past (etymology, usages, history) that speaks beyond its origin, indeed unsaying its origin, as veritable living entity creating a further history, here at the head of the poem, in the place on the page, before reading, in the uninterpreted and elusive poem?

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What one makes of this verbal site of variable reference is a readerly configuration, as indeed we have just been doing. The very opening of that site to intensified and asymmetrical activity creates ma—a between of meanings—a pregnant space of temporal force and, all at once, a still point. Squeezed time. Squeezed reading.

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XII

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This state of the text invites a sense of suddenness in the arousal of language. (Suddenness here should be distinguished from mere quickness; it retains a fullness of time inside it.) We find the poet saying in her primary statement of a poetics, “An Heuristic Prolusion”:

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I take occasions of experience to be related to quantum events…sudden and significant. Mind arises as an infinite expression, pan-experiential and permeated by proto-experiences. I want to work within or near consciousness-collapsing events.

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There is the sense of edge, of the precarious poise at the ridge of emergence, as if a sudden (yet anticipated, because intentional) language presence arrives at a wave crest—a zone of uncontrolled potential for extension, and at the same moment subject to precipitous decline—“within or near consciousness-collapsing events.” If what we consider to be ordinary consciousness is held in place by context and consensus, then the intense manifestation of ontological singularity may be served by a tear in the interpreted surface. Wolsak signals a poetics of strategic shifts and variability:

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Incarnations of the shaping spirit, with generous and agile hermeneutics, turn the flat surface of primary understanding to elicit infinitivity, even if in struggle with all the confusions of verbal theory. The way to the hidden or deeper meaning of the Torah is to take a passage out of context, to find, if not the conglomerates of the physical formations, then the conglomerates of divine formations. A fundamental methodological principle in connection with the interpretation of prophecy is the deliberate violation of context as a way of coming to appreciate the meaning of the text. Consciousness breaks with its own imaginative skeleton to exist inside and outside the manner of things and can inquire through matter, energy, space..time, in anti-totalitarian postulates to the impinging nakedness and origins. Each dream follows the mouth.[12]

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These shifts have apophatic force, where each thing said or indicated gives way or gives birth to its other, producing not so much a contrary as a radical furtherance. We have seen this as an instance of axial poetics, an art of putting necessary things before the mind in a mind-degradable field. The aim is to achieve an appropriate performative intensity.

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The poetics of performative intensity in this sense is rather different from the way poetics recognizes and holds value in general. Historically the role of poetics, as applied to the ways and means of poetry, is indeed with a view to intensification. One view of the progression of modernist poetics might be intensification through stripping away of rhetorical conventions and replacement with innovative, including indirect, strategies of enhancement. A difference with Wolsak’s verse, in this context, would be the degree to which it releases identifiable rhetorics/intensifiers even as they show up—released apophatically in immediate further saying. They are process-degraded, recycled, returned to the ground of saying.

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This amounts to a subtle but very powerful difference of view: intensification as what suddenly, spontaneously breaks through cracks in the mask, issuing from the obscured or ignored always already intense reality. One could see it as a sort of minimalist-optimalist furtherance of Blake’s cleansing the doors of perception (and of language!) so that “every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” This is a view that comes not from assertive, kataphatic, or constructivist theory and practice, but of a certain non-abstinent relieving of the transcendence-reflex. A liminalizing poetics that poises, with available energy, at the threshold between charge and release. Its operative poetic principle here, always in process, realizes its own singularly squeezed coherent state.

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George Quasha
with Charles Stein

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Barrytown, New York

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Notes

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[1] We borrow this notion from Gary Hill’s single-channel video Site Recite (a prologue) (1989), in which the artist brings in and out of focus certain strangely arrayed and rather mysterious objects, shifting suddenly on a flat circular surface, and treats them as sites of language where a voice recites the words of a rich and mysterious text. The recited text and the articulated place together configure a singular poetics. See G. Quasha and C. Stein, An Art of Limina: Gary Hill’s Works and Writings, Foreword by Lynne Cooke (Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafa, 2009). The video can be viewed at www.garyhill.com.

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[2] The question of “aura” in works of art and in poetry is perhaps in need of some further reflection since Walter Benjamin’s famous declaration in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” to the effect that the aura associated with the material being of works of art has been dissipated because of the facility by which art works can be copied and distributed. Certainly that facility has been enhanced vastly in our electronic age, yet many artists since, say, the 1960s have worked with reproducible aspects of artistic production, concentrating on the resonant or non-resonant qualities of the various media themselves, often manifesting the magic of their individual works on those terms. Indeed, in the case of writing, the mechanical reproducibility of the text (hardly new in modernity) has only served to highlight singular acts of reading, where the aura may be reconstituted and lost and reconstituted again right in one’s engagement with a text such as Wolsak’s. Where the principle of writing and the principle of reality are equally found in the acts by which the meaning of the work and the nature of reality are configured, the aura, in the sense of qualities experienced as belonging to the field under configuration, can hardly be discounted.

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[3] A poet can read her work very differently over time, or may seem to outgrow a poem (as say Auden did, disastrously returning to earlier work as destroyer-reviser). Robert Duncan’s re-embrace of early work in The Years As Catches: First poems (1939-1946) (Berkeley: Oyez, 1966) is a remarkable instance of an inclusive expansion back to an earlier poetics.

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[4] Of course “beyond poetry as such” has many ranges relevant here, including, say, a Laura Riding’s “break[ing] the spell of poetry,” Samuel Beckett’s “subtraction” as “non-knower/no-can-doer,” Maurice Blanchot’s “récits,” Buckminster Fuller’s “mental mouthfuls,” John Cage’s “lectures” (plus “unfocus”), Edmond Jabès’ “books,” David Antin’s “talking,” Franz Kamin’s “psychotopological diversions,” Gary Hill’s “videograms” and “electronic linguistics,” and so on. We are very aware of the complexity of noting that Wolsak is working within a manifold lineage/tradition (which we are not attempting to define here), particularly since it continues to be fully alive and intricately webbed; and we know that our way of characterizing this or that aspect of the work and thought can seem applicable as well to certain other poets: particular sentences could be addressing the work of Robert Kelly, Kenneth Irby, Gerrit Lansing, Clark Coolidge, Susan Howe…. But the point is neither to claim exclusivity nor to compile a corresponding “list,” and certainly not comparison, invidious or otherwise. We acknowledge the perils of discriminating distinctions and the challenge of presenting singularity in poetics.

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[5] Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1994), a remarkable study of apophasis in Plotinus, John the Scot Eriugena, Ibn ‘Arabi, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart, which engages them at the level of their poetics. Accordingly Sells’ work is a contribution to what we have been calling the poetics of thinking, which is not to foreground the possible link between poetry and thinking (even their possible interchangeability), as Heidegger does, but that a given thinking may be known in terms of a poetics, or perhaps as implying a poetics. That a thinking has a signature, as an art or poetry does (or as a voice has an identity), is registered as a fact of the language through which we know it. This approach may offer a further sense in which thinking and poetry are connected—as singularities.

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[6] In The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher writes: “Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modeled space. Giacometti sculpted by ‘taking the fat off space.’ Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses…. Isaac Stern described music as ‘that little bit between each note—silences which give the form….’ The Japanese have a word (ma) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.” (Phaidon: London, 370) See especially Kunio Komparu’s great work, The Noh Theater: Principles and Perspectives, “Time and Space in Noh: Apposition and Fusion,” Chapter Seven (New York: Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1983), pp. 70-95.

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[7] The Albert-Einstein-Institut Legal Press: www.squeezed-light.de. A formal (but still non-mathematical) definition involves statements like this: “Squeezed light is produced when quantum noise in one or the other of two complementary variables describing a light beam (such as phase and amplitude) is greatly reduced at the expense of the other by sending the light through (a series of) special optical crystals.” For extended definition see American Institute of Physics: “Inside Science Research—Physics News Update,” Number 784 #2, July 7, 2006 by Phil Schewe and Ben Stein: www.aip.org/pnu/. Quick mathematical definitions can be searched online as “squeezed coherent state.”

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[8] LW (email 8.4.09) offers this confirming connection on non-locality and squeezed light: “The amplitude and phase of electromagnetic fields such as light are subject to intrinsic quantum fluctuations. By ‘squeezing’ the light (using sophisticated spectroscopic techniques) the uncertainty in the field amplitude can be reduced below the ‘quantum noise level’ by a Heisenberg trade-off with the uncertainty in the frequency. The photons produced in squeezed light experiments have strong non-local correlations that cannot be explained by conventional semi-classical electromagnetic theory.” Physics Today (1997) If one had a chance to rename “non-locality,” perhaps the better term would be hyper-locality.

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[9] From the above email, in which she also cites the great master of apophasis, Meister Eckhart: “When a soul wishes to experience something, she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own image.”

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[10] Pound had a cultural agenda, and references are to key historical/cultural facts and sources; one is meant to know them or find them out in the spirit of cultural renewal (e.g., via EP’s own commentary, like Guide to Kulchur [1938]). Wolsak is not promoting culture as such (and certainly not doctrine, least of all religion), but a state of mind, awareness, and poetics. Thus we might gloss Na Carminagua as, say, a minor Catholic loyalist (Raymonde Azéma) in the repression of the Cathars in 13-14th century Provence (Montaillou), but, aside from affirming a pervasive historical interest, it doesn’t particularly add to the force of the poem, and, indeed, can be misleading; puzzle-solving is not a suggested path to right reading. The poet is not, for instance, siding with Catholics against heretics; indeed, she seems not to read Na Carminagua as having done so either, but somehow to stand beyond such preference. If she achieves symbolic status, it’s as a symbol of variable reference. Compare The Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars’ Rebellion Against the Inquisition, 1290-1329, René Weis (New York: Random House, 2002), p. 31. Wolsak’s source is the celebrated work by historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error, transl. Barbara Bray (New York: Braziller, 1978).

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[11] Wolsak has alerted us to meanings not obvious without searching: (1) a direction in the 4th spatial dimension [math/geometry]; (2) Chaldean: the invisible heaven, the astral light, the heavenly mother of the terrestrial sea, and one of the triad comprising the goddesses Ana, Belita, Damkina; (3) Greek prefix for ‘up’; and (4) a ‘hole’ or opening in a Japanese tsuba [sword guard]; among others.

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[12] This approach to language, hermeneutics, origins, mystical texts of the past as text—and the implicit poetics thereof—finds resonance and a vast further exploration in the works of Elliot R. Wolfson, as Wolsak herself has discovered (subsequent to the works in the present volume). Wolfson foregrounds many aspects of apophasis as intrinsic to poetics in both the narrowest and broadest senses—an unprecedented exploration that focuses within an extraordinary number of ancient, modern and contemporary precedents. See especially: Pathwings: Philosophic & Poetic Reflections on the Hermeneutics of Time & Language, Foreword by Charles Stein, Postface by Barbara E. Galli (Barrytown, New York: Barrytown/Station Hill Press, 2004); and Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005).

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