Well, I was surprised how much people here (in contrast to those in my poetry group) liked the poetry of Rae Armantrout. Perhaps you will also get a kick out of c.d. wright’s Deepstep Come Shining, a book-length poem that I found weirdly compelling.
I went looking for excerpts on the interwebs and several of the hits were for “c.d. wright Deepstep Come Shining ringtones.” I’m pretty sure this was an automated fraud, but the idea is captivating, and I think I know at least one person who would get a Deepstep ringtone if she could. Anyway, I was able to find the following from a journal called Jacket:
I don’t have an epiphany, nor even much expertise, to offer on this poem, but perhaps a bit of running commentary will do more good than harm.
DCS seems to feature two women on a roadtrip through the South (the author is from Arkansas but lives in the Northeast). One of the women is apparently blind, perhaps having undergone some bad surgery (a keratotomy, which is a fancy term for a cornea transplant, though for all I know they may call other procedures by that name too).
The blindness of the passenger (I hope she’s not driving, after all this isn’t a movie) underline or maybe prompts the lavish wallowing in color that we see right from the start (chlorophyll, magnolia, the ruby taillights of the colors, all rendered more vivid and saturated in the rain).
“The eyes’ ability to perceive…”
And more generally, the mind whose workings we experience in the fragmented, associative rhetoric of the poem turns over and over the puzzles of visual perception. (For example, it is the mind’s habit of processing a series of images as though they were continuous (suggested by the windshield wipers’ segmentation of the visual field?) which makes movies possible. This leads to the contrast of stadium vs. movie traffic, which conspires with the recent reference to “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” to evoke the small crowd at Smoke…and thence to the drive-ins of childhood. Sometimes the succession of images in DCS is comfortingly comprehensible, like the streams of consciousness in Ulysses.
“Graphein” is the infinitive of the verb “to write” in Greek. I may be missing something, but this seems unnecessarily pretentious–do people really not know that photo means light and graph refers to writing?
“Everyone in their car needs love. Car love. Meat love. Money love. Pass with care.”
This is probably my favorite line in the poem–there is something about that first sentence that just doesn’t meet at right angles…and “meat love”? It’s demented enough to stand on its own, but I believe that when meat comes up elsewhere there is a discussion of the various kinds of barbecue: “Where to get barbecue minced, pulled, or chopped. The hour of the day they have
known the thorn of love.”
“Deepstep Baby, Deepstep.”
Deepstep is a town in Georgia–I don’t really know what is so fascinating about the town, and in particular about a family there called the Veals, except that “the Veals of Deepstep” sounds really cool. Maybe that’s enough. The other part of the book’s title is from a Dylan song, “I Shall Be Released.” Again, your guess is as good as mine, though a lot of things shine in the poem and the roadtrip does seem to go from west to east, from the mid-South to the Carolinas or so.
If the section about movies and the white piano (a swan, like the old hood ornament, notice) is a kind of road-trip reverie, things like “meat love” and “Deepstep, Baby. Deepstep” are reminiscent of punchy road conversation, where bits of verbal detritus take on a magical, talismanic power (the sign outside a bar claiming that they have one of Kenny Rogers’s suits, the zombie-like affect of an employee at Sambo’s in Waterloo, whatever).
“All around in here it used to be so pretty.”
One source of entertainment in reading this poem is the weaving together of the highfalutin, the humble, and the downright banal into a fugue that lends them all a kind of poignance. Maybe that’s the role of the Greek stuff–when we run across mullein, a plant popular as a folk remedy (for respiratory ailments, but maybe the boneman uses it too?) it looks as though it might be another Greek infinitive like graphein.
“The waitresses in hairnets. Nurse-caps. Employees must pluck out an eye before returning to work.”
Funny and gruesome, this makes me sad that our excerpt doesn’t include any of the poem’s quotations from King Lear (the play in which Gloucester’s eyes are gouged out in a scene that’s rather hard on some of us). The Lear bits are one of my favorite threads, forming a bizarre counterpoint to the goofy place-names (Pulltight Road) and surreal gnomic utterances.
“Kepler’s invention of the camera lucida”
I didn’t know Kepler invented the camera lucida, which was a profection tool that painters used to trace an image on the canvas which they could use as a guide in painting, but it’s interesting that we quickly move on to Venice (as a good place to get glass eyes). The painter I think of most in connection with the camera lucida is Canaletto, whose Venetian city-scapes are known (IIRC) for their mechanically-aided exactitude of perspective.
James Agee is famous as the co-author of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a portrait of the lives of Depression sharecroppers (Agee’s text accompanied photographeins by Walker Evans). He also apparently did a WPA guide to the towns of Georgia. Wright is clearly fascinated by the idea of following in his footsteps (both have left the South and returned as observers), and Agee himself seems to have been obsessed with the idea of being an ‘eye’: “If I were not here; and I am alien; a bodyless eye; this would never have existence in human perception.”
One source of power that DCS has access to in a way that most modern poetry doesn’t is the sense of a story. This is true even though it contains at most broken pieces of a story, like a movie that you’ve only seen 2-minute slices of between innings of the baseball game. Still, our greed for narrative is such that even shards give the reader momentum.