Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Five Reasons I Like Charles Alexander's _Pushing Water_

1. It is not a LONG long poem – it is 213 pages, as opposed to, say, 800. It is that rarest of animals: a non-arrogant long poem by a male writer. He manages to be serious (even representing his own experience -- !) without being sententious. There is a questioning, open observing that is confident without being overbearing. Sometimes this stance results in humor:

begin again
to undo
the beginning
not a fugue
but a fudge

This is not “A” – that seemingly interminable “fugue” – it is a poem that begins again and again, sometimes muddling along, that makes modest claims for itself: “the colloquial uncertainty / as always.”

2. Pushing Water flows. That is, through a combination of headlong syntax and cascading enjambments, this poem MOVES like few others. If Stein disliked commas, Alexander dislikes (or doesn’t believe in) periods:

and air lives (with a short

vowel) and air lives (with a

long vowel) we are all

shortened and elongated

according to our wishes and

desires in a changed but not

yet ended world or arena of

. . . and of course it goes on – that’s part of the point – the ongoingness of things – the flow of air, water, life, thought. The air lives short, lives are short, vowels live as and in air. We are all long vowels, changed but not yet ended. We’re pushing with and against the water at once.

3. There is a delightful variety in the form – which is open form (unreproducible by a technical idiot, in a program like Blogger), using the vertical space of the page via line-length, indentation, spacing (vertical and horizontal). Sometimes in stanzas (numbered, even), sometimes in run-on double-spaced sections. And the form rarely seems unmotivated. The verse usually revolves back to itself, using the form as poetics:

they come     to come

by the water in a place

that invents every thing

again                     a new line

4. The book contains memorable passages like the ones above that, nonetheless, do not overwhelm the rest of the writing. Neat trick. There are lines like this: “When she wrote her life why didn’t she leave it alone?” – that seem to be just another point along the way, but end up saying more than they seem to say. Alexander is “remaining ever in the company of small / words like of and around” – lively words and lines that aren’t weighted down by nouns.

5. I just keep coming back to it. It’s playful without the deadly serious playfulness of some American ironists. Maybe Pushing Water reminds me a bit of Larry Eigner – not so much in form as in tone. I like typing out the lines:

the words are distant, abstract, bloodless,
except for the singing of the lullaby tonight
after the poem my daughter came
and asked for a lullaby – the poem ends and the lullaby begins
or the poem never ends, the war never ends, the lullaby never ends
the light goes into the air
the water goes into the light and the air
I ask my friends where the words end
they don’t have the same answers that I don’t have
they don’t have the same questions that I don’t have
in all the places I have been
in the words have gone
they all are taken
the water pushes as far as it can
the light is out
the light is out