has been afflicted with meaning for too long.
there have been stabs at meaninglessness—dada, language poetry, flarf—but
without a sustaining podium, without a venue, these movements have flared and
died like matches struck and cupped in the general dark of meaningfulness. But
the podium has been awaiting us, brightly lit and stark. The elevators,
supermarkets, and telephones-on-hold have been longing for our words to soothe
and cajole just beneath the consciousness--and then evaporate like hand
disinfectant. The venues have been lonely without us. They are calling out for
a muttered voice, a semblance of speech that is not speech, an overheard tonal
flow of language that does not chomp down on a story or theme and hold on, but
one that drifts, that touches wordly things lightly and moves on, that hints at
emotion but does not deliver it kicking and squirming, that employs the
language of ideas but does not insist on a full induction into the detailed
argument. It is time American poets answered the call. It is time American
poets produced sonic texts, well-voiced, well-sounded, but without the dynamics
of plot and theme, poems that can deliver a tone in a one floor hop from copier
to office or a long, smooth ride of 50 floors from Lexus to penthouse.
is required is a stream of image and sound that can accompany a shopper from
the cereal aisle to dairy to household products without interfering with his
thoughts. Only one American poet has come close to producing such poetry, and
that is Nash Johnsbury. Johnbsury’s A
Flume is the single monument of Poezac or Elevator Poetry extant. Younger
poets should study this work not for what it accomplishes, but for its
brilliant refusals. Johnsbury’s
avoidance of theme and story is, of course, well established. After flirting
briefly with philosophical argument in Portrait
of Eve in a Boutique Window, Johnsbury has pursued a vaguely troubled
superficiality that suits the elevator perfectly. His avoidance of conclusion
and closure, his natterings and digressions, his use of “the syntax of meaning”
without any actual meaning, all provide a ground upon which a new generation
can build a fully-realized Poezac.
has been made lately of Federico Garcia Lorca’s notion of “duende.” American
poets have clamored like pigs to the slop, trying to claim duende for their own
work. Lorca, in his compelling, but ultimately misguided “Theory and Play of
Duende,” claims that “The duende won’t appear if [the poet] can’t see the
possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house.” Lorca’s
continual pointing deathward is the opposite of Poezac, which seeks to deflect
us from death and suffering and send us wholly into the distractions and
episodes of shopping that constitute real life. In this passage from A Flume, Johnsbury masterfully counters
duende with a vague nostalgia:
have been kissed once by someone—certainly
is some comfort in that,
if we don’t know what led up to it,
it happened too long ago to matter now.
almost too much light and warmth or a surfeit of powdered,
things—who can complain?
syntax is vaguely Rilkean—thus giving it the frisson of serious poetry—but the
attitude is insouciance, the ease with which loss can be borne if one
recognizes that lovers are like products, and the next one promises to be more
brilliantly packaged, new and improved, carrying perhaps a few more ounces for
the same price—all in all, an equal or superior value. Played softly through a
public address system, such work can be heartening, such work can serve
society, can heal and distract and promote an immersion in life that can
counter the deathward plod of much contemporary American poetry.
to death! The time has come for Poezac, for Elevator Poetry.