by Danniel Schoonebeek
YesYes Books, March 2014
128 pages / YesYes
“It strikes out pitiless and burning the shit”
– Ledger (Delaware Boys)
It’s a strange and splinter juicing time of year. At least where I stand. So far north. The melt is powerful, knotty, full of skin fighting. There are two mini-vans submerged in streetwater near a Taco Bell. I keep taking a million pictures of orange peels sticking out of the snow and dirt ice like chin hairs because they are everywhere. Haunted, as usual.
When I go from inside to outside, I almost balk at being allowed to feel comfortable, at being able to move forward without thinking cold / speed / cheekbones.
“Like a grease ant
roaming the fringe of the village”
This book, American Barricade (YesYes), by Danniel Schoonebeek embodies this lunging, but quiet change of weather. Thick in re-emerging, sub-merging, a spareness that is potentially deep and changeable. Do you know what I mean by that? The blanket of snow is going to be replaced by a brief blanket of deadness and trash and hesitant / unsteady people all just about to be alive again. Oil and drains collecting at each other. It’s weird and good. It’s a mood that is ambient and ugly and necessary. Every early spring rupture has me convinced this is “my loudest year yet” (Poem For Four Years).
Words of the season according to American Barricade:
choke leaves, all this deadbolt night making room for mosquitoes, oxblood robe, dead’s dead’s dead’s / dead’s dead, swagbellied girl, boot knife, This is why in America the idea of a fire is you eat, undersheriff, she was watching a skin heal across her soup, stalking horse, the olives.
Bodies / figures emerge often in this text as they are called upon by a title. A title or a name which can belong to many bodies at once. Some of the titles are intimate. They are the words we learn to associate with the first bodies we encounter (father, mother, brother, sister), with the first body we use to encounter (son, child, boy, girl). Some are more linked to a social presence / hierarchy (god, king, queen, prince, man, woman, militia, brothel).
“There is me. Loyal only to when I tell myself.
That boy who has written across his wrist.
I’m god would make a good son but only if his.
Voice is a silence in which now I appear.
Ask about his mother he says mother.
Let her rip. Men who mean something.
Different than you when they say we.”
There is wife and there is husband, as well, who fall somewhere between intimate title and obligatory title. At least, they do according to the way those terms often develop, half-instinctual / half-thickly social. I believe in the possibility of their tenderness, the tenderness such terms are meant to immediately disclose. I also believe there are expectations hard set inside those terms and that those expectations are meant to exercise, service, and stage a certain kind of power.
“She tastes like my wife but she isn’t.
She’s fromage and baguette and ham in her mouth.
And she wears her black negligee and bouffant.”
Finally, there are individual names scattered throughout. Deborah Jean, Straw Prince, Tiffany Laurel, Billy, Jessie Lynne, Melinda Anne, Emma Lazarus, Erik, Enrique, Derek, Josie, Danniel. However, these specific names don’t clarify the bodies on the page, but like the titles, they are occupying pronoun position. They continue to maintain a similar roominess and precise ambiguity present in the repetitions of father, mother, son, etc.
– Family Album, IX. Tycoon
We affix these words to moving bodies on the page, in the book, because they give the writer and the reader so much room (so much more light and dark / potential for contrast) to work with / to play with. They allow us to immediately relate to a character (or even more radically, they push us to relate to characters, an I or a you, who can imagine and live possibilities we hesitate to), and also to maintain a wide, malleable lens concerning where exactly we are / who exactly we’re dealing with. They possess the potential to create a relationship with a text that is more magic territory, less rigid continent, says Aaron Shurin in a talk entitled, “Narrativity,” given at Painted Bride Art Center in 1989.
“Pronouns are known as shifters because they are by nature unstable linguistic units, referring not to people but to moving circumstances of speech and audition, visibility and perception. As such they are fictional opportunities; unlike names they permit a character…to ride the Wheel of Person, speak and be spoken of with equal weight, inhabit simultaneity” (2)
They are good tools, in other words, to get us thinking about the relationship between ever-evolving personhood and language as material / texture. What parts of language are allowing you subject and keeping you object? Through pronouns we can see how language is vestigially programmed to limit (Later in the talk Shurin quotes Sarah Schulman on the difficulties of create a lesbian text without using names. “…she came into a room, she looked at her, she looked at her, she said–and aside from homophobia, what terrors would such unlocations unleash?” (2)) and how we might crack it open “so that the radical fractures would illuminate a comprehensive pluralistic image” (3).
In American Barricade, Schoonebeek’s work seems interested in delving into the sense of responsibility these pronouns / names / terms evoke in a masculine aligned individual. What happens when you take responsibilities that are assigned to you, both by bodies you love (mother, father, brother, etc.) and by cloudy linguistic positions, seriously? Thinking of all this also makes me think of my students reading Dana Ward / Eileen Myles and asking me (with that LOOK on their faces) what I think a poet IS exactly. Thinking of all this makes me think of how I would seriously and happily do just about anything short of dying to live up to the responsibilities I feel come with being a poet (no capital P necessary). Maybe I would even die for it (don’t laugh at me). Sometimes I feel like I am. Does that responsibility you aim to fulfill or to surpass destroy you? Does it build you up? Is it noble or are you trash? How can we make language reflect or refract this? See this diagram called “Lullaby (Coup)” that begins the book’s third section:
These poems want to know how those responsibilities or how a powerful sense / scent of them affects a male individual’s ability to move and relationship within the world. The poems believe the I / man / the Straw Prince / the son / the husband is trash. Those around him see it. “When one of them tastes my name on his tongue / they say he vomits out of violation / alone (and trespass, scorn) and madder” (My Life in Absentia). Those around him are possibly monsters, too. “My friends are monsters they come in a box they die” (Poem For Four Years). The I / man / the Straw Prince / the son / the husband wanders towards an understanding of what abject might be and almost brushes it. What keeps the speaker or the male presences refraining from that territory is a lingering belief in possessing and exuding nobility, which is both rooted in some kind of honesty drifting out of the poems and in inhabiting personas (here the pronoun room really comes into play). Consider this stanza which opens up the poem “Bouquet:”
God said I tasted that low wind again.
Like the cork taint and ladybirds of a poor man’s bordeaux.
Or the musk of a girl fucking herself on Rue d’Aboudir.
That’s how my bouquet tastes I’m a bachelor.
When I’m starching my collar.
Or I’m blacking my boots.
Or I’m trimming my bale for my birthday.
God says I taste that low wind again like a breath of disgrace.
There’s a romanticization here of the young, stinking, virile man / flaneur / bachelor that is aware of its hyperbole but also believes it. There’s a romanticization here that wants to acknowledge that belief is part of what gets confusing when it comes to separating what the speaker sees as hyperbole or persona and what the speaker sees as sincerely a part of him. The scale of this opening stanza is immediately so large and sweeping. God, a girl (not a woman) masturbating herself / reclining in male fantasy, the brief afterthought of a poor man as a means to describe a wine’s taste, and a man. This man, who takes care in preparing the male parts of his appearance, the black boots and the bale which could be his beard or his pubic hair, is caught in between all these bodies (both forcibly and willingly). I read it and I feel, extravagantly, how far away all these BODIES seem from each other. That is what the low wind of disgrace is, right? Not that a young man is or isn’t some kind of trash being or noble being. It’s that he might be far away, further than he needs or wants to be.
“son axed a slit
in the breaker
& made for the border”
– Family Album, XV. Alimony
It’s important to emphasize that I am not associating nobility with “goodness” at all in this context. I don’t think that’s what’s at stake here. The man of trash is capable of goodness. The irresponsible man is capable of goodness. All the male figures in the book are capable of goodness. But is the I / man / the Straw Prince / the son / the husband capable of admiring the broken American / the broken American landscape / the male figure aware of or sunk into the problematic pressures of manhood put on and perpetuated around him? “I’m blouse crumbs and clingstones and pits in the shape of a man.” -Bouquet What exactly is it that we’ve inherited language-wise, emotion-wise, climate-wise, business-wise, blood-wise? Is he capable of appearing noble to you (the reader) and to himself?
I’m not sure we’re meant to be able to answer those questions. The bodies in the photo stretched by Gregory Crewdson on the other side of the black cover / almost all of their heads are bent. Or to be more specific, those questions are exactly the thing we need to personally complicate through as readers, as beings aware of how dangerous / disobedient / glorious it is to cast deep portraiture of our togetherness.
“…I am so fascinated by your blogging, and Facebooking, and the way this blends seamlessly with the poetry because it is so much about radicalizing reception, and redistributing cultural production through the occasion of the poem.”
– Thom Donovan in a letter to Brandon Brown, from a series of immense and glorious lettered exchanges between the two authors published on BOMB in three parts.
I want to know what makes you decide you’re going to read [or write about] a poetry book. What are the structures of approach? Maybe they are for us. Sometimes I find a book on my desk from E. There is a post-it affixed to it that says, “XOXOXOXO, E.” Maybe a small drawing, too, if the book and the post-it are from B. Sometimes Berryman’s Dream Songs shows up in my mailbox unexpectedly and M’s tiny handwriting on a small sheet inside the book reminds me of how small the spaces were where Kafka wrote his aphorisms. Sometimes I am a little drunk and in a lot of pain one spring ago when I impulsively order Dana Ward’s Crisis of the Infinite Worlds with barely there $s. All I know is that I need DENSITY, a dismantle by careful flood, and this book looks like it has that. C texts me death threats Alice Notley made at those who would have her shut her poetry the fuck up, and I listen to this lecture I sort of refuse to call a lecture (instead, I call it a text / a book) for the thousandth time. What is taste? What is a hunch when you are thinking about what to choose? There is the weather that helps me decide what part of silence I want to occupy and grow lavender in. I always want to read what N is reading.
What are the structures of approach? I choose books. I choose them in a scholarly way, in an archival way, but I also choose them holistically. Why did I want to read American Barricade? It’s relatively simple in that I read this tumblr post that chronicled the last bit of life for the past 744 hours. I’m having to convince myself mid-sentence that what I’m trying to talk about is necessary to bring up, that I’m not being irreverent or off track from the book in some way. But don’t you watch how writers / how people blend it all together? The way our lives work and are barely quotable but totally a mess of flood / richness. I do. Sometimes things like that tumblr post convince me more than an individual poem (to be extreme in my examples: it convinces me more than prestige / award matter does at this point) that I need to be thinking and sedimenting inside someone’s art and work. Or I simply see such things before I get the chance to see the individual poem, especially given the way our technological lives work and occur and introduce us. I look for the seamlessness, for bodies that radically believe art never needs to begin or end. I look for the care and living and poetry that goes into innocuous spaces. I believe in it. I celebrate it. I think of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein, in which Stein knows immediately that Picasso suits her, but Pound doesn’t. Stein likes the way Picasso pronounces and speaks her name. Pound falls out of one of her chairs.
What are the structures of approach? How do end up folded on each other’s space?