Mudlark No. 18 (2001)
Weather and Repetition
Poems by James Brook
James Brook is a poet, translator, and editor. A veteran of the recent antidisplacement battles in San Francisco, he is an editor for City Lights Books, where he concentrates on political nonfiction and world literature. He is the principal editor of RESISTING THE VIRTUAL LIFE and RECLAIMING SAN FRANCISCO. He has translated works by Guy Debord, Henri Michaux, Gellu Naum, Benjamin Péret, Alberto Savinio, and Sebastian Reichmann. His poems and essays have appeared in EXQUISITE CORPSE, CITY LIGHTS REVIEW, GARE DU NORD, SCIENCE AS CULTURE, and elsewhere.
My early poetry was classically Surrealist in inspiration; that is, it was based in automatic writing, "the inner voice" that revealed itself to the author as ink flowed or typewriter ribbon was struck or characters were displayed on a cathode-ray tube. The past decade or so has seen the source of inspiration shift to the external worldand, above all, to language as the external world of the work. Almost all the poems in this collection are assembled on the collage principle, in one way or another. Some of the poems are constructed of bits of text taken directly from printed sources; for example, "Weather and Repetition" is a rearrangement of phrases lifted from the weather reports of LE MONDE and THE NEW YORK TIMES. Other poems combine appropriated text with subjective improvisations on the found language. But language remembered and language dreamed and language overheard and language translated and language invented are also "found"or discovered. My relationship to language is thus only more consciously technical, distanced, material in an effort to make petrified conditions dance to their own tune, always a scissors-and-paste job.
Weather and Repetition
The storms of youth precede brilliant days.
The depression centered over the British Isles blows from the southwest, sending masses of relatively humid air our way. From an often cloudy sky rain will fall again; expect storms in some locales.
A cluster of heavy thunderstorms churned
Surroundings can change in an unusually cold pocket of air.
As the sun heats the ground the leading edge presses ever westward
like breathing through a straw a kind of tradition
Ample sunshine is for us. Embrace a sticky air mass.
It is this disturbance, this shift toward the currents of the interior,
Clearing will balance degrees below normal.
There's a song in the air about no talent for pleasure...
Ever more rare, day and day and day,
The gauges encourage a relapse into greater timidity:
Spain is severed as soon as it is morning
Dim against chaotic there's another surge
We are allowed to remember it as more luminous
Sultry air grips the south
Clockwork gives way to clusters to one batch
An example of aircraft is scheduled
nothing will change
behold the stagnant days to come
they will be unworthy of our part of July
The election volcano brings ten years' absence.
The narrow potent line erupts,
embeds Texas Oklahoma and Arkansas;
cataract cool impossibility dampened zone!
The elements adequately stabilize the atmosphere
What was is getting better in a sort of slough of inactivity. Basically, it's numerablemeaning there's an end to it, all alone. Night falls near the risky frontier. There's a routine to dissipation, and, fine, a torn sky reveals strands of short apparitions. All alone in the average valley of the Rhone, unsheltered, in the window-cleaner's airport, a supplement to depression....
suppress the rising currents
the sky you see is a facade
I see you nervous with the threat on the border
a turncoat band of showers will stream north
all protection was blown down yesterday and the week before
tepid potent escort to the routine of failed vacation
It begins in Minneapolis, high today 75, thunderstorms; yesterday in Embarrass the temperature dipped to freezinglike your love, my love, are these separated storms. Or in New York. Or in San Francisco. It begins as you tell me everything as I take my stand on the southern flank, while others less fortunate call for evacuation of the pressured front sweeping across this entire continent. How could you say yes to one, maybe to another, and zip to me? Sweeping! Clouds of this kind shift the beginning of day. With invasion the sun is imposed on the valley, and Mercury approaches pencil in hand to enhance stray mountains with suggestions for other seasons. There's nothing for itblame that bluesy feeling you showed me on the altitude of those self-same mountains: sweeping vista.
Portions of "Weather and Repetition" were first published in Pharos (Spring 1998).
cómo se passa la vida,
cómo se viene la muerte
cúan presto se va el plazer....
Coplas por la muerte de su padre
wages murder the first caress
the photograph in evidence
the diagram of the village
we had the dream of water
a bitter draft from a broken cup
"C'est un homme
from the rubble of information
Guy Debord (1931-1994), filmmaker, writer, and revolutionary, was one of the founders of the Situationist International. He is best known as the author of THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE (1967); his other books include COMMENTS ON THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE (1988) and PANEGYRIC I (1989). Debord made the first French translation of Jorge Manrique's COPLAS POR LA MUERTE DE SU PADRE.
The text of the sixth stanza is taken verbatim from the fourth canto of LES CHANTS DE MALDOROR by Lautréamont, a favorite writer of Debord's.
The penultimate line of the seventh stanza is from Debord's MÉMOIRES (1958), the last line of which reads: "Je voulais parler la belle langue de mon siècle." In his collage text, this was the only line that Debord himself authored.
"Stanzas on the Death of Guy Debord" originally appeared in RealPoetik (1996).
Malady of the Engineers | Fatigue of Metals
Malady of the Engineers
It's a harsh wind that blows across the acreage of that summer, misspent youth. There is the harsh angle of attack. A willow shades the stranger in the tomb. The departing guest laughs one more time and, again, a little too loudly, because he's given to overplaying sincerity. The sordid town sports a factory plume: the empty streets could be laid out to "bring to life" a famous painting of desolate places. Imagine, then, a virgin alone on the travel-poster beach. The camera evaluates her body fat, and a machine recommends a change of diet. She is beautiful, not hopelessly stupid; she is the listless feeling that descends upon the plain and leaves a plaque to commemorate your conception. A vibration shakes the bones as the train picks up speed and worlds rush past the dirty window.
The rising curve on the chart is plotted upon a smattering of tissue.
Identical boredom of the several streets, boy and man with nowhere to go
The coffee I'll never drink, the morning that will never come.
ice on the trestle dim refugee my news
horizon slap-happy armored columns
the container of fidelities marking time
Flame designs the new hotel
Finger on a caloric wisp
Sweet sweet electronica as cop raises club
Haze of a forest under siege. Mine shafts stand on their heads for the pretty passersby whose thoughts are effluvia or echoes in the key of metalla. The ambitious of every continent try their luck. Roaring great beast in the flashing lights. A stranger lies dead or alive in a doorway. That click you hear is the phonic trace of the autobiographical: I was there like another. The moon hangs like a surveillance camera beside the tower. One sees the tower in photographs. Mist turns the scene clown-romantic. Irritation at the least stimulus at the end of a long day. Broken glass on the staircase, murderous lyrics scrawled on concrete stinking of piss. Inevitable or habitual, like translation, please. All the flesh is younger and frail in the imagination that is left to us, a poor thing, stuffed with merchandise. "The merchant dies," and so saying the robber did not put down the knife. Apprehension has its own special effects when sight is confused by the dancing air above the long-buried stream. The white man stands by the white gate; he smiles in natural response to n'importe quoi because the birds have gone from the trees that have gone. The roadways emit signals of pleasure to those who sit on the porches to be lulled by waves rolling in.
Caliber and rate of fire interrupt the song again. Half-hidden by the cooling ashes, a brand-name product survives. Wind does not erase the financial canyon, and this sought-after page-turner is a triumphal arch, you shit. No one is there to remark the rattle of blinds so that you can take a bow and play dead.
o hypoteneuse of the hot tears to come
the terror of a small moment
the lamp throbs above the headlines
remote as a voice giving unasked-for advice
the road of our life's journey
Moonrise through thin cloud behind Coit Tower; a curtain is drawn. In the industrial gyre a telephone drops from the hand. One stood naked as the rain washed over his body. Quaver light. Luggage solitary on the platform. Nothing sleeps. There is foliage on this rock, a word to be spoken. Granted the tenderness of flint and steel, the nightsweats in the knell of stuffy rooms, rough sketch of the history of flight in a face in the tight circle of the bedside lamp. No, the flowers are slow to unfold.
event that is la madrugada
one circle of the wild plants near the chemical swirl
when reinforced concrete when fire
mains interdites et orbitales
astonishment in the towers in the rain
face to the face to face to wind
nor hands time's veils below the sun
to step in and stay print hands print words
and what should I do to reach you
of joined misdirection on this sea azure seizure of possibility
December 22, 1999 (Solstice, full moon)
a structural solution to a specific problem
the arch is stabilized by the last brick
there was a time you cried and I consoled
the impression of glass architecture
the conversation of the period
railroad at the end railroad at the beginning
one example of a coy city-dweller
question of velocity and dinner
[from Invisible One, an hors commerce chapbook, 1994]
Commodity Gothic | Dirty Picture | Dirty Picture
gloomy numbers attract new criticism
in traditional computers and television sets
May Day, 1993
in this crime the intimate parade
whose source is breast buttock back
thus is earth shoveled onto the fixed cold eye
dawn comes hard to young love
it's correct to be glad
the science of sleep enters the digital age
whirlwind eruptions come as a relief in several fantasies
in direct proportion to physical changes
a man wielding a nine-inch boning knife hints at a recipe
hands busy up and down the dress
in strict emulation of the marketing collateral
I have nothing for you in the way of fall fashions
I won't reenact you
a thin sheet of plastic is home to pink flesh
it was clear where the wires had to go
He told me and told me a normal boring story full of gizmos.
The sub-high roller hits the high beams-how that ragtop hugs the blacktop!
Please complete and mail this registration card. We mean it, citizen.
Like an accident, going to the movies slaps crisis with brand names.
Another nighthawkhere's some laughterblows on her coffee. Lipstick. Pursed.
Seventeen passive restraints on the bitter trail of pleasure wipe tears.
You reach the circle of fifths: the sudden wallfaces shine from the past.
Their business machines narrow provisions, meeting us late at night.
Intimacies of the hand the ass the cock the cunt. Eyes to eye. "Stop."
Where then does the scant costume end, sirrah, and the little man begin?
Let's conquer realms of fresh capital, vast estates of designer briefs!
It's first rain at first light, and the tarmac a high-security zone.
Clouds pass over incisor. Peeling bumpersticker. Big ol' sunset.
"Lonely sax" cliché jump cut mirror makeup cigarette telephone.
DWF, 40, seeks solvent mensch for long walks, swift justice.
Our journey complete, we three pull into Full Serve and reload both clips.
Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. J. N. Brook.
[first published in Exquisite Corpse, 1991]
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