Cunningham's Bird & Forest
Woefully behind these days -- so I'll post this that I intended to post and finish awhile ago over a glass of whiskey here at DCHQ:
For Brent & Tessa's reading I am not going to have the pleasure of introducing Mr. Cunningham, that will be someone else's job. It is a little disappointing, though nevertheless the right decision. I really enjoy writing (and delivering) the introductions -- it's a great excuse to get really deep into a poet's work and think through it, how to present it, how to sketch useful outlines of it without giving too much "away," etc. As someone who feels like he doesn't read enough and wants to read more, the introductions provide me with a venue in which I have to read; it is, in effect, my job to read at that point.
I am not doing the introduction for Brent though, so I don't have that excuse, which is too bad because Bird & Forest is terrific. So I thought I'd spend a little time here writing about what I might have written about had I had a reason to write an intro for Mr. C.
(I'm feeling a rambly in my head, so I suspect that'll come through in my writing here today.)
So I'll start by quoting several lines that I copied down in my notebook while reading B & F:
"must I ask until I die why I live"
"Before our empire was founded, decisions were made using the lightning, swords, and birds of the natural surroundings. A rock was wrapped in a cloth and hurled into the canyon. // Things are different now. But how are they different? We find that the rock is now covered in mirrors."
"the soft arms of death"
"the caterpillar eating through its future"
"Do you think no child in the village dreams of being the idiot?"
"free to distinguish movement from motion"
"Even when forest burns up, its trees do not panic. And this is also true when that smaller flame, the bird, sweeps through its branches."
"Whatever is bequeathed a single word will slide down a funnel to the general."
"Writing has only solved the problem of mute human blood. But logic goes into your mind, possessing it, until you are free."
"Language doesn't become strange by torturing it. It becomes strange by giving it a task too simple to complete."
This last quotation serves as the guiding principle in this work in many ways. There is no question in this collection that language is strange -- the question is how to reveal the strangeness. What I most like about Bird & Forest is the heartbreaking and sincere pathos that runs below all these poems. Brent said at one point during inter-poem banter that he liked ~to write at the place where sincerity and facetiousness were nearly indistinguishable, even to himself as writer.~ He hits that point many, many times in this book; I find it very compelling particularly in light of the intellectual dexterity that he also brings into these poems.
(Again, I'm sorry to ramble without any helpful examples or anything to back up what I'm saying -- the jist is that the book is excellent: go check it out.)
So I imagine the speaker of these poems (and they are "spoken" poems in a rather fundamental way (some are even orations, but even most of the others seem to be "spoken" by a speaker as opposed to something less "speaker" focused (you know, it's like some poems just seem like they exist in a space and from a place that would never be spoken -- these poems are not like that.))) At any rate, the speaker of these poems is highly intellectual and steeped in post-structuralist theory and philosophy, floating in a troubling sea of relativism and plagued by hyper-self-consciousness. The speaker is also someone who, despite the intellectual awareness, wants something "real", something to matter, something that isn't just an empty surface with no depth -- the speaker, even as s/he relentlessly attacks meaning and meaning-making, desperately wants to have something like meaning.
It's this mix of intellect and pathos that I find really compelling about the book -- it's quite heartbreaking.
On the other hand, the book is often also funny as hell.
At some point, I'd like to get my thoughts more coherent about Bird & Forest, but man, am I behind....