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Keston Sutherland


SOFTENING "K"S


A prize to sleep unpetrified in catered
air is every last
face it will spin by nothing

more thin than an onset of sufficient license
sticking negative shape in
a flat trance or put too simply

ever not to grip, it is sheer
miracle and grace that your vacant
even your vacant helplessness by me

is a lie / total suffocation, I love you
and I never will not
to need to break like a knife at concrete.

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Here's my feedback on _SOFTENING K'S_. I am unhappy with my response to this piece, and feel it lacks any sympathy and is thus likely operating under blinkers. However, I give permission for whatever use you see fit, and for my name to be attached. Randolph Healy

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I'm not sure what's going on here. There seems to be a person asleep by the side of the speaker in this poem. The slowly moving highly ambiguous non-standard syntax of the first two stanzas catches the mood of stillness quite well. But it seems to be a poem at odds with itself, the struggle unfortunately lacking in interest. The diction is often quite flat, even cliched, and the one neologism, *unpetrified*, is negative, a reminder that the figure described is alive, not something sculpted either by nature or by art. Then in stanzas three and four the phrasing is suddenly far more lucid in the conventional sense, peaking in clarity and cliché with *I love you* the syntax then resuming its capsized state in the oddly violent last line. It is a very musical piece, and this may have driven its lethargic obscurity. Although obscurity is by no means unsuited to a bedroom, I do not recommend this piece.

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<reading name="Two">
It's good to see a poem take on as pressing a physical crisis to which the study of syntax and semantics matters as AIDS, in this poem softening, as the title says, the KS Sarcoma, to which all involved even cursorily with informing themselves about this modern plague the abbreviation KS will signify; which is one of the reasons one abbreviates it, to make the discourse of discussing AIDS a polari of sorts, a simple one, to fend off the routine uninformed questions of those who won't even skim a chapter of a book on AIDS. Certainly then, KS is a private code identifying a private reader group, albeit of some hundreds of thousands. To soften a lesion back to skin is profoundly hoped for, by those suffering, by those living with the living suffering.

Unless, of course,the KS is a private reference to, for the few on the group British-Poets to which pURL, the site of publication, is attached, Keston Sutherland, a poet on that list. Then the question arises: is this a poem about use of a style or brio, or has it some reference to behaviour, some sense that the complex syntax of such poetry may analyse or may ape the complex syntax of behaviour/love/intimacy/public policy making/approaching the release of a catharsis of a long held pain?

One can note in the poem the dominance of adjective-noun couples which are to the oxymoron what the paradox of G-d is to Milton's God (Empson) or maybe they are merely dialectical,which would be less interesting. "Catered air", "sufficient license", "negative shape","flat trance" (fat chance? echo?) "sheer miracle", "vacant helplessness","total suffocation". Even the first line has it both ways with "to sleep unpetrified". This is how the last line carries a force of fact, no adjectives:

"to need to break like a knife at concrete"

although the "at" is unusual and does a lot of useful work. I wonder how much this poem is constructed *as* a formalist exercise (the poet: "I know, never put any noun without a skewing adjective, then sock in nouns at the end") or if the adjective-noun parodoxymoron is the norm and the way to end a poem that might endlessly qualify otherwise in successive clauses is to go for a breaking note? Certainly, the poem, in my paraphrase of it, moves towards a thematic conclusion, but that would only be in one area; the response to the individual or individual phenomenon KS.

Paraphrase:it could be this verse form elongated over the line breaks with no individual line standing free, any line by itself looking silly, as in free verse of the WC Williams school rather than of Oppen or Zukofsky, that allows predicted "this is where the line will go" traps to work. I hear "a prize to sleep, in a way that feels physically but more likely ethically non-hazardous (the physical is quantifiable if not interesting or not to be proselytised about or not to rock the boat over, but the ethical is less agreed over, "green issue" persons may "petrify" ethically while they focus on a crucial issue for the next ten years and do not suffer the ethical doubter until then) is every last person's wish, every last face set to or against." Sleep in this surely means, again by slant, to be spontaneous, relaxed, because physical sleep is a numbness, a waste of dream, to the issue-focussed, perhaps is the idea? Sleep is here made a compliment, not an insult, or both, different for each party "I wouldn't want your sleep", "your activity is sleep", "good I'll sleep then".

The poem seems to attack, and to relent its attack, or discover an ambivalence after attacking not before. Can it put sadism into a trance? Can some attitude or look do that, and is that what the poem is about, or only about the agreement to blame the failure of the attempt on the person who doesn't respond to this poem yet might respond to some other approach, in some other idiom? Is that to lose poetry forever, or work via other languages to a utopia where it can be more widespread than it is in areas such as are in but not are British-poets. I wouldn't go into this poem's logic, but I might enjoy reading it quickly if not for this pURL and the hope to open discussion by opening my heart, mind.

To begin again at the end

I love you
and I never will not
to need to break like a knife at concrete.

This seems clear to me. It flirts to the eye, on a quick reading, as "I will never not need to break" ie I always will, I'm neurotic, I'm bad with food, I cut myself and others, the sort of mood Denise Riley stretches to be about lyricism being about life: "the lyric knife is in my hand again. Protect me". Because this syntax must mean instead "I love you/ and I never will not (love you)" (pause - no WCW tumble here now).It could have been "I will not" and then that might mean "my single act of willing thus makes me the knife that breaks on concrete". But "never" is not single, and that grammar cannot follow. Therefore it must mean "I never will not-love-you" where "not love you" can mean a single act from a double negative implied:

love you = not hate you

thus

I never will not love you=I never will not not hate you=I never will hate you.

"I never will hate you" is a singularUse of uninitialized value in concatenation (.) or string at E:\listplex\SYSTEM\SCRIPTS\filearea.cgi line 455, line 390. act, therefore the sense I think is meant both thru this mathematic-grammatic and through bad grammar, I will not need to break thus, "don't become such a fine instrument of knowledge that you slice uselessly back into your hand, shocking yourself" (Denise Riley again), the poet says to himself/her, and to KS. And there is an implication that KS does break like this, vainly;I don't know if the poem's line is meant as falling (beautiful) or mock-falling (parodic, against simplification). I don't find it beautiful, and I don't find enough to attract me to find being disturbed interesting. "Total suffocation" is not oxymoronic (am I using the right term, I mean by oxymoronic -words at odds- eg "the violent bonbon"), "total suffocation" is redundant excess 40s apocalyptic (what other kind of suffocation? but forgive me if that's what an oxymoron is, understand what I mean and forgive).

The poem may reduce the aggression vs words, the use of paradox, violence meant as love (common to those stressed by living with AIDS) *insisted on* instead of direct vulnerability, trust in the old words: reduce this to, "I hear you", "here's some of your idiom back, to make you safe, or laugh". But not accept being reduced to it. That would make sense of grace making the frightened- aggressive helpless ie loved. But that reading doesn't account for "vacant helplessness", vacant as hollow-sounding, the stupidity of sleepwalking through life, consuming? I don't care,as I don't hold that those who will not bring to consciousness, discuss, agree or debate as I may as a trained graduate may not feel their way to a part of G-d's plan within a consumerist lifestyle.

This is mathematics-as-poetry, to have its logic and idiom's use of grammar diagrammed, and solved.It doesn't use what's thought of as a maths form, like Zukofksy's five words a line,or MacLow's work, yet there is more life and less maths in Z & M's geometry of life, their feel for dimensions and multiple factors and vectors for me, I think. What's left un-re-solved doesn't draw me, but then I don't like rows that clear the air, and some do, and I do like the feel of "I love you" in this, perhaps not the tone of "I forgive you" or where its love is, or something. If it does address Keston Sutherland's poetry, then I can see better how Keston is moving away from the resolutions the "it's ok" ending that this both has and parodies but doesn't evade completely, though I prefer Bruce Andrews' violent citations, in a poetry of great ear for others, and formal geometrical skill in juxtaposing them for air, apart from each other and somehow each bringing a note, as if there could be a symphony in, experience in, the row,the anger felt conscious, fearless for all in the row. I take a deep breath at him.

Ira Lightman

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<reading name="Three">
Opening iambs override cognitive dissonance as we spin out in the syntactic torque rattling the fairly conventional lyric address. Nearly an exotic windup without a toss, until the last stanza anyway; the clutter of negatives and disjunction forces forward a sound-structure one dimension of which is signalled in the title. Lots of work for the sound of sense to do near the (knife)edge of sense and then it's all turned toward that ultimate (knife)point as early as line seven: beyond that an apparent need to resolve the Odi et amo. That is, there's lots of work for that last image to do. Suddenly. Stick 'em up.

So much lyric so far in pURL, wonder why. Wonder wonder wonder who. . . .

Less than thrilled. But entertained. Hard to vote--that's what it feels like--with poems in isolation like this, so few so far, how to and why judge at this (knife)point. It will do.

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