“In summer, the song sings itself.
“The perfect man of action, is the suicide.
“But all art is sensual and poetry particularly so. It is directly, that is, of the senses, and since the senses do not exist without an object for their employment all art is necessarily objective. It doesn’t declaim or explain, it presents.
“By listening to his language of his locality the poet begins to learn his craft. It is his function to lift, by use of imagination and the language he hears, the material conditions and appearances of his environment to the sphere of the intelligence where they will have new currency.”
- William Carlos Williams
We got together in Chicago this last Friday night for a reading/release party of “Fragments,” by David Carl. Reading on his behalf, Moshe Zvi Marvit introduced himself thus: “I have been working as a biographer of late, and, after reading Fragments a few months ago, I decided to write a biography about him. When I asked David for permission to do so, he said that instead of answering any personal questions, he would send me on missions in his place. I am reading for him tonight on that account. Later on, I am supposed to meet a girl he used to know.”
Moshe read for about twenty minutes, focusing on a previously selected series of lines that pertained directly to the male and female protagonists in the text. While the characters are somewhat obscured throughout the book by ideas and observations, they nevertheless exist, and, (I’d argue,) ground the book as a whole, lending it a linear course as their relationship with one another develops. By isolating the passages that involve this nameless he and she, Marvit carved out a public place for them; a place in which they might be discussed. He read under a yellow light, the Bitters signage on his left, the audience sitting in a crescent around him on borrowed folding church chairs.
He began at with the first line of the book, “There was no desire for arrival,” and skipping over other lines, his reading traveled through, “…What she calls poetry is certainly an inability to see the world./ over “…Waiting for faces to appear in the window./” and into “…She accuses him of pursuing the accumulation of knowledge. / Outside in the rain taxis sulked in isotropic spirals of isolation. / The ants were winding their way up the leg of the kitchen table. / He dried his tears on the sleeve of his camelhair jacket and fumbled for his hat in the dark as she slumped back against the light. / All one need learn from the past is that it existed. / Capable of infinite subdivisions. / To write down that storm. / If he must bear the burden of location then why not slip between the sheets of an epistemological space? / The toppling mind. / No ambition outstrips the poet’s folly. / His various forms of failure his most marked success. / Whether she should weigh more heavily single words or their combined effect. / What did she know of prisons, other than what the mirrors suggested? / It was the accumulation of layers that accounted for their distortion effect. / Alien genres of familiar forms. / Shared but mutually exclusive disappointments. / ‘Of course, there is something very permanent about death,’ she says. / Half mad from the absence of lists. / Dido’s pyre. / Deranged by virtue of her former cruelties and not to be found among the hungry. / Tumescent words cowering under her typewriter. / The skeletal structure that frames a diverse set of impulses. / The ravenous flow of time. / He wanted to give equal weight to every sentence, to make each one the beginning of what he had to say. / He perfected the art of appearing lost in thought.” And over the course of other passages, Moshe ended on page 30 with “Every word comes grudgingly.”
“Can you answer questions about the book?” someone asked. There were about fifteen of us in the room at that time, the chairs sitting a little more casually now as they had been rearranged in a sneaky succession of shifting weights over the course of the reading. The train of course, our favorite and intermittent guest, came and went over the course of the humming fans and summer heat.
“I can’t answer questions about the book, but I can answer questions about the author,” answered Moshe.
“Are you speaking on David Carl’s behalf?”
“Are you impersonating David Carl?”
“I have a question,” a poet said. Having once been a resident of the Green Lantern, she’s born witness to its various stages of development. “There is a quote from William Carlos Williams where he says that the poetry is sensual and consequently, that the subject of poetry has to be in the Objects. Not ideas. That the resonances come from the feeling of objects described. It strikes me that this book starts with the ideas. Do you think that’s true?”
“The passages that I chose to read are all about people. I chose to read about the tangible relationships. If people are ideas, then I suppose I’ve been reading about ideas, but I’ve always thought of people as sensual, and physical things.”
“I nevertheless got the feeling that, for the most part, the characters were hidden from view, in a way. That if you hadn’t, in this case, isolated those particular sections, the characters would have been disguised at first,” said another member of the audience. This one standing, one arm crossed over the other. A lurker in the back, I was surprised she’d say anything.
The voice of the poet was carried by another, a young woman with black hair. “It felt to me like each sentence of the book was trying to resonate. I am used to linear narratives, and often prefer them, where there is a stream of short, even awkward sentences, feeble things, that then rise up to a peak—that’s when something clandestine happens.” She shrugged. “In this case each sentence feels like it’s made to be very important in its own right. Each one can stand on its own.”
Another guest, leaning on the wall, a fellow in a plaid shirt smiled wry, “The passages feel like crab grass to me, instead of a tree that is growing straight up, in this book the lines extend outwards, covering a lot of ground. If you try to read it like a tree, you’ll be disappointed, because each sentence is given its own special significance. The individual lines are treated democratically, almost, with equal weight.”
The Lurker: “But I think that the people are important. More important than the ideas, they provide the vehicle for the ideas. I get the sense that there is a real tenderness in the book: a desire to say without saying. i.e. to tell about this couple, but in such a way that not everyone will notice them.”
The poet again: “Yes that’s exactly it. I’m frustrated when something isn’t plane. I like concrete poetry about concrete things.”
Another one: “But what about Joyce? There are many levels in Joyce, and most of them are not immediately plain.”
The dark haired girl, bright eyes confessed, “Joyce didn’t make sense to me until I read him drunk. Then it was simple.”
I said: “What’s funny is that I don’t think we’d have this conversation if David Carl was here. It’s so odd.”
“It’s a shame,” Moshe answered, speaking, no doubt, the sentiments of David Carl himself.
The poet in love with objects: “Joyce is still writing about a man walking around. A man doing concrete things.”
Moshe: “But you could say that it was based on an idea. The whole book was based on a myth. The objects followed.”
That other, The Joycean, still standing, but this time tilted a little at the hips, “Or Steinbeck, say. He writes, I think, on two levels. Only I feel he’s often passed over because his story is so cinematic and simple—people don’t often read into anything.” “Do you think Steinbeck could write today and be as successful as he was?” Moshe asked.
Another again, and having shifted, tilted the other way, “I don’t think so. I think that’s one of the issues in Fragments: this kind of self-awareness about trying to do something in an obsolete genre.”
Another young man who occasionally sports bloomers and plaid socks shook his head. “Once people said that the novel was dead, it became difficult for everybody.”
Moshe: “You can’t write simple stories anymore. Depending on what you want to accomplish, I guess.”
The Poet: “I think you can. I think Steinbeck could still be the same sort of famous writer today as he was then. He writes good stories. He’s writing myths. Simple, concrete stories. The ideas resonate out of them. We still love the Greek myths for instance.”
Bloomers: “What about Raymond Carver? He writes simple stories.”
It went on, pretty much this way, for a few more minutes and my favorite remark came out towards the end of the night, before we celebrated one last hurrah for the peg-leg pirate bbq. I went downstairs to lock the front door and pull in the sign, just as my dear friend and fellow accomplice at the space came at me, his hands waving in the air, in such a way I couldn’t tell if he was excited or horrified “There are so many Writers in there!”