Saturday, April 28, 2012

(A Lack of ) Singing in the Reines

Looks like I'm the first one here, so I'll start the conversation on Mercury.  I'm just going to be upfront and say that I was not a fan of this book (granted, I'm new to Reines and I have an incredibly low tolerance for affectation, so...).  I'm interested in what other people's thoughts are about it, as I am actually finding myself at a little bit of a loss of things to say.  This book is pretty blunt; Reines says things straight out here.  It's interesting to me that she so often evokes poetry itself - the art or non-art of it.  Over and over, these poems call attention to themselves as being poems.  Through the conversational style broken up into line breaks instead of the sentences they more sonically evoke.  Through the constant talk about poetry and writing.  Through the "multi-media" aspect.  Part of me finds this somewhat brave, as I am nervous to write about poetry in fear that someone will point to me and ask what right I have to speak of poetry at all.  So kudos to Ariana Reines, I guess.

I think this book demands to be talked about by separating each part.  So I will just add a few brief comments for each section:

1.  Leaves:  If this book is in some ways a construction-deconstruction of poetry and the poetry book, then Leaves is definitely the section where Reines shows us a typical poetry book before she tears it down.  Titles, reasonable poem sizes, standard line and stanza breaks.  I think there's something to be said for the fact that Reines knows how to put a poem together.  That being said, I think there's a real dearth of interesting imagery and language here, which is too bad.  Question for all of you:  Is this deliberate?  Is she fucking with our notion of what good poetry is supposed to be?

2.  Save the World:  I can't seem to get through one of these blog posts without telling a story, so here we go.  After my little brother and I anxiously awaited the big-screen adaptation of a graphic novel we both loved, Watchmen, we saw the movie on opening day.  It's as terrible as everyone says it is.  Afterwards, I went home and wrote a short poem about my hatred for the movie and the audience we saw it with.  This poem dropped the f-bomb; it got indignant on the behalf of women everywhere.  So imagine my surprise to see that Reines has done the exact same thing here.  I wanted to like this section, as I love when strong writers address pop culture in complex and artful ways, but because Reines had nothing to add to the general discussion of this movie, I had a hard time getting into it.  I realize that's personal taste and not actual criticism.  Sorry; this whole part made me kind of mad.  Probably because I had done the exact same thing when I was a dorky undergrad who didn't know any better. 

3.  When I Looked at Your Cock My Imagination Died:  More questions for you guys.  Is Reines actually trying to shock us here?  Why?  Is it working?  (Note: I don't think it's shocking nor do I think it's subversive, but I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise.)  Or does she know it's not shocking to contemporary audiences and is trying to subvert our expectations of shock value as well?  Is just throwing around the word "cock" a lot make something shocking, or does it actually take all the power out of that word?  Is that the point?  Oh man, I'm talking in circles, here...

4.  Mercury:  Probably the best sense of poetry and image in this series, but I mostly skimmed through it.  This book suffers from being too long, I think, and by the time I got here and knew I had to finish this thing so I could blog about it, I no longer cared to pay much attention to it.

5.  0:  This is probably my favorite section in the book, and I wish it could have been its own self-contained book.  I really admire the way Reines takes a speaker, the speaker's mother, and the speaker's daughter (all of whom are constructions and not actual people, I'd argue, despite the pictures that are clearly of Reines herself) and smashes them together.  There seems to be one primary speaking voice, and yet in that voice, all these generations seem to exist at once, speaking to - or more likely, through - each other.  I'm not totally sure what to make of this section (I might have to reread it a few more times), but I think there's some cool stuff happening about what it means for unhappy women to bring unhappy daughters into the world and the way you have to both cut yourself off from the future and yet cling to it, too.  I think this is directly linked to how Reines feels about poetry and her relationship to it - that her poems are the daughters she doesn't want but which she tries to love.  And that maybe she fails to love the right way.  Again, I wish this had been it's own thing, as I think it needed some space to breathe outside of this large book. 

Anyway, those are my non-academic thoughts on Mercury.  I apologize for the scattered way this is written.  It's the end of the semester and my brain is absolutely fried.


  1. Great post, Beth, and ha--great title too. I too was a bit unsure what to make of this book, and a lot of the questions you asked are questions I found myself asking throughout the read. My biggest question concerned the title and the book's relation to alchemy and magic, and because I am the inquisitive person I am, I read Carina's interview with Reines online ( Reines thinks of the book as a kind of magic spell, which makes me like it more than I did on my first read-through. She says, "I want it almost to feel like water tinged with – faint hint of something – I want it to be readable like that, so easy that you just drink the water, this “tortured water” as Thomas Vaughan rather allegorically describes the substance of mercury, and find it has just enough particularity to relieve you of yourself, and just enough transparency to pass yourself through it, and just enough shine to sting you with yourself, bring you into a heightened state of consciousness." I did feel that this book was very watery, very transparent, and what I felt at times was rather 'thin' writing is, I guess, what Reines wants to feel like a piercing yet ‘transparent’ voice / text entering one’s consciousness and transforming it. The weird thing is that I didn’t feel very relieved sometimes: I felt that there were a lot of intensely self-conscious and sometimes self-loathing moments. The most beautiful sequence for me was the same that Beth mentioned—“Mercury.” The entire sequence seemed to be an airy, numinous kind of poetic thinking that seems to want to knit the whole (fragmented) world of both interior and exterior space back together:

    Saying like is attaching one thing to another in this atmosphere that offers no resistance. Or the word wants to be the drop of mercury in the silver dollar sized plastic labyrinth.

    I in the enormity
    Of this interiority
    Become her.
    My prayer.

    The time of day is now felling some loose light from out of those leaves. They are
    becoming bluer and more solid. The satellite dishes are clear and there.

    “Saying like” as a knitting together of the body and soul, the soul and the world, and the word as a drop of mercury—it seems to me that Reines’s vision of poetry is actually and non-metaphorically magical, and maybe that’s one reason for all the poetry references throughout the book. I think my favorite poem was “We Can Do It” (the one on the back cover) speaks to this as well when it mentions divining “Wisdom in a purl / Of blood takes art / In this open world / You know. / / It takes art / / And you have it.” Art, then, not necessarily as the practice of an art-form but a working with fields of energy, trying to turn the “lead” of common / gut-wrenching experiences into gold, into poems that Reines wants to be transformative and restorative. I don’t feel like these poems always work that way for me, but they’re interesting.

    I wasn’t really sure what to make of the Watchmen and the porn sections of the book beyond surface-level, but I did think, perhaps, that in a book ostensibly concerned with art as magic ritual, a movie like Watchmen would be a kind of commodified ritual, which the poet must exorcise through the process of writing through it / against it. Maybe the porn sections could be seen similarly? I’m not sure.

    Finally, I wanted to say that I thought the presence of pictures throughout the book was really interesting, and I wanted to know what you all made of them. Since they’re so personal and seem to only obliquely relate to the text itself, I’m suddenly recalling that some witches keep a personal Book of Shadows that contains all sorts of stuff: writing, symbols, pictures, etc. that helps him/her work magick. I kind of like thinking of this book as a Book of Shadows, actually.

  2. Great thoughts, Beth! To answer your question of cock/imagination, no, I don't think it's shocking. I may just be jaded, but I don't feel these sorts of these carry shock value anymore. It's been done. Many times. Even Whitman got kinky. However, I also don't think it was meant to be shocking. I read it more as a sort of "taking back" of femininity, and having control over the masculine, if that helps.

    Admittedly, Ariana Reines is a new poet for me also, and, after chatting with my peers, perhaps Mercury is not the best place to start for such a poet. But I’ll do my best with trying to unmask the parts I found intriguing.

    For instance, in much of the namesake section of the book, the pages are filled with a few words, and sometimes even a pictogram or two. I take this to be a newfangled ideogram, in which words are superimposed upon each other in order to take on a new meaning as a whole. Except for “the,” articles have no place here, and they don’t need to exist in this space, as I read it like a violence that is registered through a textual and pictorial block. The “the,” I feel, delineates the boundaries between what is “the” and everything that is not “the” (things are not “a” or “that,” for example: their existence is bound to a very nebulous article, much like the accuracy of a horoscope).

    The nouns here keep re-appearing and redefining themselves, first as a trio, then a trio in the middle of two other trios, and then moved over to border another “middle”. These lines and columns can be read a few ways, but I prefer to read it as a cluster in the context with which I was given (meaning: I see SUN/LEAD/GOLD as a bunch, as its own picture, and read the other trios as what is being pushed up/against said celestial plane) (165). Reines puts in words like HEREDITY and MACHINE and SPIDER, all of which seem to fan out and breed their own WAR against an organic being (166). Later, SUN/LEAD/GOLD is replaced with another “buzz trio”: FUMES/POWDER/ESSENCE, which takes over much like SUN/LEAD/GOLD (also: much like SUN/LEAD/GOLD took over THE HOUR/THE DAY/THE YEAR) (169, 159). This goes on. Machine against organicism. Celestial against science. It is a decaying activity as well as a re-building model. I could even pull an argument against the revolution of a female against male dominance with the swallowing/spitting out effect of the SUN and MOON and CHEMICALS and MACHINE and MODERNITY, and, after reading Reines, I’d say that wouldn’t be too far out of the question. I was just more interested in how the pictograms functioned in the textual space in a way which Pound executed a similar thought differently.

    I was also interested in the pictures in the book, because, you know, everyone likes pictures. I don’t think these were just put in there to make it a poetry book/photo album, but rather to extend the ideogram as far as she could, the superimposition of modernity and ink in art (because, of course, this book was not printed and distributed with ink, but a word processor; the photographs have both digital and developmental origins, but still scream MODERN to me; both have made their way in here). I’m not sure if this was executed quite so nicely as in the passage I’d mentioned earlier, but, again, I’m new to Reines, and perhaps you guys have put a little more thought into the pictures. I know it happened later in the book, but that's when I started to go "oh, hey, pictures.... why?"

  3. Thanks for starting us off Beth, and interesting points from all thus far. I share the lukewarm sentiments about Mercury. It could have very easily appeared as five distinct books. I am wondering about the string that holds them together. Is it the alchemy idea that Thade was good enough to reference? Not sure but it is certainly worth another look through that lens, because the idea of spells, etc. didn’t enter my perception.

    But what did captivate me were the one line and very small poems. (Ah, so maybe they were spell like.) The length of the book would not have been a problem for me if the book had many-many more little poems. They were these gorgeous mysterious stamps in a sea of white. I was so excited by beginning of the Save the World section for this reason. In fact, I am seriously considering this one poem to be one of my all time favorites:

    Picking a lemon
    late at night
    my heart tightens

    Then the next page with the one line:

    I fear rupture.

    Reines was efficiently using her words as brush strokes with such starkness, such beauty, and for me,she really was effectively layering an anxiety that build with each page. The first longer poem about going to the movie in some huge theatre doesn’t break the starkness nor the anxiety, with her short lines and interesting line breaks, it adds a surrealism to the fear. Even when she is seeing: THE WATCHMEN, I’m willing to go along with the ride, but eventually somewhere in the longer poems, she loses me. And if I was willing to go along with a Watchmen poem, I think that is testament to her mad poetic skill-set. I absolutely hated that movie, and had the misfortune of not only seeing it twice but also reading the damn graphic novel. (As Beth, I too have a Watchmen story, but mine centers on a poor relationship choice, lol) So for me I lost hope in the book after that section, but I’m not bitter.

    I realize my preference always skews towards shorter poems, but it seems every poem that was longer than a page somehow took a turn, in which it lost itself, it’s momentum, and my interest. It makes sense then to say that the Mercury section also intrigued me. I loved the bold words thrown up against interesting graphics. It drew me in visually and sonically. I thought the poems that were in columns had an interesting tension when read both ways.

    Lastly, O, was probably my favorite section for many of the same reasons Beth discussed. The baby picture next to the first poem completely twisted the ambivalent you. The effect was jarring in a good way, but also made me wonder if I liked having the meaning shifted or spelled out for me by a corresponding picture. Wonder what you all might think about that. Overall, I like the idea of graphics, photos and one-line poems, but something just didn’t come together for me in Mercury.

  4. so the first thing i think of when reading this book, like thade, is magic. i keep thinking of this book as the point at which ariana decided to get all mystical, because, lets face it, this is extremely different from the cow. and i think it's a massive failure. but also, there are lots of symbols scattered throughout the book, and i know that these symbols are magical symbols used in voodoo practices, or at least i think it's voodoo, and i know this from my time at temple university press, there was a book coming out called 'kongo graphic writing' or something like that which collected these symbols and had pictures of these magic spells and it was really really cool and i wish it were still in my email but it isn't. anyway, those symbols are very similar to the symbols in this book, and i know she spent time in haiti helping with relief efforts, so i'm pretty sure that's where she came across this symbol system. what any of this means, i don't know.

    so now some nice things about this book. the design is stellar. the pictures are very interesting. there are parts that i genuinely like in each section. for example, the poem on the very back of the book i assigned to my students because i think it's cute and fun. i think the cock section was my favorite, and not really because of the sex stuff, but because it just feels like the best writing in the book. also i love love love that weird picture of her. 'shimmer shimmer shimmer' is great and becomes a weird sort of chorus for that section and it's actually something think about sometimes when i see gold.

    so what bugs me about this book is what i feel is its relationship to poetry itself. i get the sense that this book is trying to make an argument for poetry as mystical force, and i absolutely loathe that idea of poetry. i think that is the worst possible way to view poetry and it is the reason a lot of people don't like poetry.

    it also seems like she took the popularity of couer de lion, another book by her, and just ran with that style. i think that was a mistake. the moments when she stops writing in that 'accessible, consciousness-piercing style' are the moments when she actually makes worthwhile poems. so like, 'baraka' in the cock section i think does this, although it's still written in pretty straightforward sentences, but it's more interesting than that watchmen section. actually now that i think about it the sex stuff in the cock section is the least interesting bits of that part. basically i think that watchmen section is far and away the worst part of this book, and this book is way too long.

    ok, i'm going to say this and sound super bitter but i don't know, whatever: if ariana weren't ariana, if she didn't have all the hype which surrounds her, would this book have been published? i mean, i doubt a publisher would have put the money out for such a large book, especially considering how just mediocre it is. plus all the designs and shit means extra $$$. but hey i bought it when it first came out just because of her name so obviously they're doing something right. maybe it's a good thing they put this book out, it's good to see a publisher believing in an artist's work and willing to put out a book by them even if it isn't the greatest book in the world.

    i don't know, these are my thoughts on this book. i actually didn't finish it when i first started to read it last semester, so now i finished it and i don't feel like i was missing out.

    1. hi everyone thank you all for the wonderful comments,

      i am not feeling well at all and have been down with a fever and ear ache since friday so i apologize in advance for my very brief comments

      i have to confess that as someone who never really has cared for poetry i am always doubtful of poets that are really admired in academic of poetic circles--which is a question that Drew raised and that is a lens from which i always approach poets/poetry

      that being said, i was pleasantly surprised by mercury in that despite being a work of art considered "experimental" or whatever--i know some of us dont like putting labels on poetry but i'll just call it what it is--these long poems read as small little ones, with a direct and piercing style. i often find the really traditional/experimental poetry to be in that circle of academic.poetic circles and i just personally dont enjoy that so maybe that is why we dont like putting labels on things anyway

      i read the mercury similar to weinner (i hope i spelled her last name correctly) in that at its core this is a work of art in which the poetess here serves as medium which uses the material of poetry as inbetween world where the substance of what can be transmitted is held used and smeared.

    2. shit i just re read this and it doesn't make sense sorry guys my brain is fried

  5. I see this book as a female body expanding into the global, planet scale. I see this book in relation to Melancholia by Lars Von Trier. Woman’s body is part of the movements of planets, its failure, its alarming vigor and lust… “apocalyptic lust” and “epileptic sun”. Everything is breaking apart. The loop, repeating, shaking, like the phrase “broken radio” indicates, are the sign of failure, sign of breaking. In apocalypse the networks/connection/language are breaking; during Y2K fear, people assumed that the apocalypse comes when networks fail, we cannot communicate, the bank system, the aircraft communication, nuclear weapon are all on their own, spiraling into the failure, death, eradication. In Ariana’s book, the language in the sense of functional communication system is constantly being destroyed. First, by betraying sentences that eradicates previous sentences, there is no coherence, “I don’t know who I am/how did I get here? I don’t know/that’s a lie/not totally” how it keeps modifying itself to the point that there is nothing stable left; “I will let you pass/ through me”, how it captures “you” into her pussy after falsely promising “I’ll let you pass”.
    This destruction is compulsive. You have to read it through like a panting dog. Second by letting the sound eradicate the denotation of each word –y sound in “Parsimony/ are the wicked parsley/in my frizzy hair”. “I loathe you “,sounding like I love you, it can’t be completely say loathe as its denotative meaning. The sound overrides the meaning again.

    However there is this substance-being that disrupts all these motions of destruction:
    (and pussy. They are pretty interchangeable in this poem because they both are absolute.)
    “When I knock our cock/ back and forth in my mouth/ when I wave it like I just don’t care”
    When the cock enters the movement of –y sound discontinues, the poem itself discontinues. It’s ctrl+alt+delete command. When Sun Screen opens with obvious penis image, that’s the moment where everything about “I” is clarified, and what everybody else is saying (communication) becomes stupid. What I’m curious in this poem is that where art stands in this model, because there is another ctrl+alt+delete moment of “I don’t fucking have time to write this right now”, except that it continues in its poetic form “My scythe/flashing in the dark/ My love/rotting on the vine”.

  6. Another form of art in this book that I was interested in relation to Bolano’s story we read is movie.
    Like in Bolano’s story, penis, the COCK overrides the sounds. In Ariana’s book, COCK becomes the absolute in midst of all the media, media of poetry, media of gchat, media of meat/beef, (I’m speaking of her previous works as well) and media of movie (this is the particular media I want to talk about in relation to Bolano).
    Growing up being told sex is bad, or nonexistent, I was relieved to have my genital tucked away; I could pretend nothing is there. It’s a darkhole that I don’t have to think about. While boys can’t do that; the penis is always there, being a weird protrusion. In some way, the COCK in ariana’s book takes a similar stance; except that she has female body through mass media on her side as a weapon.
    “Unless you are in the movie you are not in the movie/ Unless you are in the movie you are not in the movie” this loop reminded me of the loop of the film in Bolano’s work. The repetition makes one realize that the woman’s body is not actually in the film. Film cannot actually absorb woman’s body. Like a archeology like moment in Bolano’s story, the filmis just a medium. Body is an absolute.
    Yet culture will never overcome their obsession with female body in film. This is when Ariana wields her power. “Culture will have her girls/ Look at me, think of me, lick my pussy”. The porn in Bolano’s work makes penis erect. The desire always slips. The absurd quantity of semen sprayed everywhere is physically impossibly. The penis may ache for the girl with huge fake boobs. But “I” am here. My body is here. Come, look, lick my pussy. The male’s gaze become their achilles tendon, and the man with hard cock has to bow to the pussy.
    When Seth described Ariana Reines to be a dictator(which is the highest compliment in his vocabulary) I didn’t quite see what he meant by that. But I think I finally understand.

  7. online poetry workshop on your own personal system (paper copies, backup drives, whatever works for you).
    This site is not responsible for maintaining your work. Periodic backups