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John Hyland

 

 

For reasons I can’t quite recall, I found myself, some time in the last year, rereading Aristotle’s Poetics. And as I began to make my way through the strained logic of those pages, I came across a strange line. It struck me—and still does—as absurd. Occurring in the sixth chapter titled “A Description of Tragedy”—but the tragedy here seems more than simply descriptive—it reads: “song is a term whose sense is obvious to everyone.” Something inherently hierarchical informs such flippancy; something deeply problematic and unexamined resides here.

Without falling into a rehearsal of the assertive categorizing that is the Poetics, I’d like to point out the context for this seemingly insignificant line: Before stating what “is obvious,” Aristotle declares “song and diction” as the “medium of representation.” Diction here is “the arrangement of verses,” and song is “a term …” etc. The equation here is obvious if not worn—but also irritatingly often the case.

All of this is to say, the notion of song informs much of my work lately. (In another project, titled Song Notions, I am trying to write what occurs in a lyrical space haunted by and tangent to song.) I’m interested in the ways that “song” functions as a poetic principle. “This is Not a Song” seeks to eschew such Aristotelian logic for “arranging verses” while still developing a lyric-informed space. As I wrote a few years ago in a series of meditations: “This is not a song. This is me singing, though. Liquid notes/intrude the air around me.” And it is this possibility of singing without song that at times holds but more often eludes my attention.

Often disembodied, “This is Not a Song” is preoccupied with sound as both an organizing principle and a signifying element. Recently I have been reading the work of Edward Kamau Brathwaite, and in his 1979 talk History of Voice he says that then recent Caribbean poetry is “based as much on sound as it is on song”: This accurately describes one of the primary concerns of this sequence. I’m interested in sound relations that move not beyond per se but away from questions of prosody; the internal sonic, not to mention semantic, resonances of a given word or phrase often determine the external arrangement of these “verses.”

Several years ago, an editor I respected told me that my work was too emotively self-conscious. While I’m still not totally sure what that means, I think a similar observation could be made here, if that makes any sense. But I’m no longer convinced such an observation is a bad thing.

Of course other concerns lurk and assert themselves here, but most crucial to this sequence is the particular fact of those poets who are often, if not always, singing within me.

 

John Hyland

Still River, MA

21 April 2007

 


 

from This is Not a Song

 

(x)

What is image

or sound from

 

the outside

the outset—

 

another’s glare

or utterance—

 

relief of another’s

tongue, nothing

 

or all between

quotation …

 

Or only this

as I

           that I

call my own

           disclosed

           abandoned

stratified if listless

glance. Flare

 

if inward

then not

 

also bent,

bending

 

beyond questions

of the seen

 

what trails

sun-marked or

 

tinged with

disruption.

 


 

(xi)

To arrive late

as if early

were to be prized

 

as if to be

world, unfettered

or lit,

 

were pure fact

of syntax

measured, waiting

 

—to weigh the self

against a self

perhaps another …

 

All here,

there

in handy basket

 

in buried coffer

marked as this

assumed as that

 

after or before

some unquantifiable

brush or rush with

 


(xii)

Often to forget is to recall

the overlooked and out

 

this second-story window:

just sky traced and tempered

 

with what is sought and sought

again.

 

           Other poems

to live in, to begin—

 

never to finish, never to finish—

concerning sky, a kind

 

of lucid forgetfulness,

a returning

 

to what’s unwritten.

This is a poem to read

 

before leaving this vanquished city,

where I heave my quiet at the world.

 


(xiii)

Not home but desire

as in inter—

 

but what emerges is not a question

of the new or the now.

 

The broad scope postpones

the queried line, the smear.

 

Nothing in isolate—

it’s all impossibly

 

or probably likely

on the verge of here.

 

Morning’s historical lens

busts or mends past

 

boundaries of world,

visions of this

 

opposition lacerates

permissions of

 

limits still intercede,

excoriate unification.

 

 

(xiv)

—and up

into sky

 

to become

look like

 

cloud

to clamber

 

about

sky

 

grasp

a new

 

see

noise

 

image sense

wind (sure)

 

descend

less

 

a shift

in air

 

to be

a verb

 

as rain

(a rain of)

 

then send

word

 


(xv)

Nothing but what happens between

slips into prosody

 

I suppose, perhaps

I am a drawn point, a focusing of

 

while birds turn in wind

while I think to say yes or

 

enough with yes enough

with if this if that then yes or

no I think not, and thank you.

*

To where some possession

might return, might stay—

 

might exclaim crude ligature

burnished with if emptied of

 

stained world in edge of

mouth shut by its own delay.

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