Allen Bramhall Reviews Days Poem (Volumes 1 & 2) by Allen Bramhall
Editor’s Note: While romping through Facebook, I learned that certain poet-teachers assign their own poetry books. I’m not criticizing, or even judging, the practice. But that factoid made me wonder about what would happen if authors reviewed their own books. The tendency, as one of my FB commenters affirmed, would be to go for self-deprecation or humor. But what would happen if an author seriously attempted a review? It’s a possibility to which I was open because, from my own experience of reading my books, I often do not “recognize” who had written those books, or wonder how I came to write such a book. Others would backchannel me that there is something to the idea while others simply scoffed. But what is Poetry, too, but experimenting just to see what happens? So, with this issue, Galatea Resurrects cheerfully inaugurates a new Feature of Self-Reviews. From hereon, dear Author, feel free to submit a Self-Review as much as a review of others. You indeed can take the humorous approach (if I ever did a self-review, it’s likely to be along the lines of this satire-review). Or you can attempt to approach your work as you would others’ books. Hearty thanks to Allen Bramhall for taking up this offer to show one possibility. He noted as he began his effort, “Maybe a frank assessment would happen, taking a distancing stance. What any author plans or intends differs from what they actually produce: that's a natural fact. Let the author speak without defensiveness.”
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(Meritage Press, San Francisco & St. Helena, 2007)
Days Poem, which the author obviously considers a poem, consists of two volumes, both more than 500 pages. Each volume presents a different but similarly colourful cover. Inside each volume we find a lot of words. The words gather in blocks of prose (we all know what prose is). These prose blocks extend from just a few words to several pages. This is what we're looking at.
Knowing the author as I do, I can declare that he intended to write a long work, for as long as the work wanted to go. Jim Leftwich's Doubt, itself a 500 page hunk of prose, inspired the project.
The prose blocks of Days Poem gather in numbered sections. Again, knowing the author as I do, I can say that each numbered section represents the writing of one day. Day follows day. You might see the seasons change as the days pile up.
I read the title of the work in several ways: Days Poem, Day's Poem, Days' Poem, Daze Poem. After acknowledgments and dedication, the poem begins rather jumbly:
dialogue resumes as emphatic tornado, leftover from imagined excuse. see how much remains within the discussion after absurd reaction to the same old ideologue. fridays are mapped, awaiting us. in this engagement, time plays serious games. under your breath, you will want to murmur vacancies, of which few now remain. the laugh of beginning a moment tooled circular and rolling on.
There seems to be no declaration of intent here. No setting keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, the poem just starts talking. The second block of prose, you might call it a paragraph, seems to clarify the previous jumble, or at least want to:
the people listen, working and willful. they want this territory made clearer, to define a poetic place where politics tastes sweeter and everyone has a hand in the harvest. each grape's colours vary interminably. this mundane distinction supplies words to those hardy enough to look for them. friends, look under these dolmen, so radiantly expressed.
Self-reflective author looks to clarify what he has just written, and perhaps muddies things further. That will be a pattern thru out the work.
I have to say that I may not ever have read the work straight thru. Staying the course is hard. That would be true (for me) with most of the great long modern works, like The Cantos, The Maximus Poems, and A. I end up randomly reading bits, sometimes in stretches, sometimes mere nuggets, jumping here and there.
We know there's music in dissonance. Sometimes, or maybe more often than sometimes, music and meaning here makes dissonance too dissonant. Disjointed, disjunctive turmoil, the words bang against each other at times like tectonic plates, if grand images are okay in this review (not sure that they are). I admire writers whose sentences are trim, enveloping processes, playful yet practical. James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Guy Davenport come to mind. The disjunctive element found in Days Poems sometimes sounds like rough counters to such skill. Still, I have my idea of poetry as surprise, that which alerts us out of the ordinary. The leap of thought within disjunction can provide such an alert. But sometimes it sounds like noise.
A curious iconography presents itself with repeated reference to bears, tornadoes, Tarzan & Jane, hobos (the classic American image thereof), Walden Pond, Lewis & Clark, Fu Manchu, and other what we'll call interests. Here is a bit featuring the hobo:
the hobo, slight as any transition, formulates rage and disappointment, a truck crossing statelines with illegal fireworks. laws no longer contain the whole, but parts of the person walking. that stolen pie will mean everything. the hobo snatches it cooling in the window, and all hell breaks loose. loose hell is a modern sight.
Yes, stealing the pie cooling in the window. An American vision that isn't a vision and may not be American. Almost sounds like Whitman.
Days Poem seems to be written in turmoil, albeit not necessarily a malignant one. It looks relentless. Countless paragraphs (or verses) collected into 412 numbered sections make a lot to hold. Is there time for such a book, that can't bring itself to be definitive? Maximus Poems, of course: He said you go all around the subject. And I said I didn’t know it was a subject.
At times, Days Poem offers up set pieces. The following is an excerpt from a longer passage. It could have been titled and presented as a discrete piece:
on a day in 1909, or some such, Ezra Pound writes to Wyndham Lewis, and the course of literature as we know it changed, roughly beginning at Point K or M and traveling a fine curlicue before coming to a Point not yet named. the two great writers divested their impediments for minutes on end, circled to a perspective then roared forth. forth is a country that has never, ever been mapped. Ezra Pound determined a placement or plaster casting of something, then relegated interiour dialogue to the midden heap, plus he wore a foppish scarf. Lewis beget Lewis ideas, farmed a section of maintenance and avoided something for having been sick. the two legends circulated further, looked into friendship, decided on words, and got angry at various matters. death and treacle can both be very slow but not every answer adds up…
The author frequently places dialogue—usually set off by italics rather than quote marks—into the mouths of “characters. In the following passage, an expert speaks:
The author does not know what anyone wants from literature. The author does know that Days Poem wanted to be written, somehow, right from the start. Sometimes I read a passage and midway thru think Yeah, okay, whatev, and move elsewhere. Other passages are warm and make me wonder who the author is.
Re. Allen Bramhall: A diminishing flow of poems, a continuing insistence in watching superhero movies with my son, an increasing interest in the healing, lifebound elation of creativity, and some websites: