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Adam Moorad
Review of Solution Passage
from Jimmy and Lucy's House of "K" 8 (January 1988): 12-20

Scenic wayside

                                                  red-headed pheasant
                                                  roadrunners (?)
                                                  magpies
                                                  sea gulls

Boise = two instant replays
            one VW headlight (out)
            one roomlamp (blown)
            one interconnecting doorkey (missing)
             several bath towels & cups (mess)
            one stomach ache (Toni)

    so far . .

 

Time was Clark Coolidge exhorted us "go to the Brodey" & constructed word mobiles slanted Solution PassageBeat-wise in the mind—later, "prosoid" contraptions whose "axial armature" rolled through mental regions on a "maze of tracks. . . unwreathed from cross-over webs of railroad intellectuality to become simple main line dignity"— "lonely handwork of self keeping record of self's consciouuness" "bathed in Bong" & splashed with mud. Not to say the work wasn't abstract (or even arty) but—& this is a but you can't overemphasize—his obsession with geology, amongst other things, grounded the work in a reality that had nothing to do with "literature." Even now, steeped in Beckett & Rilke, writing poems called "The Book of During" or "Godard and the Rhapsody of Mention," Coolidge's Beat (not to mention St. Mark's) origins sit close to the surface:

ON THE ROAD

Well, you just have to read and get involved
with things in scribble. The letters
under the mountain, and the wrath vat
turns auto. Will never sour up any
plans by jabbering on. Will whittle
while we run. And in back of it all
the spiral ramp of conversation, higgly-
piggling over hours and starts and landings.
Nobody digs it all better than in
comminglings of flowage, hot off the rocks
back of the batter pen where dimers stand.
And the flesh floats out of the stars into
our upraised tips. Writing means motion.
The hover left behind in the lever jacket,
the car park flap, the inhabited sever.
I was ready to take up amazement and
follow the words.

I5VII82

Coolidge's newest, Solution Passage, collects a mere four years worth of poetry but clocks in at just under 400 pages, an awesome torrent of intention & completion that brings to mind a dream about Michael Palmer Coolidge once recounted in an interview, "a real writer's dream":

I was at his home in San Francisco, and he showed me these typed pages which were the contents of all of his next four or five books. With the title of the book and the titles of all the poems, quite a few pages, probably hundreds of poems. And he showed them to me, and I woke up, only remembering one title of a book. . . . Writing to him I said gee I'm glad I didn't have that dream, about me, it was better I had it about him.

This is not to suggest that the prolificness evident in Solution Passage is the fulfillment of a task given Coolidge in a dream—& I certainly don't want to suggest that these poems were dictated, Rilke-fashion, from beyond the beyond—but I do think Coolidge has begun to accept literature as a task, as his task, in a way he never did before. As recently as l977—in his Naropa talk—Coolidge was defining his interests in terms of geology and music and science fiction and painting; my guess is that today he's more likely to talk about poetic sources.

SHIED WITNESSES

Rilke, give me your paw.
And we will ladder our pain across pointless vasts
striking eachother like Dumbs to the Head.
There is no light in Kafka, there is no mass to you.
You light but do not heat the Dense, or do you
bate? In a turret above your neighboring
countess's farm you switch an arm as if
a broom across the page, and return to
the blinding squares an initial and a date.
You and I a vow primed to meet
the Language meshed enough to hold
what veers but nears.
You will not bear. I will not wait.

But complaint is not my intention—the sheer skill & voluminous good will of this wadded volume's 200 and some odd poems is staggering, a seemingly endless compendium of frozen imponderables & shooting stars, formulaic in its effortlessness if not in its effects & speculations. Much of the book consists of homage & allusion—Lovecraft, Artaud, Hejinian, Burroughs, Melville—the rest is half "Windbag for a dudelsack," half "pureperfect gems / of lucid poetry"—Cool Clarkage all:

And do you wander in a blue stone town,
plain linking own self to mountains, or
with others? Train signal of an anciency,
Jupiter and Saturn rise together. Bare round
powers. How did they lock the stones?

One difference between Clark Coolidge and the poets who followed his lead by following "the endless babbleflow, that began back in Beat America," Brodey fashion, to its "flip side," is that while Coolidge is romantic enough to believe poetry "not just another method for knowing the world," his descendant contemporaries can't get past the fact that language is knowledge, its substance as well as its mode of expression. Lyn Hejinian has written: "The language itself materializes thought; the writing realizes ideas. One discovers what one thinks, sees, says, and as the words unfold the work, the work, directed by form, extends outward." The author of Solution Passage might agree with this in principle but as a definition of writing it's too restrictive to apply to his actual practice; Coolidge, formalist that he may be, is still a student of Kerouac, whose "Belief & Technique for Modern Prose" includes both of the following instructions: "Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea" & "Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists in mind" (& I want to remember to say here that Hejinian's "autobiographical" My Life, if less compelling than "October in the Railroad Earth," is still the major challenge post-Kerouac to our understanding of what narrative consists in & what prose can do). Ultimately, the difference between an Hejinian & a Kerouac is acceptance versus rejection of experience as a control in writing—difference that crumples Coolidge over to the Kerouac side of the continuum; for where the poets of the 70s & 80s have discounted the value of all that stands previous to the act of writing, Coolidge—a product of the 60s (if not the 50s!)—sits transfixed, pen in hand. What, after all, is Solution Passage if not a testament to "the flow that already exists in mind," the previous that stands above the page; & what is The Crystal Text (Coolidge's 150 page meditation on a piece quartz) if not a monument to the infinite suggestibility of an impassive, non-verbal world?

DEAR WHO

What do you think of when you write? Usually
I think of nothing, or the carbarns of my youngness.
The noises made by solid things, the pretense of
matching.

On the table is a board composed of two fibers.
Yank and Lawn. Once the rules have been set
then the flats are cut. A carbonaceous schist
on which primrose crystals light.

I think of walking, then I think of a table land.
I think of talking, then I think of never. Water.
Or a planet without horizons.

How could there be such a mild manner
would not realize its weight to settle?
My favorite rule is tobacco.

It's no contradiction that Clark Coolidge, whose faith in language as language comes second to none, gets over the top by dint of an equally strong faith in the power of the extra-literary—be it earth science or music or a "word-activation of the imagination in the act of seeing." Charles Bernstein: "The distortion is to imagine that knowledge has an 'object' outside of the language of which it is a part—that words refer to 'transcendental signifieds' rather than being part of a language which itself produces meanings in terms of its grammar, its conventions, its 'agreements in judgement.'" Clark Coolidge (not diametrically opposed to the above but looking over the fence into another yard: ". . .sometimes it strikes me that poets are the most limited of people in the various areas of external feed-in they allow, they tend to get 'stuck with themselves', trapped in a needlessly single mode of language/thought. . . . Open the sluices." Like Coltrane before him, who called his formalist masterpiece Ascension, Coolidge is less interested in resolutions than he is in the forward push careful thinking allows (& whereas Charles Bernstein's best work gains power by holding to a theme, which also reminds me of Coltrane, & the force Trane unleashed by playing the changes). Coolidge's writing is about & embodies the big journey, om out, through whatever topics one has to go through, on to no destination—"journey itself is home"—or as my dad used to say, "When you're driving there's one thing you don't have to worry about; the road never ends."

Indian        om        
primal sound before creation                     
"if you can hear it, you have the right to speak"

. . .

"write the words you know"
                                                  "there's a moment when you feel
                                                        oh man, I did
                                                                     get hold
                                                                     of a word"

I always thought that to be Clark Coolidge was to play Rauschenberg to Michael Palmer's de Kooning, to erase the "colloidal lightbulb eventua" lit up like a North Star over Michael Palmer's head. Now it turns out that Clark Coolidge has a tungsten brain-halo all his own—& still chases "The lab carrot of everything":

To start out and want to be a writer. . . I didn't
want to be, I wanted to investigate and hold
the discoveries in my hand. I wanted to see
things until their names appeared and led.
It didn't seem that it would amount to a
paper life.
 
It fascinates me now to see if I find things to
speak what shape their sentences will take.

I've been assuming all along, perhaps mistakenly, that Coolidge's work from Space to The Maintains on to Solution Passage & the present has, & has intended to make, meaning (= bringing the world into writing), first by manipulating materials (including specialized vocabs) (i. e., by "considerateing" "that which exists through itself"), & later by memorializing the movement of the mind in language ("because mind in work really does want to think phonetically"). Whether Coolidge's long-standing desire to work "straight through" & not stop ties in with the above, however, is another Q & A altogether, as is any determination of the value of that endlessness—for Coolidge himself & for the reader. If you invest enough power in the act of writing can your attention create meaning from scratch inside the work or does it still have to stream in from outside (or both or neither)—& what happens when you substitute a rock for Neal Cassady? How far can you get & how far should you go? Or as Larry Eigner once put it (in reference to work of yours which pushes the other extreme): "Nothing can last forever, of course, or anyway nothing very meaningful can, and so how long might or should anything endure, any one thing, or be expected to, or be prolonged, is one of the great questions of these modern times."

 

SOURCES OF QUOTES:

Clark Coolidge, "The Road Log," Big Sky (#3, 1972) ("Scenic wayside. . .") C. C., "Brodey Notes," Blues for the Egyptian Kings by Jim Brodey (Big Sky, 1975), inside cover ("go to the Brodey"). C. C., Quartz Hearts (This, 1978) ("prosoid" & "axial armature"). Neal Cassady, The First Third (City Lights, 1971), p. 104 ("maze of tracks. . ."). Allen Ginsberg, Indian Journals (City Lights, 1970), back cover ("lonely handiwork. . ."). Brodey, "Unemployed Tunes," Blues . . ., p. 20 ('bathed in Bong"). C. C., "On the Road," Southpaw (vol. 1, #1, Fall 1985), p. 7. Barrett Watten, "Conversation with Clark Coolidge," Stations (#5, Winter 1978), p.12 (dream). Solution Passage, p. 190 ("Shied Witnesses"). Philip Whalen, "Life and Art," On Bear's Head (Coyote, 1969), p.218 ("Windbag. . ."). Jack Kerouac, Mexico City Blues (Grove, 1959), p.63 ("pureperfect. . ."). Solution Passage p. 295 ("And do you wander..."). "Brodey Notes" ("the endless. . ." & "flip side"). C. C. et al, "Four Responses to Sven Birkerts," Sulfur (#19, 1987), p. 151 ("not just another. . ."). Lyn Hejinian et al, "For Change," In the American Tree edited by Ron Silliman (N. P. F., l986) p. 487 ("The language itself. . ."). Kerouac, "Belief & Technique. . . ." New American Story edited by Donald M. Allen & Robert Creeley (Grove, 1965), p. 269. Solution Passage, p.184 ("Dear Who"). C. C., "Larry Eigner Notes," The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book edited by Bruce Andrews & Charles Bernstein (Southern Illinois University Press, 1984), p. 227 ("word-activation. . ."). Charles Bernstein, "The Objects of Meaning," The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book p. 60 ("The distortion. . ."). C. C. & Paul Metcalf, "Correspondence," Stations, p.29 ("Sometimes it strikes. . ."). Basho, Back Roads to Far Towns translated by Cid Corman & Kamaike Susumu (White Pine Press, 1986 (actually "the journey itself home" in this translation). "Clark Coolidge, Notes Taken in Classes Conducted by Charles Olson at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, August 1963," Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives (#4, Fall 1975), p. 51 ("Indian. . ."). "Brodey Notes" ("colloidal. . ." & "Lab carrot. . ."). C.C., The Crystal Text, (The Figures, 1986), p.29 ("To start out..."). Larry Eigner, "Approaching Things...," The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book p. 4 ("considerateing"). Charles Olson, Causal Mythology (Four Seasons, 1969), p. 2 ("that which exists through itself"). Robert Grenier, "Hedge-Crickets Sing," The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book p. 19, ("because mind in work. . .". Kit Robinson. "Clark Coolidge," 1979 80 Langton Street Writers in Residence, p.38 (quoting C. C. saying "I ve always worked straight through" & "Why stop? Am I going to stop breathing?"). Larry Eigner. "Not Too Fast, Either / (So Does Time Much Matter?)," Jimmy & Lucy's House of "K" (#2, Aug. 1984), p. 43 ("Nothing. . .").

 


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