Black. Star. Pieces.
—for Rosmarie Waldrop
The gathering of parts to their parts, will there be gathering of parts? Time, in a word, reading. As in, where did the song begin? Go on. Singing the terrible truth of the world, a griot through an open window. Something happened on the day he died, I can’t answer why. Now the turntable’s got a scratch on. Go in. The face at face value. Hair blond, eyes blue. Is a girl with a dream disorder. Adjectivally, she’s a bomb. As real as thinking wanders a threat in the word center, when the poppy is high, when the solider is high, one tin soldier riding through the war.
Ague, my dear, my aging. Combing through the records, finding hair. The what was a bomb with his name on it. Go over. Rebel, Rebel, or Rebel Yell™, everyone’s immigrant kestrel. It was a birthmark, a Blackhawk, a thirsty Hank, and she was a tall glass of water. Cup, bowl, saucer, full. Parts remain standing under barometric pressure, singing at the bottom of the pool. Test one and one, two, three. What’s the element you’re standing on. I loved David Bowie, the early years.
In the areas of privacy watering is a virtue. Lake, river, your own pool. To stand on a lawn for a time making a difference. Exclude the middle and you leave a brown patch in intimacy. So much for the blond. So much for the shrubbery, which remain on the boundaries of attention. What was her song? Pleasure in words, all in letters. Full of leaves the spirit rose, deity for a different war. To shift one’s view and see marigolds in a sentence. What lawn, whose grave. Everything on a map is private.
From an open window a sharp object appears in the form of a stick. Retinal blockage, ouch! Now it’s a chainsaw, a ripping figment. When awake the world’s shapes a pointed sound, the annoyance or joy is palpable. When asleep it is something in the shrubberies. I cannot recall, in the center of it all, in the center of it all, the roving eye is one. I can tell you too experience the ontology. Small facts of eyes, hair blond. With others a gathering, mistrust, midrash, an aria without a purpose versus blackbirds falling from the ash at morning coffee to announce the sky is real, a really sharp object.
To come apart in pieces, segments, sepals, say axle, lawn job, cone, hat, fact. The mouth requires oil so I give it love. No thing less than one thing or more. Everything in the black box. Between you and me and. Very uncomfortable with the neighbors observing the covenant. Present tines. There’s Doug with the bill in his rake describing propriety. Property. I’m not a gangster but I’ll water what I want to.
Modern living is getting the real news in pieces. Something happened on the day he died. Steps of a private language coming to seem shared. Like watching rings of Saturn extend in water this time of life. Vague glove of randomly reaching out the mouth. Grammar milk. A black box. Speech rises to meet the words, sometimes in synch, sometimes to stanchion time. To pass over this silently seems a pity. Too much song in the falling leaves. This one, that species. Each in the strange center of their all. Let’s give it “The Finger” and hope for coordination.
The arboreal imagination’s rocking hard at dawn. Chestnut, live oak, aspen grey. Fluttering as falling. Bombs and Steves. Hard is who’s looking at the problem. The wind comes up from the periphery. Got’s a covenant. Packing heat. Women kneel and smile. Eagles in my dreams. Why a tin soldier at dawn is a house of cards, and the sky, which is fulsome with prisoners, is a curdling rebel yell. Particles of sound, segments, hands, Ziggy time that resembles too much gunfire. Duck!! …
… if ever too much language, brains receptive, too receptive, oddly open-hearted. I do not know why, so erupts. He trod on sacred ground. The sleeping surface of everything waiting to sing. On the day he died juniper flames and blackbirds gathering at dusk. I can’t answer why. Curves to the apple, they persuade the sky that gravity’s really real. Neither one nor the other nor of a brother. He said drive, drive through the large pine, so I crashed. I desires a plot but gets a lazy private, pirate, hard is who’s looking at the pistol. The body’s a fruit about to give. Mobb, a crowd with a bomb in its name. To matter for eternity, whatever that is.
Something connective from out the window, a blue plug of air I swallow to breathe. The image arises as the reading of meadows. Without guns, the air began to clear. Never go anywhere you can’t live. To return to the center of it all is what makes it work together. Peace in pieces, words. Piracy’s stealing what’s common. Everyone with an apple on their desk. Green? Red? Flecked already with death? ,,, a Cameo! David Bowie, and the unseen griot!!
The plug is the wall’s extension to multiple realities, rooms. I could say I feel enclosed but I’ll settle for please stop touching me. Beyond privacy is a need for an open window, this is what drives us to war, meaning the Jeep™. He trod on sacred ground, he cried aloud to the crowd. Women kneeled and smiled. I can’t answer why. There is no touching the book inside the black box. If I were you and you were me I bet you’d try it too. Curiosity, cat hair. On hearing birds a wing appears, its music keeps us, sometimes safe. There’s a rhythm to such expression rustling in the pines outside my window. Ours.
Mini-interview with Matthew Cooperman
HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?
MC: I was a student of Ed Dorn’s at CU Boulder for my master’s in creative writing, in the late 80s/early 90s, but before that happened I remember the first time I met Ed, on a blustery December day in 1987 at local landmark Tom’s Tavern. I had finished my BA out east at a fancy liberal arts institution (Colgate), I missed Boulder (my junior year at CU), and so, after, a few years cooking and traveling, and pretending to be a writer, I returned. I was mostly anxious to talk to him as a satellite of Charles Olson, and about his book Gunslinger. I had written an honor’s thesis on Olson’s Maximus Poems my senior year of college and this had led to the discovery of Black Mountain College, field poetics, the exigencies of breath, yada yada. A vaguely assured sax player, this biological index of the breathable line somehow made sense to me and was responsible in no small part for my beginning to write.
And so there I sat, as so many had before, wanting some Black Mt. transmission, while the grease from a Tom’s Tavern hamburger dribbled down my chin. Ed was charitable, even chatty, and he had this fantastic stentorian voice, this equine face. It was enough to quicken my sense of legitimacy. I hoped too that a conversation with Ed would brighten my future (said plans for attending CU’s CW program). I remember distinctly the rise and fall of that lunch, and a gesture that would later seem emblematic. Somehow we were talking about Richard Brautigan, and I got to calling him a lightweight. Ed pounced on my judgement, both as a defense of a friend (which I, of course, didn’t know), and as an articulation of poetic integrity—Brautigan’s, his travel in doubt and dream, his political commitment against Vietnam, his axiomatic San Franciscan identity (where Dorn knew him), his comic brio in diagnosing the difficulty of daily living w/American hypocrisies. I was sobered by the session, but more importantly struck with the seriousness of poetry—with Ed’s seriousness, even if he was funny—and the manner in which one inevitably read as a personality. Ultimately, Ed as a teacher offered a kind of poetic integrity that stood outside of any school. A loyalty to history, to ‘istorin, Olson’s “finding things out for yourself.” He suffered no fools, including himself. It is a habit of self-examination I try to carry to this day.
HFR: What are you reading?
MC: DMZ Colony, Don Mee Choi, The Problem of the Many, Timothy Donnelly, Dark Traffic, Joan Naviyuk Kane, A Treatise on Stars, Mei Mei Berssenbrugge, After Lorca, Jack Spicer, and Washpark, Tyronne Williams / Pat Clifford, all for my current Grad Poetry Workshop, oh, and Carmen Gimenez Smith’s Be Recorder & Christopher Salerno’s The Man Grave, those for my undergrad Intro to Poetry. Near the end of the semester, it’s all I can do to keep up. But other slower reads, I just finished Barry Miles extraordinary biography of Allen Ginsberg, and am rereading Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus alongside the wonderful thematic biography A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning, by Robert Zaretsky.
HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “Black. Star. Pieces.”?
MC: “Black. Star. Pieces.” is a kind of durational homage to Rosmarie Waldrop, Robert Creeley, and David Bowie, whose works all have left a deep impression. More specifically, it is a procedure of “reading through” Creeley’s masterpiece, after reading Rosmarie Waldrop’s Some Pieces (O’Clock Press, 2015), itself after Creeley’s Pieces (a book that’s been so instructional to me), at the moment David Bowie died, listening to his spooky final album Black Star, in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election in 2016. Writing as grieving.
I’m actually working with an artist (and poet), Peter Richards (Helsinki, Nude Siren, Oubliette) on a collaboration with the poems, which emerged from a feeling of a need for a visual score for such language, a war score to the characterology of the poems. Peter’s stunning drawings fit the bill. “Black. Star. Pieces” is the final piece of a tryptic called Time, & Its Monument, which I’m just finishing.
HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?
MC: the atmosphere is not a perfume it is odorless will be the next book to come out with Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press, in 2023. The title comes from Whitman, who is one of the tutelary spirits of the manuscript. An extended ode project, the poems—in their various configurations of apostrophe, atomization, song, dialectic, praise, citation, ekphrasis, eucharism—address and attempt to neutralize the personal and cultural dis-ease of 21st c America. Another decade long project, as is my method, it seems.
I’m also deep in a scholarly book on Ed Dorn that I’m hoping to gather into submittable shape this summer. A bunch of wonderful collaborators in it, I had the opportunity to really plunge in during 2019/2020 when we (my wife, the poet Aby Kaupang, and our teenage daughter Maya) had the miraculous good fortune to spend a year sabbatical on Maui. The working title’s Ed Dorn: Empire’s Occasion and the Problem of the Poem, and comes out of my thirty year involvement in his work and legacy.
HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?
MC: I’ve been thinking a lot about social poetics—a poetry of the socius, the polity—but also a poetry that engages the social sphere in myriad ways. That might be in public, so to speak, actions, interventions, guerilla theater, the refreshment of a Fluxus moment. Or it might be in helping people effect a common cause, platform, or strategy, as in the Occupy or Black Lives Matter movements. Or the more general but pervasive way in which poetry quietly works as a counter-commodity in the social, disrupting semantic “clarity,” to be sure, but more importantly in this difficult time, providing content, new content, new voices, in a time when social media or news bickering stands in for “the news that stays news.”
I’ve been reading Mark Nowak’s new book of essays, Social Poetics, and he outlines a number of examples of ways in which poetry can act as a counterforce, or counterfactual experience. One, I just mentioned, as community action. Nowak created an organization called the Worker Writers School that helped, on the one hand, provide legal and social services for low-wage workers in New York City, and on the other, develop an open monthly workshop where food service workers, taxi drivers, home health aids, maids, cashiers, custodians and the like, could come together and use writing to express and imagine their lives. A corollary thing he really stresses is deconstructing the workshop model, its bump on a log aesthetic silence, and how in prisons, low-income housing centers, neighborhood writing centers, etc, a more broadly construed poetry (and method of teaching it) might catalyze new voices, offer solace and/or agency. And that helps break down the implicit class and racism of the academy. Or energetically moves poetry out of its silo tendencies.
Another inspiring example is in the work Chris Martin is doing with the organization Unrestricted Access, which he-cofounded. He’s a wonderful poet (the just out Things to Do in Hell; Becoming Weather; American Music) but also a visionary educator who helps neurodivergent students transform their lives through poetry. Unrestricted Access brings language—and the adaptive technology needed to express it—to populations, mostly autistic, who traditionally lack means of expression. Near to my heart, as our daughter is on the autism spectrum. Again, bringing poetry out of the classroom and into new settings, therapeutic settings that produce change, provide agency. And the work that they’re doing, now in partnership with Milkweeed Editions, publishing a neurodivergent series called Multiverse, is really inspiring.
Watching the explosion of Zoom readings happen over the pandemic really illustrated how important poetry was to people, and how connective it is in this social sense. A word that keeps coming up here is access. As long as one can provide the technology needed for people to express themselves, poetry provides a necessary social and aesthetic congruence.
Matthew Cooperman is the author of, most recently, NOS (disorder, not otherwise specified) w/ Aby Kaupang (Futurepoem, 2018), as well as Spool, winner of the New Measure Prize (Free Verse Editions, 2016), the text + image collaboration Imago for the Fallen World w/ Marius Lehene (Jaded Ibis, 2013), Still: of the Earth as the Ark Which Does Not Move (Counterpath, 2011), and other books. A poetry editor for Colorado Review, and Professor of English at Colorado State University, he lives in Fort Collins with his wife, the poet Aby Kaupang, and their two children: matthewcooperman.org.