“NUNC STANS” : A REVIEW OF PAUL EBENKAMP’S THE LOUDER THE ROOM THE DARKER THE SCREEN

TLTRTDTS_grande

by Alana Siegel

Strum, sun, late light streams, lines the wind…

I give the door a swing, away from the kitchen—my eyes parachute, become the view out from the porch—widening, rising, horizontally settling, embraced by the ripeness of blue. I close my eyes—the full warmth of summer pours down through my body—skeletal, graceful, dumb…

Paul sits, looks out, doesn’t make a sound. His silence is stringent—his instrument an even wave, synchronizing light, sound, and space.

I walk up to Paul, or he walks up to me. Intransitive montage. Shock harmonic. I feel an organism, tuned—an atmosphere formed around his form—built, and listening. I feel like Paul does not so much write poems, but causes language to surround him.

The Louder The Room The Darker The Screen makes me think about the places a person lives, how a person moves through space—how poems are places, and people live in language—the room, the screen, and the door each imply—the action in its threshold: entrance, exit…

Paul has mentioned how his drawn poems came out of moments of pause at his 9 to 5 job, where he would scrawl words in the duration the pause bestowed. I am thinking of the “9 to 5” as a place a person lives, the humdrum, a structure of time and a tone. If poetry could be said to be an art of shaping time, how do you create within a structure of time made prior to you, seemingly restricting your shaping of it—a full time job—how do you not become monkeyed into this fullness, code: dullness?

I see Paul’s drawings as exits, positioned—his poems; illusions, Houdini-like, unfixed—escaping the scale and syntax of the “9 to 5”—how he conceives of the limit of time as a limin, persuades monotony out of its boredom into becoming a likeable drone.

At my desk I sit in front of a xeroxed copy of the Tree of Life. In between thoughts, I look up to its image, half consciously searching it, for how to think further. The Tree of Life is composed of 10 sephirot, aspects through which the unformed infinite becomes known. I look to the 9th sephirah, Yesod, translated as “Foundation,” a consciousness associated with the moon, and the place where thoughts form just before things. The 5th sephirah is Gevurah, translated as “Severity,” associated with judgment, limitation, awe and fire.

I see the “9 to 5,” the unconsciousness of the “9th” rising and pitched to the strictness of the “5th”—alienation of labor mixing with gaps in its power into a weird elixir of dread and reverie. At the closing of the opening poem, “Hell is Now Love,” Paul writes:

if whatever is is bound
to be a little off
and nothing only
comes to so much
however elsewhere
the known goes
a swollen alloy
ends in keening
oily at dawn and
drills to the kernel
stray of repair as
specialties totter
on and everything
is fire

It is challenging to extract passages from poems in this book, especially the two longest pieces; “Hell is Now Love” and “Four Colors for the Based God (b/w Accuracy)”. Extraction is challenging because of how the lines twine. Have you ever seen a beautiful flower growing among many along a fence, and tried to pluck it, quickly realizing that if you did, the whole environment of vines would come down with it? Paul has mentioned in conversation, Louis Zukofsky’s notion of “rested totality.” In “An Objective,” an essay written by Zukofsky, he writes:

“Presented with sincerity, the mind even tends to supply, in further suggestion, which does not attain rested totality, the totality not always found in sincerity and necessary only for perfect rest, complete appreciation.”

There is a completeness to his poems, a solidness of object—a sincerity, compensatory, that fulfills the fleetingness of thought and talk. The two longer poems do not seem to end, but instead depart from the locality of listening which is the page—fly away from it, and you sense they are somewhere else still singing, still being heard—that the wholeness of their form implies an organism—a life independent of you, as reader, or Paul, as poet.

I asked Paul to send me a list of music he listened to while writing his book. The first artist I listened to was Eleh. When I sat down to listen, I was compelled to lie down, turn off the lights, and close my eyes. As I lay on my bed, my toes changed to grapes, strawberries—my hands bananas, my head a honeydew, and every object in my room became a cave. The music mused me into soft absorptions of my body’s imagination of its parts—no harsh hallucination—only easeful sequences.

The suspended hypnotics induced by the music made me think about the power of a drone. A drone is defined as a “harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece.” In our world of barking dogs, cell phone dings, and brash banter, what does sustained sameness of sound induce in the body and the brain?

In TLTRTDTS, there is a candor of continuousness, an earnestness I am likening to a drone. I want to wrench the word “drone” from its immediate association with the war machine, but a nerve in me will not let me—as if there was a subtle tether between the robot constructed to kill, and the music effected to last. “There are two kinds of mindlessness,” I say to myself—an absence of mind, in which one’s intelligence can be controlled by the intelligence of another, however benevolent or nefarious. The second mindlessness is in the order of transcendence, rising above the agency of singular intelligence, one’s own, or any other’s, to a more expansive habitation.

I think of Terry Riley, and the first time I heard him live, how his music was a vehicle, and the audience was witnessing he-who-had-been-given-a-key, turning it, revving wavelengths that streamed above his skill and skulls of the audience—signaling the mind upwards to partake in a plenum—invisible, oceanic, seemingly always there—a massive age and distance suddenly made friendly, flashing intimate, by the music that had met it. In an informal interview I held with Paul on his porch, he commented,

“My experience of sound is that it is an enlarging thing. One of the enlargements of life is a consciousness of sound. And people who don’t have it, live different lives.”

A continuousness of tone inveigles a largeness, but also SHOUTS that sever, strike a bigness made by suddenness. I see Paul’s drawn poems as shouts, mutations, interfering with the helical tightness of his typed poems. When he read at his book release, his intonation wavered from a winged lilting, to a cracking clarion, husky yelling, exalting, imploring. Paul wrote notes prefacing and woven in between his list of music. Mid-letter, he writes:

“i like black, doom, and death metal a lot. venom, bathory, morbid angel, immortal, enslaved, burzum, darkthrone, thergothon, beherit, darkspace, pest, evoken, thou…it’s the grandeur. death to christians, yes, but mainly death to comfortable ways of living.”

I read Paul’s hearing of death metal as a death tool, fashioning mortality, smashing the mirror of monophones, deploring a drone’s oasis, thrashing the very chariot that in its trajectory traced a vastness—foregoing any attachment to a final form of poetry, in order to perform a deeper mimesis of the irony, agony, absurdity, uncertainty, certainty, of the end of your one life inside life that does not end. “It seemed from the program that nature’s whole message was DIE OFTEN,” Paul writes on p. 30. And on p. 123, “Of course it’s forever; how else would it end?”

A hybrid of Comedy and Tragedy ignites the tone of many poems. I am reminded of Baudelaire’s essay, “On the Essence of Laughter,” in which he writes, “In the eyes of One who has all knowledge and all power, the comic does not exist.” I am a neophyte when it comes to studying the traditional distinction between Comedy and Tragedy, though recently I came across a contrast I found compelling; that in Hellenistic Greece, comedians satirized present politics, while tragedians most often wrote from myths of the past, which is why actors wore masks, to conceal the present, and return the audience to distant origins.

I hear Paul’s mentions of “an MP3 left bleeding” or “whiteboard clots” or “Norcal cannabis” existing in his poems as subaltern to the gods of vocabulary he subjects them to, such as “cinerescence” or “melee” or “halcyon.” The miniscule modern things of one’s everyday eye, tokenized for use or convenience, but seemingly obstreperous or irrelevant to the beauty of a poem, loosen from their entitative exclusion, and swell into song, no longer themselves, included by sound. But just as the novelties of the present receive depth from the language of the past, the past and its language is granted audience by the present. He is rolling his eyes at the emptiness of industry while he also sees its products as the sites of needed meaning.

“Nunc stans” can be translated simply as the “eternal now,” “the abiding now,” “the instant that knows no temporal articulation”—or simpler, “standing still.” “Nunc stans” as opposed to “nunc fluens,” “a flowing of time.” In our informal interview, Paul mentioned Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon as being a pivotal text for him. I asked him why, after reading a novel, he didn’t write a novel. Paul responded that “he liked the transitory nature of verse, and the idea of reaching the same dimensions [in poetry as in prose].” Later, he elaborated, “Line breaks are helpful but illusory. Lines don’t really break.”

A couple of days later I read an article, excitedly discussing recent experimental confirmation of the scientific theory called “Rainbow Gravity”, an attempt to reconcile Einstein’s theory of general relativity with quantum gravity, in which

“The color of light is determined by its frequency, and because different frequencies correspond to different energies, light particles (photons) of different colors would travel on slightly different paths though spacetime, according to their energy.”

And furthermore,

“If you trace this process backward or forward in time, you never arrive at a singularity. So, no Big Bang: In neither case is there a singularity—a point in time when the universe is infinitely dense—or in other words, a big bang…The result suggests perhaps the universe had no beginning at all, and that time can be traced back infinitely far.”

I can’t help thinking of the poem as a cosmological construct, our concepts of the origin, or originless nature of our being, and the tension of this mystery of time, performed by the poem—“the line” as symptomatic of our abiding linear time, a belief in a beginning and end, line by line—but regarding “the line as illusory,” an illusion to weigh in on, as Paul does in his enjambment—a frisky, elegant dissent, descent, dancing in unseen turns and twists, somewhere else, yet still dons the mask of a poem, what compels us to say “poem”—the appearance of breaks, pulsing against the line’s endurance. The poem as cosmos, through its veils and valences, begins to be witnessed.

In the cited interview, Paul said measuredly, “Color and shape are supernatural to language…in an analytic sense, not a metaphorical sense…” in referring to his long, and multi-colored poem, “Four Colors for the Based God (b/w Accuracy)”.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 12.43.49 PM

The cover of his book glows in the dark. I forgot that it did. It was next to my bed. In the middle of the night I was startled by this luminous object. I quickly sunk into remembering it was The Louder The Room The Darker The Screen, and my fright felt sanctioned, captioned, and I thought of the soundlessness in outer space, and how these poems so clearly, and passionately, invite me into it.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: