Saturday, July 25, 2009

I've started reading Tony Lopez's book of prose poems, 'Darwin'. The book itself doesn't attribute any quotes, but I assume it's made entirely of quotations. I recognized a quotation from Charles Darwin early on, then one or two others, as well as other passages that look certain to be from him. There are news reports, including some on another Darwin, the "back-from-the-dead" canoeist John Darwin, who faked his own death at sea in 2002 but walked into a London police station more than five years later. I also spotted a quote from J.H. Prynne's recent book on Wordwsorth. So we have Darwin's writings framing other found language and contemporary references. As you read, you spot repetitions, and the self-referentiality this creates gives you, as reader, a framework to latch on to; so the pleasure (which it is) comes from the language-world that the writing creates. It's a collage that has the effect of placing human activity into the larger framework of evolution and of physical natural processes. For example:

"Something so far unexplained is cutting off the whales' food supply in the Arctic circle, where the ice is retreating at an unprecedented rate. Appollinaire proposed the abolition of syntax, the adjective, punctuation, typographic harmony, the tenses and persons of verbs, and verses and stanzas in poems. The collapse was in the perception of artificial intelligence by government agencies and investors. We went on, the car wandering all over the muddy road, and Gertrude Stein sticking to the wheel."


I thought initially, that this work was similar to Lopez's 'False Memory', but re-reading some of those sonnets, I realised the effect is very different. The method of constructing the pieces out of quotations tends to foreground the form. The sonnets are quicker, with more twists and turns, and also I'd say, more lyrical. The prose-poems in 'Darwin' are good examples of that form; with a slower, cumulative build-up and a more expansive tone.

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