22.6.06

HOW MANY OF YOU ARE YOU? Philip Jenks

1930

Black minds. A municipal undertaking
Work Progress Administration it widen
Sick White Magic. Engraved, segregated.
Second Ward (a) Negro Elementary
Also grab it known as "annex". Invasion.
Lady Eleanor she show up she herself
Dedicate the Segregated surgery
On the 1925 dilapidate
Dilate the pupils
"New Deal"
White Avenue

*
"Everyone looks the same in a coal mine."
Utopian impulse, intentions bested by accretion
Of time. The same old new deal,
"other half" and have-nots.
Can't tell slavery slant.
*



A poetic sequence alongside a series of black and white photographs taken by the author, a poetry and investigation of place and surely what also makes the young poet. Excerpted here is the first poem in a series of 12. 'Can't tell slavery slant' seems a direct echo/response to Dickinson, where there is no room or time-notwithstanding for seeing slant, but only as what it is. This restrospective does this, illuminating a small town, in the wider scope of so many small town America's, and the change of/in the post-segregated south, and its inhabitants and the suprising ability to produce music or the music of and in the line in such places for those of us who are so searching.

Here is the poem which places the title, HOW MANY OF YOU ARE YOU?:


Bats

How many of you are you?
I told you, you should see where I was sitting
To see the show.
This is it, sunlit, straps, nest, and bottle.
Apocryphal window,
But oh it certainly is true.
"And Also You" watches the Power Plant
Consumes poison for the venom of dawn.
Protect Nature charged with ions
Enfolds with flood of bats.
I left some food for you to share
In a white container to the far right.
Encircle and become left.
There's a mattress to crash on too,
Blotted with sun and one question:
How many of you are you?



And, How Old Is It? takes to task the presumed witnessing of an old tree, and where reverberations are still felt over a 100 years later, where, 'the/ Tree surrounded. Stuck condition. Civil War is/ Circular looking glass, it's made of guns and/ Cash and of industry. The ground it soaks the blood and does not care. An energy that/ Is itself, unconditional condition




This is an interesting series which also includes other text in way of a letter detailing a strange and compelling dream of a Captain William Porter Wilkin of the West Virginia Cavalry written in 1863, to his wife presumably still on the other side of the water.

The pictures throughout, all seem bleak and wanting, do add in this way to the whole piece and this is also where the young poet comes in, turning ordinary experiences and daily secretings in such places from the realm questioning and inquiry toward the philisophical, one small town becomes so many small towns, where 'Confectionary keystone/ is epicenter, is more'

2 comments:

Marci Nelligan said...

I had the fortune to exchange comments with Philip during the writing of the Dusie chaps, and he is as interesting and erudite a critic as he is a poet. How Many of You Are You? packs a considerable wallop in its 25 pages, exploring the ways in which identity—of people and place—is a composition of exterior and interior, of perception versus intrinsic structure or being.

I find the interplay of word and image to be particularly interesting here, where a photograph is somehow more suggestive of absence or disappearance than of presence. This ghosting permeates the book, where the diction of the speaker slides and traverses, where we can never be sure of the significance of any particular building or image, or who, in the text, is “showing” it to us. I think Jenks plays with the idea of what we share as people inhabiting specific and generalized space, providing new ways of looking and understanding, and layering our sense of what IS. So even, for instance, when we encounter what seems to be memoir, it is never one person’s account, never really just about one town, one tree, one church. It becomes instead a shared record, echoing the question asked in the title. There’s lots of room in this work, “food for you to share/in a white container to the far right; plenty to think about.

Scott Glassman said...

I've always had a revulsion for the people, places, and things which marked where I grew up and where I spent my awkward high school years. But single-handedly, this book has made me re-evaluate that stance, suggesting that there is something powerful and enduring and emotionally valuable about the territory in which we become who we are. And this includes the structure of buildings and personalities of the people who surrounded us in those places.

I have a sense that the people Jenks re-humanizes for himself and for us (Wilkin, Bobette, Crazy John to name a few) were an infinite part of the structures themselves, burned onto his memory, and requiring significant attention vs. being set aside as window-dressing on a past, or shallow quirky anomalies of the landscape.

Photographs are the perfect departure points for this documentary-style revisitation that really succeeds in breathing considerable psychic weight into people the reader has never met. I get the feeling that it is a postmodern Spoon River of contemporary townsperson lore. Spoon River meets elements of The Wasteland, perhaps? The decay is striking, and cannot be ignored.

It's challenging within 25 pages to get us to care about people and places so specific and personal to the author (and seated in varying degrees of the past) but Jenks pulls it off. The way he gets our buy-in, I think, is through his fast-moving mosaic technique, where the language of specifics is crashed together, mangled, and allowed to sit deteriorated together in the poem. A yard sale, if you will, where gems can be found where you least expect them. Analogous to the dilapidated structures he presents alongside the poems.

A revealing line for me was:

An energy that

Is itself unconditional condition

Places house the energies of whatever people happen to inhabit them, across time. In this way, location and dwelling is "unconditional". It bestows its collective energy, its joining occasion, equally over everyone. Dwellings (and towns themselves) are the great unifiers in this regard. Though I should add "dwelling" or "town" seems indifferent to whether those inhabiting energies are hostile or benign. Benign (and often funny) though from Jenks' point of view.

Across from the gothic mansion photo, Jenks writes, "Imagine every single event that has taken place here. This is what I meant by the 30,000 of it." As if to say this is his "Of being numerous," his attempt to capture that sense of multiplicity, how we pass through like a stream. In a constructive, caring light, I should emphasize. That while we pass through, we are recipients of a unique and timeless empathy, a location-born intimacy. Nostalgia is the after-effect of such intimacy. Again, on the positive end.

Jenks goes a long way toward answering in the affirmative this question by Gaston Bachelard:

"Transcending our memories of all the houses in which we have found shelter, above and beyond all the houses we have dreamed we lived in, can we isolate an intimate, concrete essence that would be a justification of the uncommon value of all of our images of protected intimacy?"

Yes, this chap seems indisputable proof of that truth. Furthermore, the images and structures don't have to be houses per se. They can be any landmark that has brought people and events together. A tree or ladder or a set of railroad tracks.

My favorite of these poems might be "Kill You Power Plant" which is a strong indictment of widespread ecological deterioration and disregard that permeates many parts of America.