Tuesday, September 25, 2012


More than syntax, diction seems all to Jefferson Toal. The syntactic construction of his Arcobat (©_© Press 2012) seems, for the most part, reasonably normative, as does his use of punctuation. The diction is completely out of hand. Syntactic formations are torqued, pressured and at times willfully misshapen, as in the poem's opening line, but the wildness of the poem's diction trumps all: "Sonar go loud heat delocaliser." The line is impacted like incoming wisdom teeth and reads as though a comma was carelessly omitted. But a comma would have slowed it all down, marking a deliberate caesura at a time when the privilege of pause is a luxury wholly unavailable to us. And anything that might seem strange or unusual about the poem is, through its frantic turning, remarkably familiar. The first line again: "Sonar go loud heat delocaliser." The clamor of it, like the moment in "Commission" when Pound writes, "Go out and defy opinion, | Go against the vegetable bondage of the blood." In Arcobat there's no need to call for defiance. Defiance is built into the very diction of the poem, from its opening line onward, such that one is repeatedly blindsided by the poem and relentlessly compelled to feel the violent splendor of a psychotic episode, over and over again. This is nothing so tired as ostranenie, radical defamiliarization, Russian Formalism's bloated old drinking buddy. This is total familiarization, the nerve-rattling hyperfamiliarity and grotesque intimacy of the everyday, the blinding opacities of the everyday inverted and mobilized against the spectacular savagery of the everyday. And the poem moves with a strange galvanizing energy that calls us toward it rather than alienating us from it via, say, some sort of amateur and hopelessly belated misapplication of Brechtian affect:    

Sonar go loud heat delocaliser,
this white nucleic head is ethic; aspic of sweat some
put to flow body lotus, do starglide hit fuser-sight
single deformation of an ashen puma.
Brew several awning batch gasify in aerialist
birth flick, to reattach indigo crew where affected
lot for lot, trembling with white vigour to an end
white collapsing, dribbles of motion from an
anaesthetic mouth. So you gyp a limp fad to glue
new doss to shit, what next. Do group sign, do
arakune subset, do forest, light, bled, yellow,
grill on an optic shin, select first dry image tag
content what is this light punched in, what is this
agitant's pay dirt hyping the cycloid, clutching its
stupid guts like air lyrically denatured, you
headshot that witch digitally sudden. Like
new glass feel like curfew, this
pull back blank chute whiff of anti-codon,
do you outburst thrust while the empties intermix,
they form an arduous breathing queue.
Screen shall flicker does sound.
This is also an agreement behavior, a test miracle. 

If, as Donald Davie maintained over half a century ago in Purity of Diction in English Verse, "the diction of the Romantic poets is extremely impure," then Toal's diction is filthy diction, wondrous for its ability to paradoxically rise to the occasion of Davie's most basic claims concerning purity and diction: poetry not as something that figures language as an unreal reality from which we are at all times alienated but poetry as something that vigilantly alerts us to the perfect commonness of language. Toal redirects our attention to the savage  immediacy of this commonness, a thoroughly intimate but taken-for-granted relation to language that lies dormant in a sort of blind spot until activated by poetry capable of ratcheting up such commonness. Not defamiliarization but total intimacy, state agents already at home in our beds. 

NB: Just now rereading Justin Katko and Mike Wallace-Hadrill on Toal in 2010: "The contingencies of grammar in his verse are plasticised not by the will to distance lyric from speech, but by the will to employ any speech units which might possibly have been: vicious childhood cut-up ploy, hydroponic syntax from the weatherbox of infidels, ham-and-bandage fragments from the sick bay of Anglo-American poetical history, itching phantom glyph discharge on text amputees from a Geocities (RIP) homepage sloughed sideways into perception by the code shell’s dream of the motherboard. Toal’s condensations are set upon the fibre of a fragile intellection, demanding the perpetual retracing of an arching triple backflip into a pre-adolescence affected from the station of unsolicited adulthood (vide 'cosplay')."