Sunday, March 05, 2006


MARY JO MALO reviews

(Beneath the Underground Press, 2005)


I've encountered many poetics pedagogues, but the bottom line is always subjective. We enjoy what moves us, not what we think should move us. Vernon Frazer’s IMPROVISATIONS is my new outlaw book of poetry. It violates every misconception of what poetry and language are -- a deluge of sound and fury, signifying nothing. IMPROVISATIONS, as a narrative of self, other, and being, seems to be meant more for reading than hearing. If you're familiar with his voice, however, you can hear him reading it to you. But, in which order, and with whom? That is the point. Is he speaking in an unknown language, using words that we only thought we understood? I get caught up in his gentle grip, questioning everything, loving the ambiguity and the absurdity.

Phenomenology, epistemology, and the post-modern view of language and self, permeate much of the work of poet Vernon Frazer. Deconstruction of language itself, for the purpose of enabling communication between the poet and audience, only seems oxymoronic.

Projective verse and philosophy of language are a natural fit, and when Frazer so utterly and fearlessly puts forth, he is a forerunner, not of any particular post-modern literature, but as an example of how he, individually, approaches the quagmire of "meaning" in a poetic form. His essence and existence continually outrun one another for primacy. His projective verse subverts my attempt to create any meaning. Follow his flow to the end and see the state of communication, not a state of the union. Has language become a forerunner of meaning? Which style, which medium, font, form or technology is relevant?

What Frazer seems to have discovered for himself is that language whether spoken as spontaneous prosody, or its polar opposite, usually fails as transitive communication. Frazer holds interesting and provocative words as shades of color. What does color mean? His life experience has been deeply contemplated. When he begins to paint with his words, like say Jackson Pollock, he runs ahead of himself, or is that alongside himself? Words are subliminally brought forth from the living museum of his own unique mind. So which comes first? What is essence or existence? Is there potential wholeness of being? Are there any categories, or even relevant questions? Does the manifestation of any collection of words and images have to mean anything at all to anyone? What is the point of communication through art? Is a human being anything other than an instrument of expression? Expression of what?

Even seeing his glossolalia is to grasp the moebius of communication. And then, I'm rendered nearly speechless, an effect of reading aloud his many words: I fade into a numb silence. He understands the futility of most of what passes for talking and writing. The body, the tongue as instruments? The point of poetry? The point of speaking? The point of communication? Everything and nothing.

Spontaneous, obviously. Simultaneity, hoped for. Subcutaneous, definitely.

For me life as art (or art as life, life as life, or art as art) is the body expressing a mind full of words and images, provided by others and projected back into the world of others, each of whom has a mind full of other words and images. Connections are rare and transitory. We behold individual bodies, but we refuse to accept that individual minds are entangled in those individual bodies. We hope we can communicate ideas as if they could transubstantiate into water, earth, air and fire. It only seems that words can take us out of our bodies, into an imagined place of collective understanding. When words become as substantial as the body from which they're uttered, well then, I might believe anything is possible. Strange though, words do sustain me from time to time, almost as if they are bread and roses.

For me, Frazer's work is the improvisation of his life. Many poets are afraid to improvise, afraid to reveal themselves to themselves, let alone to the world. Many poets simply dabble. I feel that in the short span of one's existence, one doesn't have time to dabble.

Vernon Frazer has published eight books of poetry and three books of fiction. His most recent works are the long poems Avenue Noir and IMPROVISATIONS, the now-completed work which he introduced in his 2001 reading at the Poetry Project.


Mary Jo Malo describes herself as a continuing undergrad in the School of Hard Knocks. Her C.V. is that she was born in 1949; in and out of foster homes for 18 years; newly separated from husband of nearly 40 years; proud mother of seven; extensive researcher of world religions and philosophy. She worked as a sales, marketing and advertising coordinator for a manufacturer of large electrical power apparatus. In 1993 she was disabled in an auto accident in the Rocky Mts. of Colorado. Never fully recovered and forced into early retirement, she’s had an abundance of time to pursue her favorites, poetry and philosophy, cosmology and evolution. These days as novice to modern and post-modern poetry, she’s been delighted to discover the Beat and post-Beat writers, among many others. While hoping she has miles to go in her adventure,and appreciating every poet and critic who takes time to talk with her as she seeks to better express her own voice, Mary Jo Malo finds now herself in good company. She is also the host and moderator of Company of Poets, a poetics mailing list/discussion group.


At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to see this getting attention!

--J. Penton


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