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BOOK REVIEW

Matthew Klane
B_____ Meditations
reviewed by
Deborah Poe
80pp. Stockport Flats Press. (http://www.stockportflats.org/meander.htm) Paper.  16. 978–0-9819267–2-8/paper.

book cover



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Matthew Klane is co-editor/founder of Flim Forum Press and publisher of the anthologies Oh One Arrow (2007) and A Sing Economy (2008). My introduction to his work has been through several of his chapbooks: Sons and Followers, Sorrow Songs, The- Associated Press and Being Che, to name only a few. Those chapbooks are as rigorous as they are ambitious, and Klane’s first full-length collection of poems B_____ Meditations is no exception.

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Klane’s meditations pulse with the calculated composition of found language, overheard political tidbits, media noise and poetry. And Klane grafts these elements together with a hyper-awareness of the multiplicity that such contacts produce.

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If you have heard Klane read, you know what he does with silences and gaps. Those silences have an intensely provocative effect on audiences. Klane’s performances require listeners to negotiate those gaps. He requires the same for his readers. The gaps themselves are informative, and the reader is presumably driven to discover meaning within those spaces. In the case of B_____, to consider the gaps or silences between is to consider the limitations of essentialist notions of the body politic that reinforce traditional and authoritative narratives of the hegemonic discourse.

Matthew Klane

Matthew Klane

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B_____repeatedly calls attention to the politics latent in language. The collection is deeply invested in the relationships between language and systems of power. Klane speculates on the influence of propaganda, the use of rhetoric for politically malevolent purposes, the ludicrousness of politics and the (in)ability of expression to negotiate the current political predicament (which under Klane’s microscope often appears radically absurd).
B contains 5 sections: “Specimen Days,” “re Republic,” “World Series,” “Explore Tomorrow Today™” and “Fragments.” Klane prefaces the collection with an epigraph from Whitman:

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If I am to do it at all, I must delay longer. . . .

Incongruous, full of skips and jumps, as is
that huddle of diary-jottings, war memoranda,
nature notes. . . .

Bundled up and tied by a big string, the resolution
and indeed mandate comes to me this day,
this hour. . . .

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“Specimen Days” takes its title of course from Walt Whitman’s prosaic if not somewhat fragmentary disseminations of a particularly fraught time in American history. This is a fitting evocation for Klane. B_____ was timely, arriving at the end of a disastrous eight-year administration. Additionally, a specimen in the OED[1] is both “A means of discovering or finding out; an experiment” and “An example, instance, or illustration of something, from which the character of the whole may be inferred.” Klane’s section title thus nods to the collection itself as experiment. “Specimen Days” indicates the character of the body politic and how as a whole those characteristics may be inferred.

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Lori Anderson Moseman, editor of Stockport Flats Press, designates Klane’s “Specimen Days” formally as a shaping of Whitman’s “edicts into spatial sonnets.”[2] The first of these spatial sonnets, and the first meditation from the collection, is “Now”:

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Now          Washington is within sinews

see in ink*        how a thinking thing develops

                                                aplomb

the answer is. . . .         POWER IMPLANTS

“the center of simple, man”

self or else   [      ]        my well-be

                                                                  nuclei
           inland begins   w/        bosom


*CNN

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From “Now”, Klane constructs an inextricable link between nation states and its people, between the body politic and the bodies, between the public and the private — Washington within sinews,” “self or else,” “nuclei” and “bosom.” The answer for how “a thinking thing develops / aplomb” is sardonically “POWER IMPLANTS” — part factory, part corporation, part silicon falsie, part political leader. The leader is only powerful because he’s been implanted in the administration. “Now” suggests also read a vital conflict between text and image. The asterisks do not merely embody homonymic play. Klane’s attentiveness reflects the relationship between text and image in terms of the socio-political landscape and the ways in which that landscape is represented in the media. In a world dominated by spectacle, events are often dehistoricized and dehumanized. And what the body politic “sees in ink” — valid or no — is set in stone.

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Boo Youth is the second meditation of “Specimen Days”:

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                       Boo Youth        the farm of Beauty has aura

                                                                  bureaucracy

                        tab        art is monitored by
    
                                                                war departments : : mirror

                       mirror : : Macy’s mantra

                                                “there are no innocent apparitions”

                      my eerie sheen : : myth foundation

                               hero-ness : : FILENE’S BASEMENT

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Boo Youth” formally and conceptually outlines the ghostly matters — what traces are left behind the myth of beauty, the business of war and the fairy tale culture of endless commodification where heroes names are clothes labels in Filene’s Bargain Basement. Triumphalist propaganda and the calculated salesmanship of politics is what “A fee speech” broadcasts — “from fireside or Mt. Vernon, / ‘Son... / when a story burgeons, that’s money earned...’” The found language fragment here throws into question who’s speaking and the authority of what we’re being told through the “fee speech.”

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Fist itself,” the fifth meditation possesses vertical lines which appear for the first time in B_____:

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push v. pull   

                                    bush v. bud

berry rough edit

                                    eddy    mix   mush-

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Like other poems which follow in the collection, these lines become ways to both isolate and to multiply meaning in a refusal of the singular. I am reminded of Charles Bernstein’s article on Louis Zukofsky in an earlier issue of Jacket. Bernstein writes: “This concern for the relation of part to the whole — specifically, that the part is neither consumed by the whole nor isolated from it — is a key aspect of Zukofsky’s poetics and politics.”[3] At points later in the book, those lines will be both broken and sustained. As isolated fragments in this particular piece, there is a push and pull, there is an ignorant rough edit, there is the decision of which McBeer, there’s a mish-mash created when flowing past the obstacle at hand. But the line also produces a multiplicity drawing together elements on either side of the poem. These contacts indicate that internal conflict for a good American might be more of a push and pull between beers than it is political issues or foreign policy.

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CHEDDAR EXISTS in Wisconsin ontology” investigates a state of being by way of the seemingly mundane where “Episcopalians bare it ale /eo ipso.” Klane’s meditations acerbically critique states of alcohol and religion as opiates of the masses. In the last of the first section’s meditations, beyond the mundane and the spiritual, even the stars are victims of commodification when “the full moon will diversify, / a harvest of lunar fission.”

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Klane’s “A naïve survey” “...citizen skin shows / itinerant radiation / in rays and waves, / the Navy’s ceaseless census, / every beach, and each, bikini / meaning / in every crevice / how why* / “hydrogen brine √ / like Nike leukemia √ / like submarine corpse √ / *Hawaii haiku.” Checks next to hydrogen brine, Nike Leukemia and submarine corpse mark off costs of American lives governed by material wealth, the cult of beauty, corporate manipulation and ‘support-our-troops’ warmongering. Yet a curious relationship in terms of expression and language’s power is evoked here also. With the footnoted “how why*” to *Hawaii haiku,” a global citizen who questions the “how” and the “why” is a citizen who seeks meaning beyond the surface to negotiate the world.

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In “Specimen Days,” Klane asks various important questions. What is natural law, what is outlaw? How does one turn a rhetorically debilitating and hypocritical world on its head? Klane asks readers to look critically at the superficiality of aggrandized “fee speech,” perhaps setting our sights on alternative means of expression and understanding. Klane writes “Those were the days of terrible experiment.” We wonder if it is these days, in fact, where “all I ember is amber.” The smoldering sarcasm of Klane’s “Specimen Days” ends “old friends” in “farewell____firewall.”

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“Re Republic,” the second section, with its title alone evokes Plato, his distrust of language and his aim to remove poets entirely from the body politic. The section’s first epigraph from Marcus Aurelias’ Meditations nudges us furthermore to consider justice and what best guides society and its citizens. The other epigraph, from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, seems wryly delivered: “The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.”

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Visually “Re Republic” is slightly different, most notably by the consistent placement of vertical lines that bifurcate each meditation, creating dual “columns” down the center of the page. As before, these lines become ways to both isolate and to multiply meaning. Here the two columns, side-by-side, are simultaneously in conversation and separated, connective tissue and disconnected geometric arrangements. We are prompted neither merely from left to right nor with a superficial scan. We are asked to read vertically and horizontally, even diagonally. There is, in addition, not simply one bold term serving loosely as title. There is another bold phrase at the bottom of the right hand arrangement. The bold phrases form poetic statements themselves, for example: “Therefore the...Anglo-Saxon in /the Eskimo Mask,“Caffeine Spree.../ Elixir of Deities.” Like the two spatial ‘columns’, the two bold phrases provide opportunity to complicate meaning — of the often nonsensical political process, the insidiousness of political rhetoric and the dire need to pay attention to what’s being relayed through the media and what is not. A formal attentiveness to sound creates musicality and cacophony just as the binaries of Western discourses, or the discourse of power — which lie in globalization and rhetoric — are at once an embrace, and an evasion of meaning, in the context of political conflict.

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“Re Republic” meditates on the nationalistic fervor of the American political predicament (or at least that of the Bush administration). Wonderful parcels such as “State of the Reference / Banana Polymath Klane” (Banana Republic) speak to the violence of naming and identification where “others” are marginalized by the dominant discourse. Dehistoricization by way of the spectacle and an obsession with wealth is made apparent in “Mastercard / Manifest Destiny Is an STD”. Here an “insulin psalm” sings of material wealth where credit is not an addiction in shooting up but a physical need. Homelessness is a “voodoo excursus” where bums, like a prescient chanting on the street, signal how well we are taking care of our people.

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World Series involves four quadrants of haikus. Formally Klane asks the reader to look four directions on the page. Moreover, we are asked to look beyond own back yard at our histories as global citizens. True of the entire collection, Klane builds a relationship visually between words, between worlds. “Explore Tomorrow Today™ includes the thirty-eighth through fiftieth meditations and kicks off with an epigraph from Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species: Klane meditates on persistent and sinister imperialist tendencies as well as the baggage of explore and discovery where a “hungry ghost” intimates a heavy past. Full lines split language into three areas on the page, differentiating the section from “Re Republic,” creating their own spatial trifectas. These lines seem to create less porous boundaries than before. It’s no accident when pointing to the us-and-them, hard-lined nationalistic tendencies that the meditations in part target.

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The collection ends with two pieces in the section “Fragments”:

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The Expatiates Biopsy

         reveals creates or corresponds

to revenue phenomena

to purses vast

&

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And on the opposite page:

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Operation Blessing

                   weapon essence

                              : : e freed catheter

                lobby posthumous

                          : : th compute bebop

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The “Fragments” are a disintegration of sorts, a blinking out into ones and zeroes. The bebop swerves to silence, and the last word belongs to Whitman — “I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen, and accrue what I hear into myself, and let sounds contribute toward me…”

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The B_____ meditations shake the foundations which totalize a particular discourse over all other narratives. Semiosis of the visual and verbal field, syntactical fragmentation, furious linguistic play, disruptive line breaks and strange typography are exacting formal strategies. Klane’s experiments rattle against the cages of the “fallen body politics (e.g. Towne Meeting™)” and echo in “the whole wide winged.”


Notes

[1] Oxford English Dictionary. Online. 15 June, 2009 http://dictionary.oed.com/

[2] Lori Anderson Moseman. Stockport Flats — Meander Scar. November 2008. 10 June, 2009 http://www.stockportflats.org/meander.htm

[3] You can read the article in Jacket 30: http://jacketmagazine.com/30/z-bernstein.html.

Deborah Poe

Deborah Poe

Deborah Poe is assistant professor of English at Pace University (Westchester) and fiction editor of the international online journal of the arts, Drunken Boat. She is the author of the poetry collections Elements (Stockport Flats Press 2010) and Our Parenthetical Ontology (CustomWords 2008). She has received literary awards including several Pushcart Prize nominations for her poetry and the Thayer Fellowship of the Arts (2008) for her poetry and fiction. Deborah’s writing is forthcoming or has appeared in journals such as Sidebrow, Ploughshares, Filter Literary Journal, Denver Quarterly, Copper Nickel, FOURSQUARE and A Sing Economy. For more information, visit www.deborahpoe.com.

 
 
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