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Patrick Pritchett

White Blink:

On  Kathleen Fraser’s ‘Wing’

from Il Cuore: The Heart, Selected Poems 1970-1995
University Press of New England/ Wesleyan,
23 South Main Street, Hanover, NH  03755-2048
$16.95 paper/ $35.00 cloth
212 pp.

While much more than an exercise in ekphrasis, “Wing” took its originating impetus from several artworks: Mel Bochner’s “Drawings” and “Via Tasso”; and Jess’s paste-up cover for Norma Cole’s Mars. The poem appears as the final piece in her selected works, Il Cuore: The Heart, and  is dedicated, Fraser notes, to “the memory of Joe Brainard, who died of AIDS during its writing... and to Kenward Elmslie.” Each of these artists invokes the figure of the New, or what Fraser calls “the spirit of reinvented language.”

Of course the wing is the figure of an archaic power cutting across a universe founded on — and foundering in — desire. Not the forgetting of the air, but its embodiment. The form by which “the New” lifts itself into itself. The very body of the autopoetic. Which is to say, the poem’s evocation of the newly emergent is a swirl of gestures around the notion of presence. A kind of “fall out”:

now and melt with rush all in one place nothing changed    I
did not grow up I          went away in one phase       brooded I over
skier    in black the flyer, forces           that dive far yet he
persists     in contradiction to   as does physical pain
that which is known a way      of crashing in on you           to us
changing, now perilous

What is it to be present? Neither wholly here, nor wholly not here, comes the answer. But as an event occupying continually the spaces of its own liminality, “coming forward in its edges,” a hovering and a massing and a dissolution — the exact motive and stance of flight. Which would be another word for angelos — angel — messenger — wing.

the shimmer of wing, which claim may tell us everything
in a white blink

Not to be confused with inspiration, that misleading trope for the intuitions and happenstances of process, but rather “attachment.” To be New is to be both caught up by and advancing the procedures of attachment. Of joining and belonging. In the space where blankness is felt, not as the signal of invention’s failure, the challenge to utterance, but as the register and commencement of all that is possible. The telling of the New is all in the shimmer. The white blink that discloses “everything.” All that we need to know about how to live — it’s there, a quicksilver pulse inside the white shimmer of that wing. And then it disappears. Consummatus est. If seeing is believing then it is also these larger forms of flooding and enfolding. The rigorous marshalling of the senses by which the body trips into the body. A wing is for holding the empty spaciousness of whatever is said.

This poem asks: can we still say “the angelic” with a straight face? Here the name of the possible supernal comes forward as a face full of brilliance, a self-organizing principle in the complex geometry of chance and revelation, an entire ethics, really:

It can happen that the intoxicating wing will draw the mind as a

Tension and release. Dyadic pulse and wingbeat. Uplift of the poem, where “she used words downward.” To make the Orphic gesture. Then erase it. Or re-build it. The three Black Quartets of “Wing” re-name the poem’s engine with the music of a fervent stammering, a violence of the word that alone is equal to the event of the word, to the wing of a language we are just beginning to hear (again). That the poem (the wing) is also a graph: it charts the syllables of its own luminosity, the trace of its passage through a central and abiding darkness that is also the edge of the poem, “not static,” but ecstatic. Wing leaping beyond itself. Winging it. Stand here and be — outside yourself.

The wing is not some airy construct. To know it we must engage with its “historic tendons.” Those ligaments that stretch backwards and forwards in time and across the porous expanse and surface of the body.

picking, pecking at                   our skins ghost or angel
sent to tell us what                    we didn’t want to know

The wing articulates a formal structure in time. It carves the air with its purpose. A motion repeating itself. Sustaining the engine of flight one word at a time. A scaffold that hoists the tensions of the word in the very structure of the word. But the wing is a device for telling us that the poem is also made out of intervals, the spaces and pauses between words. White blink where everything may happen.

The power and the beauty of this poem, the marvel of its unfailing invention, is the way it hovers, nimbus-like, around a never quite determined set of meanings involving the New, mediation, intervention, making, and the possible supernal, without its fragile weight ever collapsing beneath the burden of the poem’s debt to gravity. It is an immensely tactile poem, one intimately drawn up by and into the haptic, even while its descriptive energies stage its own visual ramps (Mel Bochner’s drawings, Jess’s paste-ups) with great daring and wit. The line in these poems is broken and recombined, fractured and wound back on itself, scattered pieces of mirror containing the image of the whole. Such procedures are what the violence of the New demands of us, as in “Vanishing Point: Third Black Quartet”:

forward edge itself to be volume by necessity as if partial
edge itself to be volume by necessity as if partial erase
itself to be volume by necessity as if partial erase
to be volume by necessity as if partial erase
be volume by necessity as if partial erase
volume by necessity as if partial erase
by necessity as if partial erase
necessity as if partial erase
as if partial erase
if partial erase
partial erase
to lift
tried to lift
had tried to lift


We live inside the erasure, says the wing, of our passage from one place or moment to the next. Inside the tension of repletion and recession. And this is how things get built. The volumes and planes, the spaces for living are erased and lifted, but above all, re-iterated in a continual motion that’s both jagged and fluid. This is how the restless energies of the poem construct the door between inside and outside, which is the interstitial space of our real dwelling. The space kept alive through the ongoing reinvention of language. The space of the New, which is the place where we may also hold our dead. The struggle to articulate that place occurs where:

decision and little tasks of pain had tried to lift                                       a
lucent decision and little tasks of pain had tried to lift                        bow

itself   the   wing   not   static   but   frayed,  layered,  fettered,    furling

This is a poetry that plays along the strands connecting the numinous and the earthly, restoring the fractals of erosion and re-formation into a vibrant expression of the human.

The final motion of the poem in the Third Black Quartet  presents a different set of conditions for the idea of completion. The poem does not so much end, as continue over the horizon. The wing impresses the shape of its ghostly presence like a negative print of itself across the skein of words that have built it. It is a white blink. Blank. Absent. Or rather, locatable only in the space between the words. The after-image of its passage — the “vanishing point” where word meets wing and wing is nothing but a furling of the poem. “Wing” is all stutter and shimmer, heartbeat and “frayed, layered, fettered, furling.” Announcement of the possible. Where history is the re-write of history inside the silent interval that contests the very notion of limit. The wing is bright enough to burn us all.

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