Apr/May 2009

The Sound Mirror

Noah Eli Gordon


Andrew Joron is a modern-day alchemist. He’s not interested in solipsistic self-enrichment; rather, he practices the art of transformation. Translator of Marxist-utopian philosopher Ernst Bloch’s Literary Essays (1998) and author of a study titled Neo-Surrealism; Or, The Sun at Night (2004) and the volume of essays and prose poems The Cry at Zero (2007), as well as a handful of poetry collections, including the remarkable Fathom (2003), Joron has always been a thinker in multiple genres. Though aligned with the revolutionary impulse behind Surrealism—the conjuring of paradox to expand the possible—he appreciates the movement’s aesthetic limitations and has somehow, miraculously, managed to create poetry attuned to materialist critiques of language without abandoning any of the art’s mystery and metaphysical inquiry.

The poems in The Sound Mirror engage the lyric on an elemental level. Everywhere there are nouns both abstract and concrete—door, mirror, gate, shore, silence, air, eye, sky, sun, void, and star—but this is not the fey stones-and-bones verse so prominent in recent decades. The voice here is more molecular than oracular. At times, Joron seems to be fashioning an anthropomorphic figure who embodies language itself as a speaker. This figure isn’t divine but instead an incarnation of the word/world division. In many ways, this verse represents a synthesis of the concerns of Joron’s triumvirate of recently departed compatriots and mentors: Barbara Guest, Philip Lamantia, and Gustaf Sobin, poets who evoked the marvelous through musical enchantment.

Whether in the epistolary “The Keening of My Knives,” a poem addressed to a doctor that asserts “my signature, many-chambered / vacancy, remains asylum,” or in any of the book’s serial poems, including the stunning final sequence “Citations from Silence,” which plays lines of verse against pithy unattributed quotations, one is constantly aware of the dual streams of information carried by each word—the phonetic and the semantic are here given equal weight. In fact, Joron confronts even the visual dynamic of individual letters, which echo distortedly as they jump like electrons from word to word before embedding themselves in the larger, buzzing machinery of syntax (“As atoms have their hive / in have— / I halve my half forever”). This makes for an aphoristic and koanlike atmosphere, a continual ars poetica (“An intent to wield wailed spilled space, therefore // the world will end today. / Here, I invent / a purpose for slow language”) that recognizes that what is at stake is something larger than poetry and that this something must emanate from the poem: “My flag is the // Utility of my rag, the // shadow-totality of my flesh.” After all, one can be “dedicated to communism / but eaten away by music.”

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