I want to think about distance and Jane Gregory’s new book of poems, Yeah No (The Song Cave, 2018). Or something more like gapping. A space between concepts charged with those concepts’ distance, what holds discourse together (and molecules, and planets). I think, reading these poems, that the poems express the space between the world and the thought, that between the thought and the person, the person and the feeling.
I think the poems enact a beginning, one that is already foreclosed in an end, and within that circularity or polarity, we find a self enfolding in articulation. But I can only think toward these thoughts, and that feels about right, that the poems themselves can only think toward them. I hope you will receive this as notes toward that thinking, that thinking toward these thoughts.
PROFICES [The world’s terrific]
That it goes from all
shall be well to oh
Everything is a pattern
of yesses and no
That’s page one. The world is terrific as we have begun within it? No? Yes? This is the pattern, and here is both the textual staging that Gregory employs throughout, as well as the primary cycle that will name it, the “profices.” Here is also the orientation of the self, which is, I think, the poet. I want to call it: a priori absurdist critical discourse (and the poem therein, or around). The vapid reassurance (all shall be well) flashes into instant resignation (oh well).
The book begins with a shrug, and then it becomes a gag. “Knock knock” is: the arrival, the joke, the utterance, the unsignifying tautology. It foretells the wordplay and the electrostatic charge of the name (who’s there? Who?). But there is a tiny head that gives this all animation: no. Not nos (like the yesses). Just no.
PROFICES [yeah no]
For the remainder give
us not your nothing
at the core of it, nor
your spiral unfurled re-
vealing horizontal space,
That’s page fifty-three. Not your nothing at the core of it. The negativa flourishes. It is its own intelligence, a bending of gyri and sulci. Let’s talk about “[yeah no].” What do you hear first? Surely it is the nervy refusal, with its teenager’s insolence and condescension, its palm to the face, its saying also “I don’t think so” (and look at that, the negativa again, the not-thinking thought). Can I speak for us all? Is this not where we are politically? Is this not the protest we are arrived at, that to which we say no so ridiculous in its claim that we can’t help but huff?
But “[yeah no]” (the brackets are: the sotto voce? The aside? The palimpsest, the trace?) is also binary, it is “yes no,” it is “Sic et Non,” and I wonder so very much how much Gregory was pointing toward this crucial early beginning (from all the way over here in the “remainder”) of a kind of modern discourse bound in contradiction, assertion and negation, the modern dialectic that attempts to spin with the energy of language’s proliferate significations, what I think we all hope we are saying when we say the word “irony.”
“PROFICES” is: prophesies, offices, proffers, official, professional, proficiencies, orifices, feces?
yay, so toil, smart women be mean, my brain, refuse all work that makes more for others
my brain, obstinate failure of thought to escape itself, i am, bearable self, begun by the light
of the sky we are driven against, the sky, under which
each committee covers his feet in my house
each committee comes to cover his feet in my house
Here in this poem begun by the light (of the sky we are driven against) but also the maxim: yay, to toil, to make not (more work? More profit?) for others. Be mean (the mean?). This is the beginning within ethics, and that within the social — the speaker to her populace (smart women), and yet also the speaker put upon by the officialdom of the They, who transgress the private domus to cover/anoint themselves (is this lodging? Is this the washing of feet?).
Does the human begin in labor, which is then corrupted by bureaucracy (is the bureaucracy both singular and plural?)? What happens in the space between (going backward now) bureaucracy, labor, the obstinate failure of thought to escape itself (a thought can only think itself?), and the “i am,” which is born (bearable)? What happens in the space between each of these lines in their succession (the space that the poem has put there along with the lines)?
What about the sky? Does it howl?
Like what [/ well that]
we are [as] makes sense like each
to their users and what
else not to be overcome
Though here must be a bad vortexx
said everyone of where they find themselves
The poet (Jane Gregory) here, elsewhere, throughout: the conceptual contortionist, touching opposites or the bulbous ends of blank categories (what, that, everyone, everything), making of that touching a trajectory toward description. This is a pointing at the self as it goes outside itself, the sense-making (makeable) that singles us, makes us each our own (who am I, am I everyone?). Here again Gregory with an elemental sociality (maybe we call this “difference”), and here again our definition in labor, us as users (makers) of sense, and as that laborer also asking after the “what else,” what is “not to be.”
(But it is the being overcome. Not not to be but not to be overcome.) Stand tall?
But it is the bad vortexx and the already, the “since everything,” which is where we find ourselves. I was born and there was already everything? Doesn’t it seem so as such, here in late history, with possibility exhausted (so it so often seems)?
We are always living after the “since.”
To what belong the concepts I stop caring
because reason’d produced some excesses,
such as, some sense, so easily
it could have been otherwise, everything, and why
are they only thinking all of my thoughts for me, existing, and how
is it for them to know that I would not regard myself
in any way, were not other people, harmed.
Woe reason’s excesses, especially that which asks after what could have been otherwise. What is the gap between what is and is not? What is the gap between me and the thinking of my thoughts? Who among us (who among us is me?) feels the rebuke, history as a rearing up of the inevitable and that is, maybe, an assertion against our excesses of reason (the Tree of Knowledge?)? I think in these lines that we have thought too well and the result (our punishment?) is that the thinking goes on without us (who is the “they”? the They?).
The concepts do not belong to us but we to the concepts. Does the poem suggest that we lose ourselves, our ability to regard ourselves, in this excess of reason? Do we all think the same thinking, does our collective think for us and thereby exist for us? Does it do our existing? Is it really only by harm to the others that I can regard myself? Or is it instead that I would not regard myself — being not the others — as harmed, that I am the only one free from harm? Or more generally, what to do with how this all occurs, as in this stanza, between care and harm?
Neither is it like my articular lerb
towards desire, whose hurl gives back
to the desire I have given you to give back to. Now
something should redden, there should be put
some flame to end the fire with, some blood
in The Hotel where I am fucking this
to travel with you. . . .
I want to talk about the spirit. I want to say that the poems locate the subject as true within the spirit. It gives us something to grab (to give back?). Not the “i am” or the thoughts thinking themselves (the They thinking the thoughts) but the “I” as it gives and takes with the “you.” As it hurls, as it is towards desire (the desire). The volley is something. What is the volley, the “given you to give back to,” and what does it do with the gap? Does it overcome? Does it give us each our eachness and also our togetherness together the both? From this spirit and its volley we arrive at the “should,” not born already in ethics but determining it ourselves (I and you, not the They)—directing it, pointing it toward somewhere specific. Something should redden — blood in our bodies coming to the surface of our skin, or heat as in both fire and flame, or the descending day, or even the correction, the corrective mark. Is our spirit red?
And what is the flame that is not the fire (“fight fire with fire,” here and elsewhere, turns of phrase and refrains and little melodies echoed (as you see what immediately follows, the famous hotel (Hotel) with the blood in it))? And I hear “put,” to put, as in “put in place.” I sympathize. Where and when we are, I want to end the fire, too. I want to put in place the end. Does the poem see the great end, does it fantasize about it, burning it all down, even the fire itself? I can sympathize. My blood sympathizes.
And the “fuck,” the “fucking this.” Fucking this up? Fucking this over? Or just fucking, like what we do in hotels, especially those with blood in them? Is “fucking” the great end, the emancipation and thereafter the “traveling with you”? The union that is the great end, the erasure? Is it the spirit in purity?
Time existed to keep everything
from happening at once
and was running out, so
everything clamored to happen
at the cost of what was happening.
What do I want to talk about? The happening? Do I want to talk about cost? Time is running out. This is the nature of Gregory’s gaps: simultaneity. These are poems of the late confusion and the self (the spirit of the feeling) finding itself within it, within the clamorousness of the everything happening. Confusion is rich to sustain. It is, maybe, a baptism. And to think of time is to think of order but then, as we have seen, we are at the end of time and so at the end of order (time existed—we are in time’s excesses). Is this the place from which these poems speak? “Bye Bye / Bye Bye love / Bye Bye consciousness” — that’s the last page. Another song echoes; it is a trace of what we have shared in.