Thursday, December 13, 2012



approximating diapason by j/j hastain and tod thilleman
(Spuyten Duyvil, New York City, 2012)

In approximating diapason or How to Milk the Con and the In of tension of tense-ing of tensile, poets j/j hastain and tod thilleman have formed out of a conversation through letters a collaborative and deeply sensory account of their expeditions in life and poetry.  I don’t use expedition lightly, as hastain and thilleman like the shamans of old, transform themselves into their revelations as they speak.  Indeed, prophecy fills each page of this 21st century manifesto, a manifesto of poetics, but also of sexual elaboration and personal embroidery. Page by page approximating diapason becomes, not just a realization of the sympathy they feel towards each other and their respective work, but rather a merging of creative souls and minds to penetrate a path through the mundane aspects of publishing, into their inner workings as poets and visionaries, and to a shared determination to express their struggles while realizing their full potentials as human beings. They ask what language(s), what image(s) can and should be used to delineate the sinews that construct true art and true be/coming. Their answers are not only gorgeous but transformative. 

What begins as an almost casual sharing of thoughts turns quickly propulsive and labyrinthine?  Dizzying at first, exhilarating and hypnotic at turns, the reader is taken up by an Emersonian delight in recognizing and naming the powerful energies that feed or hinder creativity.  The poets fall blithely into the other’s poetic and philosophical arms, yet each time rise up from a symbolic drowning into a dialogue energized by the openness of their debate.   The poets argue, laugh, cry, and commiserate with a generosity and light-heartedness that is seductive in itself. 

I, like Winnie the Pooh, “am a bear of very little brain”, and so “big words bother me”.  For me the first half of the book, grounded more in post-modern dissection, was a little harder to stay with through no fault of the authors, just my own limitations as a reader.  But the second half, in which hastain and thilleman conjure up a mythic universe as vibrant, colored, and complex, as Blake’s, Yeats’, Benjamin’s, or Michaux’s, sings. There one sees how the first half worked to allow for the full, rich, outburst of music and harmony in the second. It serves as a tuning fork for the symphony rendered in the second half. Still hypnotic and shivering their self-analyses  of part two become themes visited over and over again, and immerse the reader in a quite beautiful anarchy. 

Thilleman states, “To confront ourselves without fear is also a sense of what it is like to really be alive.  I have this premonition, this pre-monition, pre-stance, that all we know is of fear.  What we DO is not of fear.  So we are only to be NOT fear?  Well, we have to be both, and this is the power confrontation again. Yes, it’s a dialectic, but not in the sense of being a mental instability.  It comes out of the night, this dialectic, and soothes us so. If it were the everyday, that assumed visualization of things, that brought us into time, then we’d have to assume the position of the Eleusinian mysteries, once again.  And that’s precisely what we are doing.  We are becoming a part of the divine, ancient mysteries of Earth and World-Earth which ruled fromthe story of the pomegranate eater, our pomegranate woman, our goddess of all time and space.  She is the daughter of the keeper of all seed growth.  Psyche’s help-meet the story, the place where the ants took pity.  In these namings we will be distributed.  In the end, we will find the connections needed. 

And j/j: I am interested in the content that is a spilling?that sometimes overwhelms the frame because when it is entered somatically, it is opened…I use the word anatomy when referring to page as body because anatomy to me is not strictly relegated to a single plane.  I am saying that I connect to the inner place/s as often by way of ephemeral anatomies as physical ones….This is how and why we probe, because the place is our body.

The amazing thing is not that these two transgressive artists found fellow feeling with each other, but rather that they found a way to manifest their conversations into a communal event of which, we, the readers are the beneficiaries. approximating diapason fulfills the promise of early adventurers such as Monique Wittig.  It is both other and now.  True and fantastical.  Subversive and redemptive. A hymn to the holiness of art and poetry, and to the body’s relation to saying.   


Jeffery Beam's many award-winning works include Gospel Earth, Visions of Dame Kind, An Elizabethan Bestiary: Retold, Midwinter Fires, and The Fountain. His spoken word CD with multimedia, What We Have Lost: New and Selected Poems 1977-2001, was a 2003 Audio Publishers Award finalist.  The Lord of Orchard: Jonathan Williams at Eighty—an online feature (with Richard Owens) for Jacket magazinewas published in 2009. The song cycle, Life of the Bee, with composer Lee Hoiby, continues to be performed on the international stage.  The Carnegie Hall premiere with Beam reading and the songs performed can be heard on Albany Record's New Growth.  His book-length surrealist gay-themed prose poem, Submergences, originally published as a chapbook in 1997 was reprinted in 2008 in Rebel Satori Press's Madder Love: Queer Men and the Precincts of Surrealism. On December 1, 2008 (World AIDS Day) in Boston, MA, composer / counter-tenor Steven Serpa premiered a cantata Heaven's Birds: Lament and Song based on three of Beam's poems from the first edition of The Beautiful Tendons.  Limited edition works from fine presses include Lullaby of the Farm (UNC Friends of the Library); An Invocation (Country Valley Press), On Hounded Ground: Home and the Creative Lifean essay with poems (Bookgirl Press, Japan), and MountSeaEden (Chester Creek Press). Beam's poems and criticism have appeared in many anthologies and magazines. 

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