Thursday, December 13, 2012



STILL: Of The Earth As The Ark Which Does Not Move by Matthew Cooperman
(Counterpath Press, Denver 2011)

If I had to list every element of Matthew Cooperman's Still: Of The Earth As The Ark Which Does Not Move, which I will, but not in toto, so not every, it would look like this:

2000-2012 sucked
We killed ourselves we killed others
Nazi predecessors are also prophets
dreams and borders take place at the intersection of “winter and snow”
color as time and purpose = (“avocado 70s, prophecy hues”)
a theory of writing that is pataphysical, that is it reaches up above everything because nothing down        here says it right
a theory of writing that says everything that is here, because there is only enough that can be said
space is the place
life begins in the scat of the muladhara and explodes with a hum through the skull

That is, that's what I'd say if I had to list everything and then wrote it down only part way.  Of course, I could just hand you a copy of Cooperman's Still with my notes.  Maybe then you, my reader, will understand that what Cooperman is doing is simply a series of shadow boxes.  Ah.

Did I forget that the author hides, his daughter is autistic, he aches with guilt for his wife and never can say it so he talks about Aeneas instead?  Thousands of words and not an author in sight.


Matthew Cooperman's Still opens with a line that sets us immediately in the historical context of the last decade or so:

                        and the lanterns coming on: the oil price rising ($135 crude), the old furnace
                        functioning (2/3rds capacity), the body count rising (38%, 1/20/01–3/20/11)

So, of course, the question arises as to whether the poem survives the now.  But to appreciate Cooperman's aesthetic work, I step back from the political, look directly at the form.  What I see are shadow boxes.  For one thing, the lanterns are an antique set against the bodies of our boys and barrels of oil.  This is not a statement of simple, contemporary facts.  It is a shadow box that displays juxtaposed facts... let the reader assign the value.

Does the reader get to assign the value though? A war poem, as this one must be given its historical period and insistent reminders of the wounded, is boring if all it does is condemn a war:

                        Premise: the loss is smaller than the gain

                        Subject: Pfc. Johnson (ruptured spleen), Pfc Snigowski (shattered rib, perforated
                        colon), Pfc Desnos (displaced patella, chancey thigh)


                        Campaign: Actium, Massilla, Thermopylae; Antietam, Appotomax, Vicksburg,
                        Shiloh; Ypres, Gallipoli, Somme, Passchendaele; Khe Sanh, Ap Bac, Tet, My Lai;
                        Alamo, Medano, San Jacinto, Wounded Knee; Kirkuk, Mosul, Karbala, Samawah


                        Antecedent: Devolution, War of, Secession, Algerian War, Aroostook War, Balkan
                        Wars, Bishops' Wars, Boer War, Crimean War, Gallic War, Great War, Gulf War,
                        Hussite Wars, Indochina War, Punic War, Teutoberg Wald...

There is the invocation of the central premise of just war theory followed by a litany of wars and battles and injuries that the reader is compelled to look at in disgust.  But no.  That is wrong.  This is not a simple long-form anti-war placard.

If I read Cooperman's lists as mere mantras of condemnation, I would have stopped listening.  I was a soldier after all and war is truly sweet.  Part of me wants to do it all over again even if it does rip apart minds and hearts.  But Still is not demagogic protest in the guise of contemporary poetic experimentation.  This is contemporary poetic experimentation.  These are shadow boxes where I find the fact of a scrap of Adam Smith beside the US body count facts of the last two decades:

                        Adam Smith: “Every individual necessarily labors to render the annual revenue of the                               society as great as he can.  He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public                            interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it”

                        Numbers: Desert Storm (100,000 Iraqi soldiers killed, 300,000 wounded, 35,000                           civilians killed, 116,000 sorties flown; Coalition losses, 358 killed, estimated cost, $61-                              71 billion); Iraq war (75,000 Iraqi soldiers killed, 120,000 wounded, 18,200 civilians                            killed, 33,000 injured, Coalition losses, 3,500 killed, 12,000 injured; cost?)

Put that in your scales! screams Cooperman.  And I do.  Facts are valueless, but they have weight.  Adam Smith is speaking of a sort of natural law of social behavior.  Not one life full of interests and loves knows its contribution or value to the whole.  But Cooperman is aware of this even as he groans.  He hears the voice of prophecy tell him that it is all nothing and we will all burn in the end:

                        HubbleVoxII: I am Super Nova X and Nebula Y, and the prophecy of heat death.

That is the value of the whole.


But if it is as bleak as all that, why write a protest poem... even if it experiments in the expressiveness of lists and how values emerge from just looking? Who cares about the juxtapositions of shadow boxes?

The form of life changed after 9/11... for all of us... that is an inescapable fact of the book:

                        we cannot sing
                        dragging our saddles
                        afters and befores
                        the daily grind
                        the dollar mine
                        a plane accelerates
                        so much glass
                        terror our empire
                        begin our beguine
                        the light is
                        on the sash

The horror of knowing who we all are now, what we can do to each other... that can never be undone.  We can drag our saddles off to war or work, but the dance... the beguine... has begun.  And a beguine is also an ascetic of a sort, so maybe we have come to the point where we are going to strip ourselves of everything, live in poverty.  Give up on the world.  “The light is/ on the sash,” which says there is light, something open... but Cooperman doesn't fall into that sentimental trap:

                        an epoch of
                        our daze this
                        epic of our
                        ways and means
                        we're changing as
                        a species see
                        the list is
                        long and dark'ning
                        not to do
                        but radically undo
                        a confusion of
                        things with actions

It was, on one reading... a reading that seems right..., the confusion of a theology and economics with power politics, guns and planes that destroyed the world on 9/11.  (I deliberately refrain from assigning blame vis-a-vis the confusion.)  That poison has seeped into us as a species and we are changing.  It is interesting to think that in a world where we give so much value to the mind, it is the mind seeping into the world that poisons it.  Our theologians and political theorists have it all backwards: “Contingency: 'Mind is just an idea of the body' (Spinoza)”
Cooperman's solution is “not to do/ but radically undo/ a confusion of/ things with actions/ why it means/ to use language/ late in this/ our visible domain”.  And so, his book starts in the muladhara, that most scatological of chakras where the libidinous energies coil like a snake in our bowels: “Chahkra: root, scatological, ground zero, La Brea, to stay warm, inculcate burning”.  The book's beginning is in the dirt of the human body, the place where our burning, which we have seen as a destructive force, is in fact a warming of the rising energies of the human soul.  Don't believe me? Listen to the voice of prophecy:

                        HubbleVox: “I'm the august monolith of Loth burning in the empyrean of space”

The threat of immolation is now the warmth of the serpent who rises from muladhara carrying us out in to the vast empty peace of space.  (The undoing of the confusion... is to undo everything.)


            But we have gotten lost.  Where did I start? Oh yes, where is the author?

                        I: as Thou          in flits and tatters          a semblancer bereft       no part of sense grown
                        un-contained                 no season foaled untoward
and then:

                        Author: that it be my time, my time being, being spark, ever a fiery eidolon

Every word of the book is the author as he engages the Thou... that's you.  Cooperman is not a thing; that is to make the mistake of confusing things with actions.  Spark is ignition, activity.  Cooperman is a process.  He says as much: “Inspiration:[...]Tesla[...]; Whitehead's prehension”.  Relation and action are the foundation of Cooperman's metaphysics.  He tries to deny it, he tries to be cold: “Author Stall: occasional, wind-socked, exceeded; the bad turnout, the slow sell, the signs of my demise in the papering arcades”.  But the author is alive in his ten year odyssey to compose this book – (this book is ultimately a biography, although noone will know it if they don't give their attention to the form and philosophy of the work rather than the rage and politics it reports) – and alive in his deep engagement with every word he has read, painting he's studied, girl he's watched, friend he's lost:

                        Quandary: what is a subject and what is a form, like any foray into time, there's freedom              in it, and the almond smell of death

And, so digging through the detritus of history, especially dusty rubble of the last twelve years, with the “Purpose: to distill”, the author finds a lyre and hits his first note –  STRUM” – in the third poem of the book “STILL: INITIAL”.  And that note is the author's awakening and he vibrates through the whole book.  He an energy, he is that relation of time and space we call a wave, he is the fiery eidolons we are continually stunned by in reading Still.


                        Titration: the light

A chemical process of slow addition to reach that perfect level of saturation.  I think that is what Cooperman has been after.  That is why he has collected every bit of news and art and philosophy of the last decade.  Each bit added gives light.  I am saying all this, and you probably wonder: what about the author's identity? I know, I haven't proven my thesis yet, if I have one.  Cooperman is this book.  Look at how the book weaves in and out of the works of his poet-wife, Aby Kaupang Cooperman, with its “gods” and “blooms” and you will see that I speak truth here:

                        little 'g' gods
                        I thence invoke
                        a wandering form
                        thy aid to
                        my adventurous song

The little 'g' gods are central characters in the work of Aby Cooperman.  Their works are in conversation.  Cooperman's writing is the expression of his own relation to Aby.  There is so much more to say, but that would be an intrusion.

Ah, but we have to intrude.  Consider this most beautiful poem:

                        the odd angels
                        of their arms
                        for which flight
                        took sinew oh
                        the father and
                        the child and
                        the morning dove
                        in sun plummet
                        so the doll
                        her doll life
                        is not there
                        o! my daughter

                                                                                                the air is
                                                                                                our apparent fuss
                                                                                                humidity and war
                                                                                                I swear baby
                                                                                                thinks our fall
                                                                                                or fallen she
                                                                                                is the avatar
                                                                                                the wife does
                                                                                                too how lonesome
                                                                                                say that's all

                                                            [….]trying each to
                                                            each the daily
                                                            throw of city
                                                            makes it so
                                                            still nows thens
                                                            never relent he
                                                            loves her till
                                                            the ever ends

First, can someone say God DAMN and Duino Elegies? Thanks.  Second the philosophical coldness and political rage of the poem shatters here.  Cooperman has made no secret of his daughter's real life condition.  And he is no fan of the war on terror.  So everything he has written has been autobiographical, but here autobiography trips from notes on my world with me bracketed out to some sort of vibrating aum that accepts all existence as it is.... because of love.  Pure and simple.  Pura vida.  But the beauty, the profundity, the eloquence... it's enough.






Micah Cavaleri’s most recent book is 'the romances and other poems.' His first book, 'the syllable that opened an eye,' was published by Dead Man Publishing in 2010. He has served in Iraq, jumped out of helicopters and flown Humvees off of dunes as well as earning a few degrees along the way. Micah studied for his BA in Theology and Philosophy at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, MN, and received his MA in Philosophy from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN. There was poetry along the way. After that, he trained in satellite communications and as a cavalry scout for the Army National Guard, and completed graduate studies in Advanced International Affairs at Texas A&M in College Station, TX. Micah now lives in Michigan's UP and makes dinner, cleans the bathrooms, practices viola and runs while his wife and her students uncover the mysteries of the natural world. Oh, and he runs Dead Man Publishing too. You can find his poetry and literary criticism in elimae, Moria, Galatea Resurrects, Jacket2 and more scattered around the web.

1 comment:

  1. Another view is offered by Eileen Tabios in GR #17 at