Review of MINE: The One That enters the Stories
by Clark Coolidge
(The Figures, 1982)

by Bernadette Mayer

What's the risk in writing of everything? Mine's a kind of novel or musings on one. Though the words were written and printed, Mine is a set of meditations that hovers about an unwritten book: "The plot would be prehensile barbells. Or the man who attached his fingers to his wife's nipple for the rest of their days. For belief is useless at the razor, the hailing quotation of mind's lining." (p.34) Should the book being thought about be written, it would be by the readers of Mine, a little joke about the work perpetrated by (the) Mine author whose words collect and fly over the unwritten texts of others with a didactic message about language and the human brain, or, layers of the earth's surfaces, whatever is between thought and fiction, art and science, the hovering kinds of flying and outright outer space and the caves and mineral centers below. The analogy too is to the stance of the upright human body or to a house or home like the heads of the miners in the cover photo, the bodies of their confreres above them, their implacably unmoving hands which will work and soon be moving as expression but not now, a reflection of the problem of meaning as language stands in a stanza or room or paragraph or moment.

Not everyone underestimates the bravery it takes to write real writing midst the vacuumous American 80's in a world where not only are poets and writers expected to think about having something to sell (a thought we can discount), but hardly anybody, or not many, yet seem to comprehend the changes in American letters that have taken place through the work of Jack Kerouac, John Cage and Gertrude Stein to name some, so that poetry, fiction, dreams, method, and prose can now all be together if you let them as one expression of the complexity, simultaneous nature & noise of modern and ancient human thought. And few sweep the real writing rapidly up into books as The Figures did with this one or read it with the hunger and unsatisfied fascination for what is new from the need to learn everything about how to be and in the world we live in.

Every great book is a little bit like Dante's Vita Nuova which begins: "Here begins the new life." Mine opens: "The world looks like it's upside down today. I mean, by that, there's nothing to repeat, at last. But that's, no doubt, not entirely true. The trees are all still standing there, no wind, and they're not at all like people as I saw somewhere the other day. Lots of what you read seems to go to make up one big anonymous voice, it's not really that you just can't remember exactly who said anything. Something in writing makes me want to get up, avoid, and walk around to no purpose. Perhaps this will be a big book of very little definition." (p.1)

A long-time master of the jazzy long work, Clark Coolidge has this time turned the long poem in prose into a non-fiction novel or tomb full of buried things taken with you of the new existence of old logic and present looking, all sung by a free man wortking alone and trapped as one is in cave with finite supply of oxygen, food, breath & luck. Written by the not-me, same author as of Own Face, the face of another always, this Mine, belonging to someone, is a large excavation or hole made in the word (or earth) from which (metallic ores, coal, precious stones, salt or ) certain (other) things are extracted.

"When I can not think of the words, the words do not avail themselves of me. I look out of the window and see a windward tree. I sometimes think the words are beings who absent themselves, as why should they not have puzzles of their own to trace. Then am I locked in a mine and the words are leagues beyond that wall-face, or banister, Roger Bannister tiny in the distance and running away. Do you ever think anything of Freud's methods ?"

"I take down a sandwich and read it but do not eat it in the morning," (p.102)

To enter the earth's stories, chasms with doorways, to be the train speeding over the track of particulars, one the words or world, the other desire not hell but an end in speaking and writing, it's you, consult Hegel and the philosophers. The pleasure of comprehending existence in whatever world (can this be said?), longing for endings or none and the completion of the sentence in structured layers reflective of other stuff, the rigid limits of the particular self, of knowledge, relativity and of death.

Who owns this mine? A being human? The book is like a drag race, or to read it is to play "chicken", desire's inherent dare:

"I want to tell the story that holds in wait. I am held by the hand that in never quite touching
the handle reminds us of how many times that door has been opened, so many times
we have forgotten what lies within, so fixed are we by that opening and shutting the
contents of our very memories have become a mystery." (p.76)

"The words that have been damaged in the nooks and crannies of this filing country,
America." (p.104)

"To write a novel I would have to forget my own history." (p.96)

"I will take a walk and speak of wondrous things and never leave my house." (p.96)

In chapter XXI, all is rapidly destroyed and remade in a combination of theory of relativity, radical politics & l'amour fou: "The wicker of the chairs unknotted and laid out in parallel strands on the floor. Everything of glass smashed....All clothing sliced into swatches in the same pattern each time. The cutlery beaten into twisted balls of silver....He began to reorganize the city....The ship will approach my retreat." This being, powerful in love as a baby weaving in a cave is now strumming & singing & galloping away, eventually giving thanks in these meditations being a study of the philosophy of ephemeralness and boundary. My meaning, buried alone with humor and these humours in order to be, even in Joseph's coat of many colors or like Snow White, is as evanescent now as any thing or one ever has.

Under over or on the ground, meditating on a million thoughts or none, stories begin, funny dirty stories full of puns, the desire to tell them (to someone), and to stare and think at this world is to want to do something like incessantly write as if one were seeing everything as a new creature, which, put together in a structure as a book is no commodity but a gift to everyone. The stance of the poet, the stance of desire, the stance of life speaking to the versions of death, with a timely set of stories that reflect the generations in their "descent" from head to heart to the underground parts. Coolidge's obsessions with geology and speliology not only enlarge our vocabulary but, without irony, make the language fly about these layers & in and about & throughout the cracks and transitions of thought and memory. In a world where people are perforce cut off from the mystical cosmic and sublime aesthetic everythings, the works of Clark Coolidge (of which a concordance would be fascinating) provide for us the beauty of some of the interstitial stuff that might weave a perception to change the world back together.

I've heard it mentioned this is Coolidge's most accessible work; it is no more accessible than some rock cliff, easy enough to reach, climbable by all, and on which can be discovered on what you stand, what you can see out to, what's below and around for some distance depending on the weather, everything made known letter by letter and word by word in a structure like a book, tunneled and formed dangerously at some risk on the earth, fifth largest planet of this solar system and third in distance from the sun, also described as this world, as distinguished from heaven and hell, or the land, as distinguished from sea and sky.

Reprinted from The Poetry Project Newsletter, #100, October 1983

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