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Mesh: Sense, Sensuality, and the Poetry of Clark Coolidge

  • Genre(s): Experimental
  • Period: 1960s to the present
  • Lines: (from The Crystal Text)
    As electricity is homeless. Continental baseless.
    Bones to a radiant inner. Coaxless stocking
    the brittle tone, sash of stone without a cord.
    You leave me out in weathers, the languages,
    the footless mounts. ...
  • To immerse one's self into the work of a poet who is as ephemeral and sensual as Clark Coolidge calls for the reader's questioning of the representation of the sexual, the sensual, the senses that make up the receptors of pleasure: touch, sight, smell, taste, and especially sound. Sound, or rather rhythm and cadence, lend a quality to the work of Coolidge that is both striking and alluring. One is rather seduced into the poem by his neologisms (carey, sonance) and surprising adjectives or nouns (popple, beryl). The context from which Coolidge writes is a "mesh," a twisting of our expectations so that "the evening ladder of thighs adhesive" becomes quite an arresting and suggestive image.    Mesh[ Click to Order Coolidge's Mesh (soft $) ]

    The subtley of images ("as if a lash were brittle")—this attention to the minutia—makes Coolidge's work a receptacle for the senses; a place where narrative and the representation of sex and sexuality become locked within the enigmatic world of the poem: the transient state of the poetic, which both recalls and pioneers in a way that is strikingly new and yet poetically defined in its ambitions. "she glance/ a terrapin thighway glance, amass her clamps/ and she rejected such a filmy loading anyway": these lines create, rather manifest themselves in the poet's mind as a lolling of sounds accompanied with glints of images. What exactly is a "terrapin thighway glance" remains to be, while the sound and image of highway superimposed upon the body—the thigh—invokes a trafficking upon the carnal without actually committing the act/the image.

    "[A]ll gone loose/ the part way girl" suggest a type of person: a girl, a loose girl; girl in the sense of being less than woman: a drifting into the representation of the lower. While aesthetically conjuring a type of sexism, Coolidge manages to free himself from the confining attempt at which this type of language restricts. As this girl "removes the carey sonance," the composition of sounds/rhythm (the poem), she succumbs to the confines of society: "ankle irons, tonguing fender, a late/ and drier bind of come." Coolidge frees himself from society, man—the one that imprisons—by skirting language into bars that melt, shackles that fray as words along the arc of memory. They are there, but they are made over, incorporated into that which neither oppresses or frees: into the reductive state of being.

    Or is it egg she needs? Man withdraws
    brands from sex of magazines, alert and tint
    the nipple in the mist is loafish, bolting dwindle
    scoring window, as brought in shiny stockings bends

    Here in the second stanza of "A Drift in the Lower Tongues," we are given a question: "Or is it egg she needs?" Here lies the crux of the poem. The "Or" suggests a movement, a fulcrum, within the poem that shifts from what lies imbedded in the first stanza to what now can be condensed into the longing for an egg—the sexual potential and energy—of which "she" controls (within her "thighway," "her clamps"); or does she? Why does she want this if it is hers to begin with? Why is there this questioning of her own body, her own ability to reproduce or possess?

    The fact remains as the question: elusive, yet plainly imbedded within the text, the screen—the mesh—from which Coolidge operates. Though the "Man withdraws" from the woman (as the line break would imply) as well as the literal reading of the man withdrawing "brands from sex of magazines," we see both the magnitude and insignificance he/man plays within the world of the poem. "she rejected such a filmy loading anyway" makes the egg, the act of sex (implied/yet clearly stated as only Coolidge is able to achieve), as well as her questioning of the egg void, moot; it is the failed attempt from which nothing adheres to the lining of the poem's uterus but the reproductive power that the woman wields, for it is her who rejects the sperm—"a filmy loading."

    Also by Clark Coolidge:

    Crystal TextClick to Order Coolidge's Crystal Text (soft $).

    The Crystal Text (Sun & Moon Classics, No. 99).

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