WordDreamer:poetics "[The critic] must simply elucidate;the reader will form the correct judgment for himself." T.S.Eliot
Sunday, July 19, 2009 Ed Baker: and 'Stone Girl' poetics
(STONE GIRL EPIC: POEMS AND ART)
"The Whole'll have her again!—So absolves me the role. But: She's your happiness!—No, I am too immense, Too thing. Of course! But my being here presents, True to its reflection there, the appearance of the Whole: From Woman to the Silence hence!"
Jules Laforgue (from "Complaint of Consolations")
Ed Baker's STONE GIRL EPIC (Volume I: parts S and T) is poetry that doesn't call out for the usual 'signifieds' of subject, attitude and mood. For how could a bare bones minimalist writing conjoined to art without borders do it? If poetry is only a question of structure and verbal precision, then it's a delicate house of cards, at best. But here is work that manages to retain all these and yet bring 'traditional' poetry crashing down, leaving us to search among the fragments for just the essentials: a minimalism that matters and the most purely 'concrete' art I've ever seen. Writing that cuts to the bone, iconoclastic and original, and a 'Stone Girl' art sprung out of the lines themselves. Writing and art on Baker's terms.
How do we describe the poetics of this 'bare bones bonze' (as he calls himself)? Since acceding to Western canon's not his thing, again, how does Baker do it? Well, let's say the business of writing's a little more visceral for him; and that the artist's studio is his yard in Takoma Park, Maryland and the artist an impassioned buddhist whose implements (rocks, a tree stump, and sun) lie always ready to hand. And that the product, a poem or sculpture, can be even a bit more earthy than the usual cultural artifact: in fact, it'd be appropriate to speak of it as having a sort of scaly chitinous body (the poem) that
somehow seems indistinguishable from both the painting and sculpture (and from perhaps poet himself). Let's say Baker works as an artisanpoet ( in the way Blake did), alone, under a full moon as "Stone/Girl" watches. There's a start.
And the poetic 'style' (I'd prefer to say atmosphere) of STONE GIRL? Along with artistic production I recognize literary influences. It's in the technique, haikuinspired, of reducing subject matter to the fewest possible words that we detect the presence of the Masters before him (Cid Corman, Carl Rakosi, George Oppen, Edmond Jabès ) and of the contemporaries ( John Perlman, John Martone, John Pillips, Jeremy Seligson, David Giannini) with whom Baker works today. So let's say Baker's the irrepressible haiku Masterartist, alive equally to tradition and influences, who's effected the most startling sort of art and nature fusion, and done it his way. And that by scaling the world and language down to the fewest possible syllables and strokes, he's made an artistic figure mesh with lines of poetry. And what he's created out of elemental rain, mud and heat is a 'stone girl' who gives Baker's poetry not just meaning but both mind and motion. How's that for style!
And given Baker's temperament, the style and thrust of the poem is to peer between the lines, and into a place of pure imagination, for any way you see her Stone Girl is always 'there, branching and encrusting senses like a growing thing. She can be persona, metaphor or even the most mongrel literary form imaginable: any way you like to see her. She's certainly a problem for what Barthes calls the "readerly
reader" looking for easy codes and continuities because that reader's now faced with the work's radically fluid sense of artistic design. She's a product of artistic intention and work: and the result's a creation real enough to be kissed, seeming to walk now with a mind of her own, and picking up speed as she goes. "Walking/faster/mind".
It's best to see 'Stone Girl' then not so much as cultural artifact as artistic processing, primal and pure as blue skies, an overhanging tree and yard with some rough, readily available materials for poetry and sculpture. There's nothing forced about it! See how Baker has released from matter this creative interplay of form, technique and literary influence to do it, using only basic, simple tools like the mindless Walking Mind he is. It's getting hard to separate Stone Girl art from the poet himself; perhaps Art itself from its own means of production.
So is she a literary artifact only, imaginative representation only: Eve, Galatea, Uma, Marilyn Monroe, or something more? No summery goddess of Takoma Park, this; no West Hollywood airhead either. And more than a girl, and a picture, beside a poem, she's both stony permanence and genuine inward mindfulness for what begins "in water" or in air or in a sunny day, ready to be shaped and conceived by
the poetartisan, becomes our artistic plinth...a bedrock. Baker ("Walking Mind") and Stone Girl, both turned into the poem, come together as one (yin/yang) inseparable principle: not abstract theory but rather "a/fecundity" itself, the resultant birthing of a unique event.
'Stone Girl' is not exactly an idea only nor just art work roughhewn out of the earth nor even a crude Aristotelian synthesis of both but the "thing" itself, illustrated in Baker's art as "Ideas". Wallace Stevens might say of Baker's poetics that "The poem is the cry of its occasion,/Part of the res itself and not about it." ("An Ordinary Evening in New Haven"). It's that upclose and personal!
Young and fulllipped, and ever loved by reader and poet as Walking Mind, now 'stone girl' begins to exert a downward pull, for she's also a thing of willfulness, and she wills that the poem, as product of art and Neolithics, return to its pure elemental beginnings, taking us with her. There's no escaping the beginnings of her in elemental water, mud and heat.
Full of gravitas, and even ecstatic in the way the STONE and GIRL in her are inseparable, she cannot be dismembered like sad Orpheus singing to cruel woodland nymphs. None of the epic's armature of brag, trope and exaggerated scenery will do here, for parts only of STONE GIRL take up space too
incongruously, too chaotically to be a true narrative. Perhaps only an art unaccompanied by poetry, relying on strident colours and motifs (such as that of the contemporary German artist Marion Lucka ) can do this. But not a joyous, lifeaffirming STONE GIRL EPIC.
This is true EPIC narrative told in a first 'primal', preliterate language. It seems to have been Baker's primary intention to let a silent 'stone girl' speak, at last proclaiming that art is by design lowly and pure and ultimately driven by Love. And, most importantly, that the object of love, never restricted to individuals only, is a much more universal Love of creation itself, the whole of a Walking Mind rather than any of its parts alone. It's what, in Baker's poetics, radical design and reworking of the traditional implements of poetry really amount to. Posted by Conrad DiDiodato at 7:59 AM