Disaster Suites is Rob Halpern's latest book published by Palm Press. Colter Jacobsen's Katrina (after Misrach)--Memory Drawing, detail, 2006, graces the cover.
I hope to have more to say about this book when time opens up for me later this summer. Or at least, promises to. But in the mean time, do, read it.
Never has disaster been so stunning.
The scission is exact. An architecture is scaffolded and razed. At once. Desire. Despair. Lyrical undressing of abomination.
Whenever I try to com-
Municate love dis-
Appears said Monica
Viti as Valentine it was
La Notte Antonioni's
Very hot picture so pl-
Ease monitor my hearts
And mind what he
-avenly difference boasts
Of thickness these
Accidents produce me
-mbranes peeling off in-
Ternal selves skins we
Watch all this emerging
Out of the deep too deep
To name inside my rec-
Tum is yrs there
Being no other place
For false members
To go where nothing can
Name these things I
Stink of value ends
Produce yr views
---don't do it for my experience.
The book closes with the lines:
In words with no future we seek portals
Holes and faults hew new relations quicken
Chasing that persistent and ongoing
A "we," a negative affirmation, abraded words. Here's another one with which to break your heart:
This one wants to be the one to break
The story poems don't break open
Stories someone said as if I couldn't
Hear a word the thing makes here it
Says 'breaks' instead of meaning this
One thing the poem wants to be
Meaning stories making things to
Break the thing our things can't mean
As if all this were really breaking
--what goes unheard sings only of want.
In the essay at the back of the book entitled "Post-Disaster," Halpern writes:
Unlike the death of any one, disaster is what we hold in common as a community, despite its not being here for us to share as a site for communion. In one of his late aphorisms on Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin suggests that Les Fleurs du mal was the first book of poems not illuminated by starlight. I think the stars are extinguished in Baudelaire because the poems successfully dispatch all sanctioned coordinates of progress and meaning as soon as those coordinates become the pegs upon which capitalist production hangs its own hat. In becoming unmoored, the poems list without a star map, without a guide. They become fateless. And yet this is how the poems resist the death-in-life prescribed by a new world of commodities that have themselves taken the place of the stars in a darkening universe. Baudelaire's poems are without destiny as they resist this disaster by courting their own at once promise and catastrophe, opposites persisting in and thru one another.
There's an echo of chaos theory here. Maybe the lyric "I" of these Disaster Suites is an example of what Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers call a 'dissipative structure,' that is, a form of provisional and unstable order that emerges as an effect of ever-increasing disorder and dislocation. In the context of our own catastrophe, there are many such structures--NGO's, drug cartels, suicide bombers, al-Queda itself, or even the modest Guatemalan evangelical churches in San Francisco's Mission district--faulty bulwarks against the systematic fallout of the system that produced them. Is it useful to think of the lyric "I" in similar terms? Or would that amount to another bad alibi for lyric disabled agent of entropic drift?
These questions activate the nonsite of these suites.
Here's what some other people have to say about Rob's book:
A paradox sets these disquieting and beautiful Disaster Suites into motion. They produce a music— missing in the count now counts as one — reaching for the disappearance of the very conditions that make it audible: war, so-called natural catastrophe, a public sphere where there is no / Public. As in the songs of William Blake and the sci-fi novels of Octavia Butler, these Suites sing against their own beauty and their seemingly perpetual present — which is why they seem so strangely archaic and futuristic at once. In complex patterns of meter and rhyme, Disaster’s lyric “I” summons its own kind of “counting” (prosody) against the physics of finance or exchange. Yet the music which results can only be heard — the drowned and the bombed — in between and against the other tracks that Halpern intricately lays down: the singing of capital, the burble of mass media, the daily noise of bodies who work, shit, fuck, and love. This stunning book has almost single-handedly made me love contemporary lyric poetry again.
It’s hip to be deaf to the larger sounds of our time because the hip want a party, not THIS WORLD as it is! Fuck THAT! I want THIS poetry where the atonal crisis wails and sputters. Negotiate with yourself, it’s your life, in our world, at the line, and the next line of Halpern’s amazing book. Gross profits and grotesque guilty pleas align with the knife here. The stress of our injuries, you can feel your body ache while reading, now leave us to it Halpern, you’ve done your job better than anyone else could! I’m grateful for these poems.
—CA Conrad, author of Deviant Propulsion