oclock by Mary Rising HigginsMary Rising Higgins
Potes & Poets Press ($13)

by Patrick F. Durgin

"If the world no longer consists of places, has it become larger because it is no longer a place?" (Andrew Levy, Paper Head Last Lyrics) In our data age, such a question becomes acutely pertinent, particularly in terms of our national ambition to "globalize." Let's think big or, at least, take it another way. Although (or since?) our service providers afford us unlimited access, we can still only count on the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame, at best. So, if a life no longer consists in years, has life become longer because it no longer endures? I'm thinking of hackers, viruses, "Coolio," and other inhuman celebrities. Such myths are always aboriginal in a sense, timeless, out-sourced even. Time, however trite the assertion may be, endures with a bristling elegance; were sundials cropping up out west during the recent millennium scare?

midpoint heliogram

nothing to add     helioabyss

Time and space, the bedrock of physics as well as metaphysics, exacts its revenge on virtual reality. The danger of the latter seems to be that of sleeping (or "surfing") in a burning bed.

This present danger, experienced every day as the lodestar of reactionary media anxiety, provides one lens through which to view the radical modernist poetics, or "material text," as represented in Pound, Stein, all the way to the present, "post-language poetry" moment. Pound sought to "make it new," Marx sought "to change it." Which brings us to the current question: define "it." This is some big, if ephemeral, thinking, but that's nothing new. Aristotle spoke of the necessity of imagining the grand scheme of things—as did Christ and Darwin for that matter. There's not a layperson among us; we each became an expert the second we were able, each in our own ways, to distinguish friends from enemies, compassion from disgrace. Luckily, the best of our poets understand the need for small instances; "times" and "places" catch the eye, if they don't always hold it.

nothing times this when no
first hand accounts go there

Mary Rising Higgins's first full-length collection, really a serial poem organized as a book of hours, plays a straight-faced game with time and space and "her" place in them. Churning with the regal but violent machinations of a bell tower, oclock is a meticulously controlled random-text, a jarring but rewarding read. That is, these poems never invite one to nod in easy compliance, though they attempt to command the attention through formal techniques just this side of "cut-up" and "concrete" writing, respectively. Because of the surface tension of errant commas and neologisms "bright with vocabularies [and syntax] of self invention," the lyric finesse of this book appears at those points in which what we expect of the written word breaks down—the result is that "it feels like to go there becomes what is in front of you."

Though harnessing the powerful, diaristic voice of a day-in-the-life, narrative routines are abandoned in favor of a staccato series of harshly fragmented axioms, provocatively though not unmotivatedly juxtaposed images, and peculiarly enlivening thought-rhymes, light and writing being a typical set of tenors: "prism flare the woman's etude marking." As Higgins's method seems to be written in its midst, though oclock is not necessarily writing about writing, we might expect a challenge in pinning down a "subject" from the outset: "Inscape reforms tools or weapons if we agree to start here phonetic resift she thinks from. . . . What she will ask points to one another." That pronominal "woman's etude marking" widens the subjective scope beyond even the sweeping categories of philosophical discourse, though not thereby spilling over into the ambiguities of current political rhetoric. And that "phonetic resift she thinks" sounds like a rich offer to these ears and an unexpected treat to the eye (Higgins's use of strikethroughs and gently sloping margins late in the book provides a "textimony" to poetic possibilities and possible poetics the same). If the sun illuminates the thing (in space) to which we point, does the "helioabyss"—the dark side of the earth, night?—point to itself from within, unable to differentiate? Or does the "one" point to "another" ad infinitum? The author lets the poem testify to such questions "her" self—"she" appears to be the writing. Meanwhile, Higgins's backbeat veers from startling to lulling, self-important to selfless. And between these poles "her" authority becomes something more rewarding than a simple sequence of anecdotes (be they personal, clinical, or mythical). The subject becomes the sum of the writing itself, not a disgruntled and virtual daybook but a difficult song in which:

so many worlds pivot
killdeer    gillnet     button hook     proem
the hematopoiesis of bone marrow

For a glimpse into the deeply-rooted tradition of US American, radical modernist poetry, oclock is a timely, if you will, "textimony."

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Fall 2000 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2000