88 Sonnets by Clark Coolidge
(Fence Books, Albany, N.Y., 2012)
My initial associations with the number 88: the number of piano keys, the number of constellations, the number of counties in the State of Ohio. It’s also though, perhaps more importantly, the number of sonnets in Ted Berrigan’s famous sequence The Sonnets.
Berrigan’s sequence is the literary reference in need of noting; but piano keys, constellations, counties don’t seem so far off the mark in relation to Coolidge’s poetry, if you ask me. No one is asking, but what the hell. Let’s go.
Poetry is a funny business: the business of associations, the business of psycho-musical archaeologies. Among other things.
If one digs down to the bottom of a poem, what’s there? What’s the germ at the beginning of the thing?
For Coolidge I think the answer is sound: percussive, polyrhythmic sound—from which, folded through phrasing and timing, the improviser makes sonic origami in time. It is often remarked, for this reason, that Coolidge has a background as a jazz drummer.
The music of the poems in this collection is distinct, but then so is the imagery. For example:
A CASE OF OVERPARKING
She’s got that raisin stare I’m looking
for a man with hands on his head
believe me will be back shopping for silences
gone loony on the mark a chaos near to beauty
expects to escape like mercy from the former owner
jet scars in the overhead certain ceilings
the true extent of the light poems? you got
something going? patterns on a wishproof wall
Lady Godiva in the driveway with the Dixie Cups
Kleenex residue Vivaldi on the radiator
Blue Marcus the last original you see
the jars full of eyefuls? drowning doorsteps
delicious buzzing hinge lots it’s true
if a dumb enormous ash in extent
Coolidge’s associational writing—not unlike the jazz of Ornette Coleman or the paintings of Philip Guston—achieves its greatness by flirting with incoherence. I find his work inviting. He leaves room for the reader to roam and dream and play. It’s difficult to read any of his texts the same way twice. That strikes me as being very great indeed.
There are more constellations, piano keys and counties than one might imagine in this very fine book.
Tom Beckett is currently at work on Appearances: A Novel in 365 Fragments.