Into Was to Begin
by Lonely Christopher
NOTE: Into is a new volume of four long-form poems from three poets: “Face” by Christopher Sweeney, “The Mountain” by Robert Snyderman, “The House of There Is” & “The Great Bird Will Take the Universe” by Lonely Christopher. Into is a Seven CirclePress release and features a critical introduction by Greg Afinogenov. More details available here. Here below, contributor LC remarks personally on the project…
Into was assembled erratically, the process spontaneously providential. It’s a thematic confluence of a triad of inextricably related unrelated young poets. We three went into Into out of a consanguinity architected from poets’ communities’ conversations that branch and blossom with weird resonance. No genesis in commissioned project frames the textual narrative full enough here: the editorial anti-process, an amalgamation of intuits and accidents, really groped into being as the conspiracy of a loose association of writers/critics/friends who read and reshaped the cause. The germ was planted by publisher Seth Jani: he requested a document from Robert Snyderman. Snyderman, opaque and gnostic, brought instead, eventually, a giant messy mountain.
The triad of Into went advertising the object upon its release at the end of April; we growled about in a smelly car, highways between locations --- our manuscript tucked in dizzy grasps --- and incited conversations with unfamiliar communities as the word spilled, shared, out with theirs. That we three would publish ourselves thus and in said manner describe our poetics together pushing the tangle through but-discovered contexts… that this would be feels as apposite to our story as it does tending to unruly gurgles. How it speaks in funny gestures: those of all who navigate the slough with us, searching for the mountain, hear.
Principal in Into’s allowance must be Seth; his Seven CirclePress enabled the text and bravely faced it when it came delivered in monstrous shape. The form of this mutated from the promise of a title, for release, from Robert alone, the self-confessed vagabond newly escaped from an undergraduate writing program (where his thesis was a poem cycle, Cloth, terminating in an early iteration of “The Mountain”), thence stalked off to roam North America. Robert had importantly studied poetry closely with fellow Pratt poet Sweeney, he writing “Face” concurrently and at length, in the institutionalized place, the same school where Lonely Christopher was and won the thesis prize for fiction that annum. The relationship of their individual fixtures, and consequent rude and awesome branching, has been treated by Greg Afinogenov, historian and conspirator, who interpreted/linked the valences gauzed round their poetics and those of proxy corresponding kids. His extensive attention, plus critical documenting, authorized him in introducing Into by way of setting the stage for its unfolding. This here rant hints nothing at the helpful clarity and skill in that intro essay in Into.
Christian Hawkey, poet/translator who Sweeney and Rob studied Celan under (who we all withal sat with in a tutorial called “Writing Machines”), became Into’s shepherd. He advised vast aspects of the editorial process, conversing re and critiquing generously/thoroughly the matter’s gamut. When he held the glossy final object in standing for its introduction, at our Brooklyn release, he evinced his mentorish skepticism (+ wisdom) in admitting he didn’t initially like our title. (The title was the subject of heaps of authorial dread, nothing being resolved, until Into sensibly materialized, only later revealing its resonance.) Christian took the singular preposition as positing a movement toward an interior, a delving into, initially. His eventual conclusion, jumpy doubt becalmed, changed agreeably: Into is not an inward direction, a lunge profundis --- it is not movement into enclosing… rather an indication of contact and division. If that is, then “into” is more lateral, even centrifugal, than inwardly plunging. Thus the “into” of Into was located.
The four poems in Into are all treatments of existential problems; that’s my fuzzy conclusion, anyway. We weren’t writing together, or even always talking to each other, when separately suffering the shapes of these things to final form. The poems weren’t written into this book, but drawn, magnetized, thither as an aftermath. Greg reads the results as poetic constructs gaping asunder, wound-like, sans significant bridges between weeping elements. How identify these retarded “bridges” absent over each yawning problematic? My summary following is probably weakly facile, but a trace of the argument at least… Sweeney’s mythological stance mourns threadbare truth, existence diluting faith, finally to be salvaged or sunk in muddy drapes of temporality; Rob’s ecstatic mountain explodes definition, writing itself obliterated by experience as its actualization; my work might be like the pathetic song puked down the echo chamber of vacancy where subject and text fail each other. Maybe.
In Sweeney’s deftly composed, formal miracle of a poem, “Face,” there is a romance of attempting to distinguish values of experience, hold something --- what is being (a kind of awe) in the searing brightness of its uncertainty? The drama unfurls jerkily, language carried at a staggered clip, words floating insolent in a puddle of the page “into time, / looming.” The holiness of place warps, scarefully, and the threat of the wrong place curdles the verse: “place constricts / obliquely[.]” Sweeney fights, implores --- whatever you have, hold, even if what’s held is pain… it is owned pain then. Is the singularity of place possible? will shapes resolve around poetry or will a cruel existential wave make scud of this desire?
Robert’s work has always been more impervious to description than Sweeney’s mannered verse or my own conceptual operating. Greg has it his poetry wakes you hurried in the night, confused of/in place. Christian posits the mountain from “The Mountain” as Into’s central metaphor. The Mountain is a part of the whole and the hole within the parts. “The mountain is an annex,” Rob writes; he writes, “The Mountain must be confronted.” The device is unstable --- the metaphors, mixed (The Mountain is: monolithic and shattered; figurative and a reachable; there, a generic noun, here, a specific name), constitution scrambled --- but, whatever/however this Mountain reads it must be confronted. It is written. “Time writes.” This poem is a confrontation of the mountain that is the Mountain: the contradiction of the idea is the brain of its poetry. Is the Mountain magisterial and/or sinister, what funds its power, is it a consequence and/or an action, does it keep place or eat place, are we going into it or departing? The declarations of this impossible journey spell how, says Greg, “the way in is also the way out.” The document changes into the Mountain.
What place is there then for my terminal poems, lastly drafted into Into and compositionally technically divorced from the formalism of “Face” and, differently, the prophetic depravity of “The Mountain”? This pair of procedural works came from a period of appropriation as textual (re)negotiating. In both, a found source (a sermon and Freud, respectively) are split open, through erasure, letting out a rhetorical demon ever before dormant in the ideological subconscious of the text. The sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” minus the morality, is left its stark spinal secret, turning into an existential harassment of place. Sinners’ hell turns into texts’ hell: insignificance (“to be gone / is”). The final poem, “The Great Bird Will Take the Universe” (from Freud), queers the normative code of the source, problematizes its pulsing rhetoric, thereby opens into allowance to be destroyed by the machine of its title, our great bird, another mountain, a metaphor for the unrecoverable singularity, the place achieved --- and the way the great bird swallows meaning celebrates itself as a suicide bomber inside identity’s fabric. “The universe forces her way into experience.” Boom.
Taking Into out into the little world was scary for this poet. The ghost-thread hung around the four entities inside seemingly so fragile as to read tenuously by a frustrated audience. We’re going on about a year since the poems in Into were being drafted as uncommon projects by three peers --- close, we, but nevertheless absorbed fully in our own creative idioms. The thematic positions and formal mechanisms demonstrated by each member of this published triad are so dense we haven’t done with interrogating each other re the other poems --- my reading of “The Mountain” particularly unfinished, my view of Sweeney’s belief systems always shifting. We packed a lot of study into these poems; the seriousness rattling around in our skulls after four years of vocational development is plain in it all, an over-ever-obvious symptom; they’re not, these, always the friendliest, poem-wise in approach. They are the charts of our obsessions, overlapping as they have despite our refusals of correlative pursuits, artistically. Maybe this all reads unforgivably pretentious, and then I am daft, and this is all a receipt for postured embarrassments. I worry how publishable the triad is, if we can walk into a situation prepared to take the time to hear us at any volume. Yet, on the road (two weeks past at time of writing), beset as I was with doubt compounding with sickness of traveling daily through those states… even though I was moodily cynical then, when Robert got and stood in front of whoever was generously assembled for the reading, and when he began not to repeat but perform the text, act out The Mountain reading “The Mountain,” newly each time too --- the animation of the poem came flickering out of him so, it put back in me the amazed way I read my friends’ verse; it reminded me of where we came from and why we did this like this.