Multiple Selves, Painfully Split
By Colin Herd.
Stealth, Maureen Seaton & Samuel Ace, Chax Press 2011
The poems in Maureen Seaton and Samuel Ace’s new collaboration Stealth haunt and are haunted by the idea of the threshold; they’re liminal poems, never only one voice or another, always on the cusp of either. The book begins with a prologue poem ‘Untitled (Moon)’ about the name of our moon: “Poofiness aside, ooing is in. Motoring. Butt cracks.” From the get-go then, the reader’s in a fissure or a groove, in the liminal space of our “moon” which is not quite Earth and not quite Space and in “butt cracks,” half concealing half revealing the sexual organ men and women have in common. We’ve also immediately entered into a zone where the names of things are up for grabs, where categories are destabilised:
“All the things of the world and their proper names:
Cornish Hen. Fiorello LaGuardia.
(Except when they are not.)
Because proper does not happen in bed. Because proper
slides into elision and fumes. Larger than certain,
there in the fog, a Brigadoon of heart.
(A harvest of fizz and ash.)”
The poems in the first sequence, ‘Transliminal’, fluctuate between narratives of men and women: men and women in transit, in the desert, on the coast, inhabiting each other or hidden from one another. It often feels like the mini-narratives or prose poems that make up the sequence refer to the same multiple self, painfully split:
“Walk through the living room its wood floor past the $5.00 emeco
chair past the test paint on the walls a patch of gray green a patch of
gray mauve there for 6 months because he has not wanted to choose
he walks into his study sits down and stares at his screensaver Ghirri
and Eastman and Soth Brainard and McGinley what a great cock on
that boy! today’s selection (he will change it on Friday) he stands and
walks back from where he came past the little cactus in a pot past the
lemon tree planted by his wife”
There’s a muted almost unintentional violence in the liminal space this poem takes on, as its character literally and metaphorically walks through “the living room,” past the “test paint” as an indication that we’re entering uncertain realms. The pretense in this case is of a male calmly, commandingly leading a deceitful double existence, though there’s perhaps an indication that his double life need not be contradictory, that it’s the societal furniture, the emeco chairs, cactus pot and lemon tree that enforce his secrecy, incoherency and deceit.
From domestic between-spaces, the poems shift into land that is literally on the edge, that is overtly marginal:
“the fractal coastline turquoise and cerulean man o war
and multitudes of flesh sometimes she’s nauseas or frightened she
inhales salt and hopes it scours her she lies gingerly on the beach in
her body in the mass of others”
The word “fractal” seems important, the geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is a reduced size copy of the whole. In a sense that’s what the forms of these short similar-shaped poems feel like, the fractions and refractions of a whole containing multitudes: the beach made up of grains of sand; “her body in the mass of others.”
The second, untitled sequence in the book consists of 25 numbered (though out of conventional numerical sequence) ‘Secrets’. The vocabulary of stealth bombers and Italian cathedrals mixes with that of supermarkets, spas, the bible and an awful lot more besides, creating an initial sense of fragmentation and bewilderment. In ‘Secret # 25′, the sense of fragmentation dissipates again into a sense of fraction, of disparate connectedness. This poem recasts and joins up fragments of the two poems just discussed from the previous sequence:
“Walk through the living room to the fractal coastline, its wood floor
turquoise and cerulean, past the $5.00 emeco chair, man o war and
multitudes of flesh, past the test paint on the walls, her body in the
mass of others, patch of gray green, patch of gray mauve, inhaling salt.
He walks to his study, sits down and stares at his screensaver—jelly fish
riding waves, pelicans murdering mullet, sting rays side by side, a
shark, a manatee.”
There’s something stealthy about this poem. It’s unexpected, almost underhand; I mean that sequence was meant to be over, right? Except, there is no ‘over’ in this book, no boundaries or finish lines that can’t be bled into or crossed. This is the sort of poetry that could only result from co-authorship and collaboration, Seaton and Ace’s individual and particular obsessions merge and their separate vocabularies and voices overlap and muddle. Stealth enacts its own drama of connectivity and disconnect.
The book’s ‘Epilogue’ is a kind of index of references and connections, tracing a network from the book’s fractal shapes. We’re told about the painter Agnes Martin and about stealth bombers; we’re told that Stealth is a roller coaster in Surrey and we’re told that there is a roller coaster in Carolina called Nighthawk that changed its name from Stealth. The disclosure of these secret ‘facts’ does nothing to provide a key to the work’s secret ‘fractions’, which retain a deep sense of mystery, but they do open the book up to new readings and nuances. Stealth is an intricate, thoughtful, energised book by two wonderful poets and the extraordinary “third voice” of their collaborations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Colin Herd lives and writes in Edinburgh. He is co-editor of Anything Anymore Anywhere. Poems have appeared in Shampoo, Streetcake, Velvet Mafia, Gutter and Pop Serial, and reviews in the blog of Chroma journal. His chapbook, Like, is published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press and his poetry collection, too ok, by BlazeVOX.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, June 8th, 2011.