Things done for themselves—preverbs. George Quasha, Marsh Hawk Press, 173pp, 2015, $16.
This is an important book. When you think of chaos theory, the butterfly effect, the God particle, the amplitudhedron and medieval Arab alchemy, you should think of George Quasha, and that’s why it’s important to say this.
When you think of his concept of the preverb, you may enhance your mind’s journey by thinking of the late artist I. (Irene) Rice Pereira, whose concept of things ever coming to be is an alchemical fit with Quasha axial theory.
Quasha, in these poems (a preface he calls pre focus and an epilogue he calls pre), invites us to reconsider the nature of the book. He does this, he says, at a kind of behest from William Blake. The book, he says, is ever coming to be, and so it demands a collaboration not only between writer and reader but all that preceded it and may proceed from it. The book is an elixir in an alembic.
Pereira, in such works as The Simultaneous Ever-Coming-To-Be (1961), The Transcendental Formal Logic of the Infinite (1966) and The Poetics of the Form of Space, Light and the Infinite (1968), suggests that art is not static and therefore categorical definitions are inherently misleading. It’s a pity she and Quasha never had the opportunity to chat.
No book is really the same when you return to it, or when it returns to you. It has morphed and your evolving sensibility is prepared to encounter it on new grounds and make something entirely new of it. Too much sentimental blather has been heaped on the tactile experience of a book, as opposed, say, to an e-book, but not enough has been said of how we encountered the specific book, its heft, its design, its typography, its pagination, even its odor. The lesson here for e-book publishers is that they remain in an exploratory stage when it comes to seizing advantage of the e-book’s changeability, its fey quality.
Marsh Hawk Press and Susan Quasha, George’s wife, have published not only a handsome book but one evidencing a comprehension of Quasha’s thinking, as if they understood the book itself as both preverb, active and interactive, but also as an alembic for what will occur upon reading and re-reading.
Quasha’s poems become actions being taken. Their balletic electricity constitutes a potentiality, a presentiment of what we’re becoming by reading them. We take part, if we’re willing, in alchemical preliminaries.
Some poems—some of Quasha’s here—are glades in which we stand when lightning strikes. We’ve already experienced the flashing presentiments. We don’t survive. We’re made strange. It’s what poetry of a high order does, and what all too many editors are committed to thwart the poet from doing by preferring harmless poetry posing prettily in modernity’s focus on the ordinary rather than the lofty.
It’s tempting to regard this intricately conceived book as eccentric, but its intricacy is equalled by an architecture I think of as Moresque in its mathematical precision. For example, there is an outline in the front and a table of titles in the back. Instead, in the front there is preverbs, pre focus, Book I: things done for themselves, and Book II: witnessing the place awake. Under each book several poems are listed, but not all the poems in the book. The poems listed are keystones: you couldn’t remove them without undermining the whole. This isn’t just ingenious, it’s mindful in a way most collections are not. It derives from a meditation on the whole.
The first poem one mentions in commenting on a collection of poems isn’t necessarily the best or the most crucial, it may simply be cited because it best expresses prosody or the poet’s mindset or some other characteristic. Quasha’s poem, “the willing pull from period to period,” says something about his musicianship—Quasha is a composer and musician—in this instance his mastery of counterpoint, and the forbidden chord. That last concept is crucial to his poetic oeuvre. The period in this poem is an interval but not a stop. But it’s much more. Each period is a centrifuge in which what has been made of the poem is remade, and the reader, as the poet was before him, must be willing to go on. At risk.
Can’t take back what takes itself back before you.
I study dolphins for the seamless weave between oblivions.
This the opening stanza, the dolphin reference being one of the most beautiful lines in modern language. The poem concludes with this stanza:
Please take charge of these words as I fall asleep.
Asking permission to be is backwards.
What poet at the end of life would not concur?
The lines in this collection ought to be written in Arabic for the visual music of the Arabic script. They roll and heave and surge and crest.
Periodicity refers to both mathematical and musical concepts, and of course music and mathematics are closely related. These poems, in the process of becoming verbs, as we are reading them, demand periods as compared to enjambments: the periods are curcubits and alembics, centrifuges and colliders. The poem can’t proceed absent what happens in these periods. In this sense, they’re not punctuation, they’re adjunctive, they’re crucial. The periods in Quasha’s work have an astronomical function necessary to form and reform mass. Like black holes, they’re impenetrable, mysteries. But they’re never incidental:
Loving the planet is the best reason I know to keep coming here.
Likewise the poetic as vision of itself is no tautology as just now it’s showing up.
These lines are from “neither here nor there we are.”
Two long lines are Quasha’s preferred stanza here, but he’s not dogmatic about it. They comport with a well-measured breath. No shallow breathing here, no hyperventilation as with manic poetry. In some ways his lines are Whitmanesque, and there is a whiff of the rhapsode in him. But he is more in concert, spiritually anyway, with the mathematician-poets of Arab Spain.
His approach to words concerns what they’re coming to mean, not what they’ve meant. He approaches them as a Sufi. They belong to another species and not mere tools or handmaidens. They’re bearing a hand but they haven’t signed any shipping articles and they don’t promise to obey. This book is a verb coming to be. Fellow verbs, also coming to be, we’re invited to bear a hand.
Djelloul Marbrook © Copyright 2016