klipschutz. This Drawn & Quartered Moon. Vancouver, CA: Anvil Press, 2013. Pp. 124.
The title of this collection sets the tone: like many lines in the poems, it starts a phrase that takes a turn the reader hadn't predicted. That kind of wordplay can be merely a sign of cleverness. In klip's hands, the wordplay sharpens the phrase to a cutting edge. This collection runs to 124 pages, a generous but coherent selection of klip's poems. The poems vary in form from regular forms (ghazals and ballad stanzas, for instance) to free verse to prose poems, but the language is always taut and precise, moving emphatically.
These poems bring to my mind two of Ezra Pound's dicta: “poetry is news that stays news," and “an epic is a poem containing history." This Drawn & Quartered Moon is not an epic, but it does contain both news and history. klip's “Dear Ezra," toward the end of the book, comments acerbically on Ez P'o: “You died. Class dismissed. All that noise," the first line, is a fine epitaph for the poet with “a schoolgirl crush on Mussolini" The poems are rooted in klip's time and space, which is largely that of his readers & contemporaries. Some of us may have learned about the Cuban missile crisis in history class; others of us watched JFK deliver the news on TV. We can all read it here, in klip's poems that are often news filtered through an amused and sometimes disillusioned sensibility, with just a dash of William Burroughs!
The collection is divided into six sections:
- Oncoming Foot Traffic
- The Girl in the Black Dress
- Elvis the First
- Number Nine: A Presidential Suite
- Numbered Hearts
- The Eternal Present
The title of each section is presented on a movie marquee with a background of San Francisco's signature Victorian houses. The poems have many historical, social, literary, musical, artistic references, some regional to San Francisco; all expect from the reader a certain cultural literacy.
The collection is prefaced by a “Memo to Wordsworth" that delineates the changes from Wordsworth's time to our own: the shift in perspective stated in the first two lines, “Hey Bill, the clouds don't look / so lonely from up here!" from the Lake Country to the globe seen from a jetliner. klip's attitude shows in lines like “Props for your daffodil mood swing" and "Say hi to Sam & Dorothy & the gang / . . . from the bloody future . . . ." Well, yes, after about 200 years of wrenching change, klip can address “the gang" in these informal terms, while still acknowledging the relationship: “Brother, you don't want to know."
Oncoming Foot Traffic
This section title follows naturally on the references to the “lone wanderers" of British Romanticism. The first poem, “In Memory of Myself," has lines scattered on the page similar to Ferlinghetti's early work. I take the form as an acknowledgment of the San Franciso Renaissance. The imagery and allusions in this poem work with San Francisco political, social, and business history. It isn't my purpose to annotate each line of each poem (nor could I) but I'll simply point out references to the Emperor Norton, George Moscone, Dan White, Willie Brown, et al. And the unspoken but implied name(s).
This section has two ghazals in it, “Ghazal of the Terrible Twenties" and “Ghazal of the Sugarless Gumshoe." Each has six shers, neither has radif, qafiya, makta and the other apparatus of the Urdu ghazal. (Just sayin'.) klip's ghazals follow the formal pattern of Adrienne Rich's or Jim Harrison's. Both of these are strong poems and the “leaps" between couplets work very effectively. As the title suggests, the second depicts the noir private eye. Its ending sher is
I took a left, another left, a short right, a hard left,
then folded like a piece of linen, thinking hey, no stars . . .
By the end of the first line, the reader realizes that the speaker is taking a beating not a trip.
The Girl in the Black Dress
Is the black dress with a girl in it a cocktail dress or a mourning dress? The poems in this section all present characters, Walt Whitman, a king of Jordan, hairstylists, mobsters, rock stars, lawyers . . . . The section ends with a prose poem, “Slab of Consciousness." In it, we find that the black dress is probably both a party dress and a funeral dress. The prose poem is almost all short sentence fragments, a few very terse independent clauses. The longest sentences are four and three words long: “His lawyer says: con-sen-su-al." “She stopped breathing." Terse. This assemblage of phrases catches the significant movements of a noir novel. Or film. Bogart. Hepburn. Crowe. klip.
Elvis the First
The five pages in this section reflect klipschutz's childhood experience of Elvis. His father was physician to the king. The poem has four sections dense with references to klip's childhood, his parents' household attitudes, and, not just Elvis' music, but the Beatles and other units of the British Invasion. Here's a sample from the fourth section:
Now I'm going to work right here
bleeding all over the page
is my stage and I shall not want
for the Lord is my Home Shopping Network.
In an interview with Jon Cone, klip says that he revises each poem around fifty times, looking for the sound of spontaneity. These lines achieve that effect, play the words like a guitarist moving up and down the neck, fingers eliciting a wailing riff.
Number Nine: A Presidential Suite
When I cited Ezra Pound's definition of “epic," it was largely this suite that I had in mind. klip's collection as a whole contains history, but these poems especially do. Like almost all modern epics, they are not a single sustained poem. This section of This Drawn & Quartered Moon isn't even epic in length like The Cantos or Paterson or The Maximus Poems or . . . . But its poems do contain history. Appropriately for a “presidential suite, it begins with a Fanfare," and, like a traditional epic, the fanfare begins with the origins of the cosmos, followed by origins of the presidency and of klip himself.
The suite includes the presidencies of Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Tricky Dick Nixon, Reagan, George H. W. Bush (“Kenny Bunkport"), Bill Clinton (“Horn Dog Agonistes"), George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Not all presidents appear under their own names; klip epithets for them are killerfunny. George W. gets the title poem, “This Drawn & Quartered Moon,"
the election given, Rehnquist's gift outright . . .(78)
a bitter remembrance of Robert Frost's inaugural poem f for JFK and a succinct acknowledgment of the Supreme Court's role in the ascendancy of G. W. Bush.
The presidential suite also includes a prose poem fantasia about the trial of George W. It is heavily redacted.
The last poem in the suite is titled, “Futures (October 29, 2008)," a tentative anticipation of the election. It has six threeline stanzas, divided by and ending with this line:
Our new and improved national nightmare needs a break (81, 82)
Indeed it did, and still does. klip is a Suetonius with only nine Caesars.
“Numbered hearts? What numbers hearts? The beat of a song, the rhythm of a poem; the birth and death dates on a tombstone. The U. S. Census Bureau. Does each beat of a heart number it? This section covers a wide variety of characters, situations, and themes, everyone from Mickey Mouse to Ezra Pound, from a holocaust denier to an alcoholic bowling ball. There are others, including Social Realist painter Jack Levine and a TV weatherman.
The title of this section comes from “Ghazal of the Literal Contradiction,” which first appeared in The Ghazal Page in August 2001. The first line of this ghazal is “I've broken numbered hearts, unspoken mumbled rules” (101). There are some slight changes in this version, which do improve it.
The Eternal Present
This, last, section begins with “The Red Wheelbarrow of Fortune” (105), one of klip's poems in a fourline ballad stanza. I'll quote the first and last stanzas to give you a taste of how he handles this form. The acerbic wit remains constant with beyond that a depth of feeling that shifts what might be light verse into more subtle chiaroscuro:
Pope John Paul is in Jordan
President Bill is in Dakar
I'm here at SFO
Wishing on an airport bar
Children cheer a flag on fire
A car commercial ends
Hearts of darkness fill with light
The wind is up—so much depends . . . (105)
klip's poems depend a lot on allusion and reference. In this case, the title and last phrase allude to, quote from, William Carlos Williams' famous poem about a red wheelbarrow and white chickens, not to mention rain.
I value klip's allusiveness, his—dare I?—intertextuality, especially if “texts” include all sorts of experiences. His allusions are not, so far as I know, based on his reading, but on his life, his experiences and observations. Williams famously fretted that Eliot's The Wasteland had returned poetry to the classroom, and for all their eclectic weirdness, Pound's Cantos have a strongly academic quality. klip's poems are not academic, and I mean that, of course, as a compliment.
The last poem in the book is “The Eternal Present.” I'll come to that in a few lines. But first, a comment on the three prose poems that come immediately before “The Eternal Present.” (Ah! Does anything precede the eternal present?) The prose poems are “Blue Doom,” “White Heat,” and “Green Glass.” In “Blue Doom,” marks of punctuation have proper names and voices: “Gimme a sec, said the comma” (120). In “White Heat,” science fiction writer Philip K. Dick's obsessions take on a condensed life as he finds “God one character at a time” (120). “Green Glass” is dedicated to Jack Kerouac in the mode of digging love and dodging wardens.
“The Eternal Present” seems to be “8:38 a. m. 62 degrees.” Perhaps that's a koan. An associated question:
Who could stand
One more minute that damp tower, the self? (122)
The last lines of the poem seem to affirm freedom, but how does a question affirm?
Pressed roses float to freedom.
Don't we all? (122)
My references to the allusions and references in klip's poems shouldn't discourage you from reading this collection. He has provided a few notes at the end of the volume, and a search engine will find other references for you.
I didn't mention that klip also is a songwriter and cowrote the album Temple Beautiful with Chuck Prophet. Temple Beautiful is devoted to San Francisco, as is much of This Drawn Quartered Moon. If either of these works speaks to you, surely the other will.