(Counterpath Press, 2011)

 

 

 

Matthew Cooperman’s Still: Of the Earth As the Ark Which Does Not Move assumes a need for stills, assumes that the material being processed is coming in too fast to be absorbed any way but one second at a time. Cooperman’s book offers us a portrait of our moment, where our efforts to make information easier to receive haven’t made us better at understanding it; where in the time it takes to read one tweet, thirty more appear; where it’s hard to look, and it only gets harder to look away. One quickly learns how to read Still, but that doesn’t make the book easier to take. The Tea Party, BP, KBR, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, all figure in a landscape where “the sky is a debris field, hard is who’s looking at the problem.” Each section of this serial work takes the form of list, a series of relevant subheadings. “Still: Witness,” for instance, shows how these poems both maintain a subject (witness) and follow the logic of their individual tangents: 

 

to a crime: the violence done to a dream still born, the Marshall Plan? the Greeb of Nations, a Great Society built undone

 

Site: Heart Mountain, Ross Ice Shelf, Xinjiang Province; Trajan’s Forum, Jacko’s Reign, LeBron’s Right Hand, Abu Ghraib’s collar, my achy breaky heart

 

Sighting: on a beach in Mazaltan, my terrified loathsome heart, it’s pesos for the freshest fish and notas for the banker

 

These lists, and the lists they contain, collect into a cumulative understanding of an idea, a perplexingly fluid and multi-dimensional vision, or a kind of conceptual still shot. Cooperman moves forward through rapid streams of association, as in “the same old tree: Endor, Fangorn, Sleepy Hollow. The redwoods of my youth in fog, (Pescadero), three cottonwoods splayed by lightning (Escalante), the cherry tree of our lying patrimony.” These associative streams lead to inclusivity, and an excess of inclusivity is at the core of this project. These turns of thought often end up at a similar place: politics. “Still: Shooting” begins: “Cast: Dick ‘Got the Drop on Ya’ Cheney & Anthony ‘Nothing is as Funny as a Duck’ Scalia, Chuck ‘Is That a Chin Under His Beard? No it’s Another Fist” Norris & Charlton ‘Man, Ever Since Big Country My Teeth Hurt’ Heston.” How does one register genuine political outrage for a contemporary poetry audience? Show them a list of what’s happened. Cooperman writes, “this litany is not a list of complaints”; rather it’s a record, a log of the last decade. If the book feels angry, it’s because there’s plenty in those years to be angry about. Oddly, though, Still is not objective in tone, and the idiosyncrasies of Cooperman’s personality are ever-present. His humor, in particular, can be a bit obvious, as when we are asked to chant, “On Donner, On Blitzen, On Hellfire, On Humvee!” However, these moments add to the feel of rawness in the text. It’s not polished. It’s sorted. In this sense, reading Still feels similar to reading a more rigidly conceptual work, one that arranges but doesn’t filter the results of chance operations. The “Still” poems are interwoven with two other types of texts, a series of erasures, varied in source, and a series of untitled poems in unpunctuated stanzas. Both types are left out of the table of contents, but provide crucial relief to the onslaught of legibility of the main series. Partly because they are presented on black pages, the erasures don’t seem like new texts so much as physically defaced versions of the originals. The first begins, “How many / dip and pivot / white r ngs of tumult.” We are reading Crane through static here, and thankfully it’s hard. It slows us down. The unpunctuated poems provide a different relief, a freedom from lists and colons, from the struggle between the mind’s effort to categorize and “the poem…resisting containing.” This movement toward openness in Still ultimately makes me want to read the repeated title as meaning not just “static” but also “and yet.” As if Cooperman has captured the feeling between the moment when we look at the screen and see nothing has changed, and the moment when we feel we really better check again. 

 

 

 

 

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