Monday, October 22, 2007

Monster Theory (Lytton Smith)

(The following is excerpted from the sequence "Monster Theory," in Lytton Smith's forthcoming chapbook, to be published by the Poetry Society of America in Februray 2008. Several other medieval-leaning poems are in the book; I recommend the work highly for its crystalline elegance and its sonorousness. The poems are composed by an artist with a love of words and sound; they beg to be read aloud. I apologize for screwing up the mis en page of the poetry sequence below. See also this post).

Monster Theory

It is always at the outset a displacement—
[the monster] is fragment, obscured glance,
suspicion, boneshard, is one town over
and can be seen footprint or silhouette
at the Gates of Difference, dependent
on their unlocking. It does not test
the height of the wall, try to scale it;
is bound to rules even in deformity.

All knowledge is local, all cartographies sketched
with a lead of local origin and coloured with dye from the petals
of flowers picked and crushed in nearby woods.
All cartographers are men and all their wives,
their thimble and needle wives, would not understand
the sense of scale that such men are forced into:
how borders fit within the boundaries of a singlesheet.

Pattern: [the monster] sated, moving on just before the townsfolk
uncover its lair in a rabble of pitchfork and brandish. The walls of
the cave are without painting: [the monster], incapable of literal or
emotional representation, is incapable of art. The thrown flicker of
torches reveals red daub: blood of cattle of flock of the missing
daughters of the pastor and the blacksmith. In the absence of bone
or skeleton, the librarian proffers two readings: [the monster] has
devoured all remnants of his slaughter; [the monster] bears
trophies. In the recess of the cave, a huddle of swan feathers
crudely sharpened: instruments of torture, blood-hardened.
Rumour: two anxious and too young sentries posted at the cave
entrance—[the monster] always escaping always returns—the mob
empty-hands its way into town where their wives and daughters are
not waiting and candles are not kept burning in the windows.
Rumour: [the monster] come upon, nor’wards and asleep, by a
single shepherd who dared not take life in his own hands. Rumour:
on [the monster’s] bare torso, a map cut as if by jagged knives. His
body a readable text.

(from the chapbook's back matter)
Monster Theory is the title of a collection of essays edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen; his
introductory essay, “Monster Culture: Seven Theses,” provided the inspiration and a
number of key phrases for “Monster Theory” and I owe a debt to his scholarship,
especially regarding how present the medieval is.

Biographical Note:
Lytton Smith lives in New York City, where he studies Anglo-Saxon literature, plays
in goal for Division United, and, with Tom Haushalter, runs the Blind Tiger Poets, a
group that helps promote books of poetry.

1 comment:

dan remein said...

What a great text! I can't wait to read the whole chaptbook.

One of the richest sources for my own thinking on the creative/critical divide are the short essays of Edward Said--especially his talk about Vico. He links the work of the critical, the poetic, and historical inextricably with each other. Additionally, I think Derrida is a great example of a "theorist" one can read as "literary"--in which theory can be read almost as a literary "genre" (as much as I dislike that term).

That poetry can do the work of theory is important to state, and to push for. The example of Charles Berstein's "The Artifice of Absorbtion" comes to mind, as well as Charles Olsen's oeuvre (which this reminds me of). What I think Most of these folks seem to point back to geneologically, is a certain view of language itself: one inescapbably marked by what Heiddeger did to such thinking: replacing "representational" binary with a less reductive idea of "authentic" speech.