Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Cave

Coolidge, Clark and Bernadette Mayer. The Cave. Princeton, NJ: Adventures in Poetry, 2009.

Coolidge and Mayer's collaboration stems from a trip the two poets took with several of their friends and family members to Eldon's Cave in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts on September 10, 1972; the writers composed the resulting material from this excursion over the course of the following six years. Details surrounding the book's inception and production are important for two specific reasons. First, the collection functions as a cave, particularly Eldon's Cave, metonymically; secondly, the collection explores the confluence of memory and language, or how “cave words leave a hollow in our past” (69). To this extent, the book opens with fairly direct prose that recounts the particulars of the poets' outing, from the round-about manner in which they found the location of the cave, to their exploration of it's tunnels, passages, and crevices. In a very literal manner, then, the prose poems that comprise the majority of The Cave are “Passages,” wherein Coolidge and Mayer inform us that “I can find my way in without directions for putting words together,” and our “way in” is an exploration of how one recalls an external event via an internal consciousness over the course of time. When constructing these memories in the written form, not adhering to linguistic rules is important because “The directions for a multiplication of words may not work in [a] place” (16), such as a cave, as it does in another “places”; instead, in this “absence of alphabet for putting words together,” readers need a system based upon context that evolves organically: language born of/in the “environment,” or “Words carved in marble [that] define what is sculptural but not transportable” (16). Therefore, as writers and readers, the “game [is] to figure out what words were the cave” (17). But the “sculptural” words that “work in [this] place” are not meant, necessarily, to communicate or signify in a traditional manner, nor is their purpose determinate or singular. In fact, the words are “energy words” that “speak an unrehearsed...echoes” and produce “a spring, a spewing, a spitting” (10) within the audience; in other words, The Cave contains intensive and affective language focusing on “the repetition of cadences” (56) in an effort to evoke “the grand qualities its rare forms” (57), via its “long & complex sentence” (54) structures, neologisms “not in my dictionary” (53), and “twist[s] of syntax” (64). In addition to the aesthetic and philosophical explorations of language, Mayer and Coolidge also investigate what it means to write a collaborative work and how co-written texts “obfuscate...identities shown” (9). The collection concludes with a series of dialogues between real and imagined characters; in once such dialogue, Mayer asks Coolidge: “How come Clark we keep putting words whatever they are/ into each other's mouths?” While the question, initially, may lead readers to the conclusion that the purpose of a collaborative text is lost upon the poets, the pieces that precede the dialogue tell us something different. In fact, “putting words...into each other's mouths” is a experiment in “always getting lost off the main passage” (65), or “narrating the trail” in such a manner that “I have become both they” (43) so as to discover “a new way of speaking” (34) that “eats away at the pronoun I” and creates a “sense invisible” (19).

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