Coffey's first volume, number 22 in Sun & Moon's forward-looking New American Poetry series, uses forms founded by this century's avant-garde (e.g., Gertrude Stein, Jackson Mac Low and the Dadaist sound poets) to show how the very materials of language-names, verbs, sounds-inevitably get caught up in relationships, randomly, as we do. (The title is the alphabetic sequence L-M-N-O-P when spoken.) For Coffey, we are literally thrown together ("Marie's left foot slipped. Jim was there. Just slipped and fell.") and find meaning through language, often by chance. In fact, the stubbornness of prosody and syntax produces relationships where words themselves fail to signify: "Vasteny garsled Ombaly, tahk unda febala"-subject has encountered object here, and something has happened. Throughout each of the four stylistically differing sections-particularly in the sensuous, often chilling lyrics focused on the shared orality of sex and speech in "Loving," and in "Dannemora," a 20-page poem using only 21 words, the poet clarifies our urge to form narratives out of sounds in sequence, constructing necessary fictions to make meaning-or the sensation of meaning. As the poet notes in a different context, "Never a wall was built/ That won't come down/ So why go on about it?" Although a certain alienation is central to these tightly compressed poems, their energy is also invigorating: if the possibilities for forms and kinds of relationships in language are endless, then so are our own.
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Ordered in progressively intrepid sections, ("Loving," "Lichen," "Otherwards," and "Javajazyk"), the poems in Elemenopy adopt four distinct stances from which to examine "(the poet's) and the poems' relationship to language." To some, this may sound self-serious and heavy, but Coffey's exuberance and wit make light of the endeavor: what might have been leaden is instead (mostly) gold. While the poems in "Loving" most closely resemble conventional lyrics, they also provide us with the clearest sense of Coffey's own voice, its self-ironizing aplomb: "I'm committed, thanks, / to six-line stanzas, / the // last line one word. / A frame of a sort, / the beat of a minute. / I'm committed, thanks, / to sex with stanzas, / love, // and you're in it." The hard-edged, wryly crafted prose pieces in "Lichen" owe as much to Denis Johnson as to Hemingway and Stein, and in the first of the two "Suites" that make up "Otherwards," Coffey pays tribute to Stein exquisitely: "They had likeness to loving. They had a likeness to loving because they did not measure." The last section of Elemenopy, "Javajazyk," deploys an invented language to tell what purports to be a "linguistic romance ending in prayer." It will delight or madden, according to the reader's mood--if approached on the heels of the rest of the book, as it should be, it will delight.
Copyright © 1996, Boston Review. All rights reserved. -- From The Boston Review
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Book Description Sun & Moon Press, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX1557132402