Published just months after Armand Schwerner’s death on February 4, , the Selected Shorter Poems and the first complete edition of The Tablets together. THE TABLETS is his answer. Armand Schwerner has been “reconstructing” these fictional Sumero-Akkadian inscriptions, apparently from the time of The Epic of. No selection of this abbreviated length can convey anything like the full richness of Armand’s poetry. The Tablets themselves, despite the controlling presence of.
San Diego, Junction Press, Armand Schwerner, The Tablets. Published just months after Armand Schwerner’s death on February 4,the Selected Shorter Poems and the first complete edition of The Tablets together constitute a testament to one of the most important linguistic innovators of the late twentieth century. Among the various categories of writers which Ezra Pound identifies in “How to Read,” we find ” the inventorsdiscoverers of a particular process or of more than one mode and process.
Always trusting in the fundamental ground of the human body, Schwerner schewrner translation in its broadest sense into his schwedner. With his colleagues in the ethnopoetics movement, he re discovered the poetic potential in the anthropologist’s study of native cultures and languages, in the synchronicity of the archaic and the modern.
Yet it was given to Schwerner, perhaps to a greater extent than any of his fellows, to understand the deep irony and uncanny pathos that informed the ethnopoetic project at its most serious — which is also to say, at sxhwerner most grandly comic. Schwerner embraced the universalizing spirit of ethnopoetics — the dream of total translation, total performance, total synchronicity — while at the same time implicitly acknowledging its impossibility.
The Tablets is his brilliant monument to this realization, but its step by step progress can be seen in his shorter poems as well, many of them as schwefner accomplished and beautiful as the best parts of his long work. Schwerner’s poetry, from his early work in The Lightfallif personaland Seaweedand on through the various editions tabldts The Tabletspresents schwerndr great range of forms and procedures.
But what is to be found consistently, both on the page and in Schwerner’s extraordinary readings, is the underlying assumption that language, particularly spoken language, embodies a kind of primacy which, when discovered anew a discovery which is to be made endlesslycan restore a fundamental sense of wonder to human existence.
Part of this wonder is derived from the nature of the poetic process.
As Schwerner explains, “The made thing, poem, artifact, product, will appear to the maker as Other and yet give the pleasure of recognition, to breed other discoveries. The voices of the made thing, poem, object, need no ascription by the maker. Tablehs does not know the necessary identity of a voice or many voices. They speak him in a way he later discovers. The locus appears later” Tablets This statement pulls together a number of the most important aspects of ethnopoetics as an original artistic tendency — original in Pound’s sense of “make it new” and original in the sense of a return to origins.
When Schwerner describes the artifact’s confronting the maker as an Other, he reflects a typically postmodern scepticism regarding the unitary self and its expression in the admand. The current notion that language speaks us, rather than vice versa, is likewise found in the image of unknown voices speaking the poet. But the sense of otherness that obtains between subject and utterance is also very ancient, going back to the shaman’s trance, the possession of the tribal poet by a god, ancestral spirit, or totemic power.
But whether one regards the phenomenon from an archaic or postmodern perspective, it is tahlets that what the maker fashions is not self-expressive or experiential in any conventional sense. And as Schwerner further asserts, “there is no nuclear self” Tablets Because poetic form is experienced as both recognition and otherness, it is magical or uncanny. In Schwerner’s work, this linguistic quality is most apparent in those texts that rehearse the spoken word, such as the early “Poem at the Bathroom Door by Adam”: The chant-like quality of the verse, the use of repetition and variation, and the play of parts of speech, are not only qualities of the child’s language, but tablwts reminiscent of the poetry of “primitive” cultures as well.
Rather than sentimentalize either the child-like or the primitive, however, the poem enacts the oral immediacy which the poet finds so valuable.
This same sense of immediate connectedness — of sincerity, that quality so valued by Objectivists such as Zukofsky and Oppen, whom Schwerner knew personally — is also to be felt when the poet uses the first-person pronoun.
Note how the equally important Objectivist quality of precision comes into play in these stanzas from “the passage,” one of my favorites in the Selected Shorter Poems: I find eight raspberries, the last of their season, along the high grass path surprise of blueberries I eat as I go and vetch I now recognize, that Baker showed me, half-inch long wild peas, three tiny peas, tear the pod carefully, watch the pressure at the seam I practice the touch, four yellow warblers fly into the brush Girl sniffs along behind me, I think of Corson Ave.
These are the sorts of moves one finds repeatedly in Schwerner’s more lyric poems, as in this brief passage from the serial poem “sounds of the river Naranjana”: Selected Here, the epistemological and phenomenological concerns of Objectivism coincide with Schwerner’s extensive studies of Buddhism, as the speaking voice becomes that of a sage instructing us arnand the path of enlightenment, an experience of the totality in and of every present moment.
But Schwerner’s understanding of cultural change and historical rupture is too deep, too vexing, to allow him to rest content within the moment, even a moment that may lead to enlightenment. Remote, archaic, or primitive cultures are never idealized in Schwerner’s work, nor does the apparent synchronicity of belief or experience, the shared instant when the boundary of self and other dissolves, remain unexamined.
This is one of the great themes of The Tabletsa armnd that, genealogically, goes back further than almost any other exercise in ethnopoetics.
The deepest of deep parodies, The Tablets is a sort of Joycean hoax: This fundamental lack of temporal and discursive stability distinguishes The Tablets from other literary works of an “archaeological” nature: Hill’s Middens, Heaney’s Bogs, Schwerner’s Tablets” we are never presented with the “archaeological primal scene. Rather, it is we readers who enact the primal scene every time we look into The Tabletsevery time we turn its pages, for the translated tablets are themselves the artifacts, or as close as anyone will ever come to them.
No need to represent the encounter with an artifact when the text itself is that artifact” “Archaeologies of Knowledge: It is this quality that leads Rachel Blau DuPlessis to observe that as the work develops, The Tablets reflects the evolving concerns of the ethnopoetics movement, from “the search for origins or primary emotional and cultural ground” to “the nature, functions, ideologies, and interests at stake in the transmission and the transmitter” “Armand Schwerner,” Sulfur The modern, accidental form of Sumero-Akkadian tablets provides me with a usable poetic structure.
The uses of the past, by means of these found archaic objects, are thus more than ironic and yablets than nostalgic.
The context of sober translation creates mode suitable for seductions by the disordered large which is the contemporary, and the armandd, which is out of honor in the most relevant modern poetry. The context also make me feel comfortable in recreating schwedner animistic, for schwernwr I have great sympathy, and which, subject to my sense of the rablets, I have been unable to approach as a poet without such contextual personae and forms as I have found in these archaic leftovers.
Tablets Through the temporal warpings of The Tabletsthe literal shards of an animistic civilization that existed thousands of years in the past, Schwerner constantly reminds us of the founding cultural dialectic of the sacred and the profane.
Body and spirit veer about and collide tablest the text in ways that continually expose the inadequacy of modern religious thought regarding our somatic being. How does the hablets arise out of the profane, how does the profane enhance our sense of the sacred?
PennSound: Armand Schwerner
How does this dialectic contribute to our sense of reality? Hogs will swill schwerrner shit on me, men will abuse me 29 Part prayer and part kvetchthis passage resonates with an existential melancholy worthy of very differerent Jewish writers like Bellow or Malamud, but supposedly precedes even Job or Ecclesiastes by many centuries.
At the beginning of Tablet VI, we are informed that “Foosh” is the last in a long list of ridiculous names including schwwrner “Anxious-Liar-Fart-Flyaway ,” and “The Porous Poppycock”though “we have no information about the identity of the addressee; anger and ridicule are directed toward some immanent power which keeps changing its attributes” From the tone of the arnand, Foosh is, in all likelihood, some sort of deity, and there is a note of intimacy in the passage that is reminiscent of a patriarch’s or prophet’s speech with God in the Hebrew Scriptures.
But if this god’s attributes keep changing, then a sense admand uncertainty enters into the life of the speaker, leaving him with nothing but headaches, worry, and abuse.
It is at such points that one feels the modernity of Scbwerner Tabletsand not merely in the anxieties of its ancient speakers. If you step on me may your leg become green and gangrenous and may its heavy flow of filth stop up your eyes forever, may your face go to crystal, may your meat be glass in your throat and your fucking fail.
If you lift your arms in grief may they never come down and you be known as Idiot Tree and may you never die 30 And so it goes for another three stanzas: It is a moment when rhetoric counts, when poetry comes as close as possible to magic in the power it is believed to hold over reality.
Schwerner does not relegate this sense of the magical to the primitive or the archaic alone, however, and this is one of The Tablets ‘ greatest strengths.
Looking back myself to that first terrific meeting with these ancient poems, I can still sense the desire to keep them to myself all the while I was strain- ing to produce these translations — desperately pushing to make available what I so wanted to keep secret and inviolable.
There is a growing ambiguity in this work of mine, but I’m not sure where it lies.
Armand Schwerner: The Tablets
Some days I do not doubt that the ambiguity is inherent in the language of the Tablets themselves; at other times I worry myself sick over the possibility that I am the variable giving rise to ambiguities. Do I take advantage of the present unsure state of scholarly expertise?
On occasion it almost seems to me as if I am inventing this sequence, and such fantasy sucks me into an abyss of almost irretrievable depression, from which only forced and unpleasurable exercises in linguistic analysis rescue me.
Schwerner’s metafictional fun with his character is one indication that the magical power of writing holds even in the realm of “objective” modern scholarship. To what extent is he the rational scientist engaged in the objective study of these artefacts, and to what extent is he an initiate into the sacred truths which they may contain?
At what point does the modern student of the afmand participate scwerner the practice of the sacred? And given what we have seen of the Tablets and the world from which they come, where does ritual end and poetry begin? Thus often the line between redactor and author is hard to draw” Or as Schwerner observes, “Prose is eloquence, wants to instruct, to convince; wants to produce in the soul of the reader a state of knowledge.
Poetry is the producer of joy, its reader participates in the creative act. Thus Commentary and Text in The Tablets? Is that distinction stupid? Despite Schwerner’s joking tone, these are not altogether rhetorical questions.
The uncanny symbiosis of prose to poetry, commentary and text, present to past, that intensifies as the sequence proceeds indicates that in The Tabletsthese distinctions armane so as to be subsumed by the maker’s art.
Yet that art of poesisboth original inscription and inventive commentary, seems always to be in crisis. In Tablet XXVI, a figure called “the blind artificer” emerges out of a welter of computer-generated pictographs, qrmand we hear one of the most schserner laments to zchwerner from Schwerner’s ancient world: When I was young they would praise just about all I’d say, as if I breathed with them; my times are bad, the past is a joke, former admirers hound me, alone and treed what’s left of my ties with them who praised anything out of my mouth — my voice now that life floors me and they cut my best song, seeing what, lies?
Schwerner understands that the same is true for his contemporaries as well. He has a suspicion that his inclination towards meaning must find other paths from those he has been given by his own modes of scholarship and research, his own culture, his own theological antecedents.
And that’s the main problem; that’s also the armad of Western civilization. An Interview,” American Poetry Review What is remarkable about Schwerner is that he may have found one means of addressing this problem, that he may have an alternative path.
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