Kathleen Jesme, THE PLUM-STONE GAME
Ever since i heard of this book, I wanted to read it, but first I wanted to know what a plum stone game was. Sounded like a sort of make it yourself cabinet game. It, in fact, seems sort of like poker dice, except only a few hands score. The "Curation" poem sequence does a pretty good job of describing the game: native american game of chance, mostly played by women; rather than full houses and such only a few combos of moons and whatnot score; score traditionally kept with quills, blades of grass. We realize this is a sort of natural history curation (I'm so used to art curation, this took a while for me to catch). Ah, and there are even curatorial notes for "Fig. 2".
But here's the thing: Ararat? Well, not in North America. The M-3? Decidedly UK. And why does "Fig. 9" say "no picture available"? I mean, isn't the picture the "figure" in the catalog? OK, a lot going on in this section; a lot to return to in a real and thorough reading.
I obviously started at the beginning at "Lives of the Saints." These are prose poems. The poems aren't about the saints per se, but the peculiar, internal "stories of the lives" which are half vision, half judgement. The sequence begins with night (two lives), moves to journeys, mutilation/purgation, and returns to night, but the figures or stars, night, light, are in most every poem.
The first poem is the opposite of the organized turning of the paradiso: "All that was left were the curved streaks of their paths.... There was no turning point." The second reverses the light under a bushel comparison: "I lit lamps in unlikely places to attract night’s insects. ... I waited for things to come by and trapped them." But here, Jesme performs the amazing task of *illustrating* concentration on the small, the hidden, the "least spaces" of sainthood. As well as the bloody-mindedness and obsession (particularly with big and little deaths).
The next sequence, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me" begins with an amazing ars poetica statement (for the book? for Jesme? for the sequence? tbd), "Speak to me fidelities: a shift of traitors each its own /
rhyme..." I.e., fidelities are speaking. Fidelity as in faith? Oh, sure, but also, when speech is conjured, fidelity as faithful reproduction, speech together with poetry. Not, speak in this poetry, or to me from the aether to become this poetry through me, rocks, but fidelities (to a standard, perhaps, to truth, to rocks). What is the opposite of Fido, or of Semper Fi? Traitors. Each traitor has its own rhyme. Thus fidelities have ONE. And it is in SPEECH. She goes on to parallel secrets as betrayals/traitors. Secrets: what is not said.
In the next poem, I read about grasses and think of the quills or grasses in the plum stone game which poems I officially haven't read yet, if I'm not reading / skipping around. A good question about order, sequence, and poetry book reading, I suppose. Sequence and chronology are not terribly concerning to me when reading poetry because so much poetry is written to be re-read. To be returned to, at will, willy-nilly: the reader's will.
One place where Jesme and Mlinko / (Burt) / Jarrell intersect, where Whitman and Dickinson intersect with the modern temper, the romantics, too, is where do the writers get a response? We do not. In this way, the pursuit becomes as "kinda religious" as real religion.
from Robin Blaser's "obit" on Charles Bernstein's site:
"thinking serially so as to move beyond the epistemological limits of positivism and self-expression"
The first poem in the last sequence uses WORDS slant:
after a "shift of traitors" (migrating word meanings?) Jesme gives us light "spackling" -- covering, joining, sticking -- leaves, not speckling or sparkling; "sheets of fragments" I can only read as poems or as opposites (although even poems or stained glass or mosaics or crazy quilts are sheets made from fragments, not sheets of fragments, properly); the dogs of thoughts started tracking (prey), but the thinker missed the feeding -- consumption of the results of the thoughts; [jump to garden]: "garden" and relationship to "interference" has to do with DEFINITION, but also note how WILD isn't mentioned; non-interference, i.e., cultivation, i.e. the opposite of WILD, yields the next question, which is about abandonment, really, since attention is somewhat different than culture, wilderness different from participation (tree.. falling... perception...); "canting" is here, again, not the opposite of recanting, since canting has more meanings than recanting...; and she wants to turn awry, not away, and askew is like another "cant"... the first little hive of reversals and multiplied and divided meanings in the beginning of a "dense lyric" sequence -- of quasi - prose.
The transition, "In another country the grasses know her" capitalizes (not a real swell word choice by me) on the confusion / multiple meanings of the previous poem, while it creates a disjunction, as the next "sentence" starts, "Are addressing..."
Pun on dressing and addressing, the place as a garment; the second poem in the sequence is also a puzzle, just a different sort of puzzle.
"out of reach until in hand, in mouth, in ear." another quote from Bernstein