Zirilli on Parker (some prefatory remarks)
What do we really know about Steve Parker? Precious little.
We know he is fertile. We know that he saw an adult penis when he was a child, probably still attached to the adult.
this wine goes everywhere
We know he is a sloppy romantic, so sloppy that it’s not romantic anymore. Virtuosic sloppiness…
a sorte of nakednesse
Yes, a strange, affected exposure of primal realities. Vulnerable artifice.
He has done the most radical thing. He has taken his place among the poets, and he is wholly himself, or as much himself as Yeats and Keats ever were themselves.
The silliest parts of his poems are the titles. Cupboards and turnips and gas. You look the fool trying to explain how they relate to the poem, even if you’re right.
urgent cupboards unfold
What does it mean for a cupboard to unfold instead of open? It means there is no inside against the outside. It means the kitchen is a portal to a parallel universe. It means your house is not a home, and it has something to tell you. One is reminded of that scene in Sixth Sense that ripped off that scene in Poltergeist. Turn away and turn back again, and everything has been unfolded by ghosts.
Steve has an urgent ghost. It is perhaps the ghost of a dead narrative that he has dissected. We see a slice of it, with ourselves playing a part. And Steve playing the other part. I think we just shot him.
there in the market mid-afternoon… the train coming in
Is the train coming into the market? Sloppy! I rarely like this sort of monkeyshines. But somehow the pain is real in this poem. The finger snapped off is perhaps a more honest image of loss than his windowcocks, or at least it’s more personal.
here I will diode
I looked up diode in the Wikipedia and suddenly found myself in a Symbolist poem. The entire Wikipedia entry was somehow about Steve. Resistance, no going back, all about Steve. How does he do that?
like bee wolfs
thick and sharp
full of green
I might be mad to see so much poetry in so few words. There is the Norman Conquest, of course, poor Beewolf shrunk and then pluralized latinately, but still surrounded by anglo-saxon monosyllabic words, grunts that take us underwater into Grendel’s lair.
The speaker is shot and bleeding, don’t forget, a martyr like Beewolf. The proximity of his death, or at least his energy going through a valve into some new, irrevocable place, has made the speaker a pure poet, not like that fellow in Sunset Boulevard who is already dead and bored, but someone who is most alive by knowing keenly that he lives only the length of a poem. Just look at the vision of the next stanza:
in the thick fear I think of breasts
I think I see them
coming at me
why the sad comfort of dripping eaves
as little cold mouths looking out?
What glorious sloppiness is this? Breasts as dripping eaves with mouths? The mouths have eyes? Georges Battaile is thrilled, but what about the rest of us? Can we call this metaphor? It’s more like a trip of associations, but it coheres in a way that other hallucinations do not, into a single nightmare. And what more can we ask of a poem than to be a strong, single nightmare?
I am scared by your sex
Again I see vulnerability in this poem. I see the child’s fear instead of the man’s bravado. Is he scared of women? Probably. But “sex” can mean the act itself, and that is borne out by the rest of the poem.
love is a pattern recognition
here in the wild hills we ride red goats
sleep in wet disaster
wake to explosions
This is not merely yet another songsmith coming up with new words for the funky chicken. This is a metaphor for sex that turns sex into a metaphor for relationships, a fever dream of an entire marriage, or an entire weekend, or something in between, seen as one long sex act interrupted only by wet naps.
you want to be us
you hate us for it
He ends the poem by forcing us to reexamine the pronouns. We know who “you” is… “you” is us, and we just shotfucked Steve. But who is “us”? According to my songsmith handbook, “us” signifies the relationship, the hole bigger than the sum of its private parts. But could “us” be the royal “us” or the royal shaft? Could “us” be Steve’s past? Is Steve a shrunken plural like poor Beewolf?
These are the questions that are supposed to be left unanswered, and that’s exactly what Steve doesn’t do. The questions that should be answered are answered. The poem grips and pulls home.
horror politics of the hipglass is now outgassed
Steve has a knack for getting meaning across through nonsentences, or through sentences that can only be understood if the grammar is ignored. “Horror politics” is a vivid replacement for terror politics, for shock and awe politics.
a young man a quite innocent man only really a bypasser
A line so easily criticized by poetry classes everywhere. Three diluting qualifiers (quite, only, really), redundancies to get across one simple image: young bypasser. But criticizing a Steve poem is like criticizing a transmission from outer space because you can’t dance to it. What happens to such a transmission is that you celebrate the patterns you find in it. Someone or something is trying to talk to you.
The point here is that Steve is presenting a theme, not a character, meditating on it and questioning it… the theme of innocence. Do you have to bypass experience to be innocent?
stops at the shop window to examine a display
horrorstruck he sees from the back of the shop
another man a naked man…
Innocence, of course, faces the windowcock. Steve likes to put cocks in windows because he’s interested in distance, by which I mean the illusion of distance, and he’s interested in touch, by which I mean the illusion of touch. In the film Le Chien Andalou, what you see out the window suddenly appears in your room. Steve’s poem celebrates the impact of that transition.
the glass rises now in millibars of hectopascals of analects
of love and time’s first forgotten disorient
crazes and maps itself cobwebs and meridians
of disaster spread now this is meaning slide into this
the whole street shimmy everything in birds of fracture
rupture around this flow this node of impact
I mean, what can I possibly say about those lines that isn’t much more beautifully residing in the lines themselves? This is a full orchestra of impact. I need music from my poets, and Steve is an organ grinder par excellence.
Finally and initially, this is a poem about politics, and the meaninglessness of the term “politics” and how “politics” is a term that means meaninglessness, but he is going to shake the term awake. Steve is in fact shaking awake every word he uses. That’s what makes him great, or an idiot, or doomed, I don’t know which but I must read him.
“if there is a thing the thing is not size or longevity”
This is one of Steve’s biggest windowcocks, but the thing is not size, if there is a thing. So if it’s not size then it must be motion, the thing is motion. I’m just glad that cows don’t fly, but if the cow is above you then you very much want it to fly. But Steve’s art is falling, not flying. He closes the distance, worships the impact.
…a little black heart
there at the wind’s wild edge
where it mattered most and least
Can’t you tell that Steve neither empathizes with nor exploits African children? He is writing his own song about his own cockfacing child, himself.
how little and lost and longing…
but but but but
how tiny and lost and ferocious
where is my mind?
At least your mind is close enough for you to ask the question. What other poet would dare ask us to look for his mind in his poem?
a goat leaps over the fence…
Steve loves boundaries because he wants to cross them, or destroy them.
no one knows what the Law says about any of this
That describes every line of Steve’s poetry.
the squirrels fall back in a skirmish line
throwing explosive cones
Suddenly we realize the poem is about war, the Iraq War, any war, and how war manages to linger on and on and fester, a self-perpetuating life ruination machine. How many good anti-war poems do you know? Jesus, that’s hard to pull off, and off he has pulled it.
My goal in this essay was to explain how irrelevant my essay is, and I think I’ve achieved that, or am about to. Read Steve’s poems, not with a critical mind or an open mind, just read them bravely or innocently, read them like you’ve come to a shopwindow that has caught your eye, but only the corner, so you don’t know what’s standing back there waiting for you to see it.
Personally, I think Steve has taken care of everything for you. Like any good poet, his poems prepare you to read his poems. But I know that in reality some people like a chatty introduction before they shake someone’s hand. I also know that Steve’s first impression is often his middle finger. But don’t do it for him, do it for yourself.