ALLEN BRAMHALL Reviews
Green Oil by Jean Donnelly
(Further Other Book Works, Austin, TX, 2014)
Here is a strikingly lovely book developed by program. I only know that Jean Donnelly used a program by reading the preface. You need not carry that programming kernel in your mind as you read. The poems exist on their own plane. I first wrote plain: that works too.
Donnelly's program includes performing homophonic translation of work by Francis Ponge. That's how Louis and Celia Zukofsky produced their Catullus. Maybe Catullus was the catalyst for this book. Anybody???
Donnelly claims not to know French pronunciation (I assume the Zukofskys knew how to pronounce and perhaps to read Latin). A skew then, my guess, enters Donnelly's 'translation'.
The result of her effort proves surprisingly supple. I did in fact see grenouille (French for frog) in the book's title. That's the title of Ponge's work that Donnelly worked from. I have not read Ponge.
None of which matters except to the author. I mean, readers can spend too much time wondering how they got somewhere rather than where they have arrived. What are the poems like?
It looks like Donnelly exclusively utilizes two line verses. The lines are often quite curt. You might think of Cid Corman, Tom Raworth, or others who keep the metronome ticking downward (the eye, unslowed by lengthy lines, wants to move down the page). Such formatting choices can lead to scanning but here at least the verse nuggets themselves possess sufficient gravity to hold the eye.
Here is a poem from the first section, “atoms”. Otherview: this could be a section from the poem “atom”. Each page has 10-30 words neatly arranged in verses, call it what you will.
dawn with sense
Lack of punctuation allows multiple flowers. Take the first verse as statement, her lines let you see it thus. You can think about that statement. Do brutal objects imbue? What's a brutal object?
Reading further, you can see the second verse completing a sentence begun by the first verse: brutal objects imbue dawn with sense on justice. It dawns on me that the second verse can be a reply to the first, to wit: When brutal objects imbue try dawning with your sense on justice.
My point isn't that I've figured out the author's message, it's that the coterie of words will shift according to your eyes. I am not reviewing this work, I am viewing it.
The short verses stand discretely, tho of course you can read them sequentially. This one, page 34, in the section/poem “the tear” (how you pronounce the noun changes the meaning):
our voices pour
what is demur
but to seat
in a house
from our feet
I might not have thought it had I not known Donnelly's method but I see pour as the French word meaning for. But pouring voices also resides. Not simply to park what is demur but to seat the soul. To me, an invisible comma follows soul, leading to a definition of it: a chair in a house of sunlight that pours from our feet. I'm just trying to follow the words here. No, I didn't do a lot of acid in the day.
I think I'm showing or illustrating how these strangely-gathered words cohere. Your mileage may vary, but I'm pretty sure you will get mileage.
An interesting design effect occurs with the title page of each section. The right hand page before the section begins bears a grey mirror image of the section title. The left page following has the title reading from the front. So a suggestion of the backside of words. Huhn!
Re. Allen Bramhall: A diminishing flow of poems, a continuing insistence in watching superhero movies with my son, an increasing interest in the healing, lifebound elation of creativity, and some websites: