JASON MORRIS Reviews
The Green Ray by Corina Copp
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2015)
“TO RESTORE THE SENSATION OF THE WORLD I MUST”
“Stick to your thoughts / if I were you” (11) is an early injunction in The Green Ray, Corina Copp’s engaging, elegant, and beautifully tough suite of twelve poems, or serial poems, which call and respond to one another with quiet insistence. The poems, too, call out and respond to a interfering, intermediating voice: “But I auto / From a concern not / Mine” (23). This is lyric poetry aware of its debt to a kind of Spicerian dictation, or in which the ghosts of Yeats’ A Vision have been spliced with the flickering phantoms of film. Cinema (and art more broadly) informs many of the book’s sharpest impulses: its title is taken from a 1986 Eric Rohmer film, Le Rayon Vert, which, in turn, takes its title from a Jules Verne novella.
The book’s first section, its envoi, “La Voix Humaine,” immediately signals the collection’s sister language, French, and conjures the atmosphere of French detective films, or new wave, seen at dusk in a high up, still sunlit apartment window. The poems are ekphrastic in that sense: as a passing by of other works of art—film, fiction, painting. They never waver in their commitment to their own lyricism, never settle for becoming mere theoretical apparatus alongside other works of art. But the allusions throughout, as casual as they may sometimes be, are informed by a deep knowledge of and love for the works they quote. When Copp dedicates the collection “to my friends,” it certainly seems intended immediately to a group of contemporary readers and writers who are part of her own familial orbit, but it also echoes Pound’s claim that “all eras are contemporaneous in the mind” in seeming to include Rohmer, as well as Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Proust, and a host of others as friends.
In the same way that the poems form their urbane collisions out of language lifted from some poetic other, they also seem to find their footing out of the speaker’s resolution to remain a novice: as in Lyn Hejinian’s The Beginner, beginner-hood seems to be a condition of possibility for the poems’ unfolding. In the collection’s final poem, “Pro Magenta” (which, interestingly, was the first in order of composition), there is an opening that seems almost invocation:
Antagonist, never let
Go, never be the house-
Hold perfect soil and
Ideal climate (89)
As at outset of epos, the poem summons a calliope, but one of a different kind: this is a poetic muse of difficulty and complication, in which the poet might desire not to know what its interlocutors are up to. A wish to stay “crashed on / The purblind sea” (89) tends toward a poetry of unremitting dialectic, of tumult and lability, where to remain a novice is the smartest approach.
<<All left feet>>
To do, I cry Hey
Novice, my day starts (92)
There is beauty in the sweep of the book, its near recklessness in expressive attack (though Copp's sometimes arbitrary hyphenations at line-breaks are at times just a distraction), and in the big slab-like sections of which it’s composed. But this beauty would be less visible were it not for the poems’ quiet and specific attention to language on a very granular level, as here:
The fact is <<I’ve never been
Happy, but I have seen beauty.>>
What a fine replacement (75)
Here both “fine” as in elegant rings right along with the sense of “fine” meaning subtle: and the choice of “replacement” over (for instance) “distinction” deepens and makes more strange all the language and thought around it. These colorful flashes generously permeate the book.
Color infuses the book, from its title, through the magenta of “Pro Magenta,” and everywhere in between, flickers differently shaded lights. The reckless sweep of the poems, and the way they are almost glacially calved as big escarpments of writing into their twelve sections, is reminiscent at times of Stein’s Stanzas in Meditation. “Tell That to the Marines,” for example, has a similarly hypnagogic shifting that lands however on its (firm) shore with the reliable return of certain imagery: “What if / This ocean had / trees” (20). Like Agnes Martin’s canvases (which Copp invokes), the poems are often carefully neat, almost at times fastidiously drafted, but are nevertheless suffused with the life of the hand that made them, in its minute quakes, breathy erasures, and abrupt returns and departures from the ‘plan.’ There is poise as well as disruption in lines like
Writing grows out
Of a stylized form
Of drawing linere (23)
I haven’t seen the Rohmer film, although I believe once or twice I have seen the mythical flash of green light that is said to occur at a precise moment during sunset when the weather is particularly clear. Anyway The Green Ray makes me just as curious about the natural phenomena it channels (sugarcube structures) as it made me about the artworks to which it alludes. The two mutually inform one another, perhaps. I read Robbe-Grillet’s short story “La Plage” in the midst of reading Copp’s book, and I am glad I did. The natural world it describes is so clam and orderly, nearly to the point of stasis, that the beautiful short story becomes almost nightmarish. The question that emerges from The Green Ray’s engagement with Robbe-Grillet’s story has to do with the deceptively simple serenity with which any artifice is made to describe the real world. It’s hugely ambitious theme, and to Copp’s credit, usually leads to more (and more deeply strange) lines of colorfully thought out questioning:
I still have not brought up a feline dead
from the gutters of 56th Street, and
to restore the sensation of the world I must
tell him I am not having it,
think of art’s goal to do today
guide or take jealousy in orange segments
all I haven’t described. so far my heart
has borne everything I have described, but
I hardly know you (70)
Jason Morris was born & raised in Vermont. His chapbooks are Spirits & Anchors (Auguste Press, 2010), From the Golden West Notebooks (Allone Co., 2011), Local News (Bird & Beckett, 2013), and Takes (Bootstrap Press, 2015). He lives in San Francisco.