Friday, November 14, 2008

Here's My Intro For Tenney Nathanson From Last Night's Amazing Reading

“I was dreaming when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast”
--Prince, "1999"

Tenney Nathanson is much more than a poet and a critic. He is a mind in action. He has written one of the most important books in our time on Walt Whitman, called Whitman’s Presence: Body, Voice and Writing in Leaves of Grass, plus several books of poetry: One Block Over, Erased Art, (Published by Chax Press) and Home On The Range (O Books). Linguistic innovation in his work is fresh, startling, and will help you unknow things.

When I first started listening to Tenney read, I was alarmed and intrigued in a marvelous way, by the wild flow of collage and abstract narrations, and I’d get so happily lost. Now I listen for the way he moves through the various personalities of his phrasings. Whose voices are these? His? Mine? In one listen, I hear a multitude.

In a review of his work, Ron Silliman says, “By now the Whitmanesque line feels far less like Whitman & far more like Nathanson.”

And every line, if you listen carefully, becomes a hyperlink under erasure. Within Tenney’s poetry there is the constant sense that everything is infinitely linkable, infinitely connected. Or not…perhaps it’s infinitely fractured, but endearingly so.

Here’s a bit from the poem “Madame Bovary, The National Enquirer, Capital, and The Hardy Boys, Published For the First Time Together In A Single Volume” from the book Erased Art:


“here is an equivalent stretch of sand
Or an equivalent stretch of sand
To the paper of this word
Fired like glass
Then fired like glass and perused
Wattles everywhere
With splayed mud giving it torsion in parts
Here’s some sand in your glass
Here’s some mud in your eye
As equivalence stretches the breaking point
Like a list including itself as one of its minor items
All had been well with the big engine of its dream”

You see that the words and the voices that motivate them are always moving towards and away from us, always slipping out of and into the framework of art.

Tenney has also done his fair share of cushion work, and has created a drifter poetics that is always grounded by that don’t-know mind. Even though he does know: the academy, the cushion, the koan. Frequently it treks through our desert place, and it always hears voices from all over and under the literary world. This drifted poetics is cozy in the movement of language, and ranges wide. It puts out its Whitmanian thumb and is picked up by Kafka, by Walter Benjamin, by D.T. Suzuki, by Tucson, and New York.

Writing about the content in Tenney’s most recent book, Home on The Range, Ron Silliman says: “I’m reminded of Peter Yates’ great definition of content in music as aesthetic consistency & Nathanson would be an example of the principle. It helps that he has an ear that is continually complicated by an overlay of mind…At that level, [the] poem is one long elaboration of the senses, yet it’s just as deeply embedded in history...It’s a complex production, yet completely governed by desire & its cognates...[and the intertexts] feel less like sources and almost as tho they were angels particular to a given section of the poem.”

I once heard an interview with jazz titan Thelonious Monk, who was asked about the use of silence in his work. Monk replied: “Silence is the loudest thing around but most motherfuckers can’t hear it because it’s moving.”

Tenney’s poetry hears the silences, works with them, brings out what they might say in a language that doesn’t ever let us get complacent. His poems attest to the movement of language, its awareness and unawareness of itself. His books create climactic zones, “musical notes, terns whose peaks as resonances, the different vibrational predications named together, a finer level of matter, the gravitational force there is no explanation” (Home On The Range).

It is a poetry that listens and speaks the body, and the newspaper, and the full range of what we mean when we say “Guatemala!”

His current project, which we will hear some of tonight is “Ghost Snow Falls Through The Void (Globalization)”.

I encourage you to listen to the silences between the multitudes, and you may find listening a new thing altogether. Please welcome my mentor and friend, Tenney Nathanson.

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