The Chronogram Poets: George Quasha

(“English owes its magisterial authority to poets like George Quasha. He finds its frontiers and surveys them. But he is concerned with more than the aeronautics of words—he choreographs their dance with his ideas,” writes Djelloul Marbrook in his Chronogram review of Quasha’s Verbal Paradise, (preverbs). On Sunday, November 27th, Quasha will read with others at the Kleinert/James in Woodstock at 4 pm. Here he explains “preverbs.”)


verbal paradise is not a turn away

A rock is a raging mass of activity.
A. N. Whitehead

1 contrary indications

A journey across this spot changes everything between us.
Its bounding line wishes us awake to move along itself.
Belly to belly lifts our breath away—speaking silent.

Every moment twins at its rim.
The poem registers fear of doubling, a continuous quivering surface.
Hold it there with your speaking tongue, she says in hands.
Self-contradiction opens the way to basic truth.

Feedback configuring all that dread.
She returns: Ride the principle back into its wilderness.
You can feel the earth ripple through her sentence.
This knows a truth I barely dream, dolphins, folds, the turns.

The flowing object stabilizes a wonder world—fear, heartfelt thunder.
Every sound you make here sounds like forever.

2 things said to themselves

This mouth stutters to say the more it is.
Peeling away talk exposes thinking in its fleshy bed.

Mind longs—or how did I get here?
Sequence is a pressure from outside time.

I make objects to think, and they think me back.
I hear me coming as they hear through me.

Clouds billowed a city to hide my desire that I still find here.
No clouds are like that, there’s no like that with clouds.

It gives a path of thought I couldn’t find on my own through bone alone.
Like signals like in passing, I see in her eyes that see in me.

Double troubles in the love-rung, cross-ripple in the tongue.


About preverbs

My conception of preverb started out in the mid 1990s as a sort of meditation in relation to Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell [1790]). His infernal proverb alters the traditional one-line wisdom proverb (like Biblical Proverbs) by embodying a non-dogmatic state of visionary perception; it subverts mind-control by unprecedented verbal acts that bring one to one’s senses. (E.g., “If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise” or “No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.”) Blake’s proverb attracts the mind back to a root principle (such as how wild things self-regulate), and the presumption of wisdom falls away. So I wanted to see where one could go with such a poetics, wherein any proud thought is mind-degradable, subject to instant wear and tear, yet able to regenerate in unknown self-sameness. Poetic identity gets to enjoy a kind of evolutionary anonymity.

Preverbs, unlike proverbs, project a state of language awareness previous to wisdom while not resisting the wisdom impulse—the unavoidable wish to state something true. Accordingly each one-line preverb, as well as each “preverbs-complex” in both page-length units and multi-page assemblages, inquires into trusting language to reveal a state of awareness more compelling than merely saying something wise. It leaves meaning up to the languaging moment, which is axial—radically centered in itself, true to its own principle, and instantly variable. Its meaning, and even its identity, stays open. That makes forming and sustaining attitudes more difficult, which should raise the bar on language integrity. In effect it endangers meaning as a species of wisdom, yet the truth impulse, rather than being suppressed by sophisticated ironies and methodological thought strategies, stays alive, albeit in a way often difficult to track. That core impulse is for me at the heart of the poetic as the art form of linguistic singularity.

Proverbs traditionally are memorable and subject to frequent repetition; preverbs, on the contrary, resist memorization and repetition and invite further engaging. (Blake celebrated the Daughters of Inspiration over the Daughters of Memory.)

One result of this poetics has been that the text of preverbs has evolved very complexly over many years. Many thousands of one-line preverbs have given up their life as they gradually transmute, alter beyond recognition, or give way to something entirely new. A sort of eros of instability takes over the compositional field, and an unknown but powerful self-organizing principle comes forward in the gradual array of lines.

Verbal Paradise (preverbs) (from which the above outtake comes, part of the eleven-page “preverb-complex” verbal paradise is not a turn away) is the first published of six completed books. Each book starts with a prose piece on axial poetics, followed by seven preverb-complexes (varying in length from one to thirty-four pages). A seventh book is beginning now.

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