Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review


Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review


Article excerpt

3 of 10. By Hank Lazer. Chax Press, $14.00. Early Days of the Lang Dynasty. By Hank Lazer. Meow Press. $6.00. Doublespace: Poems 1971-1989. By Hank Lazer. Segue. $12.00.

In 1992 Hank Lazer published a strange book of poems called Doublespace: Poems 1971-1989. Strange, in that the book was neatly, some would say, schizophrenically, divided into two seemingly contradictory halves. David Ignatow, an empathetic if slightly bewildered witness to Lazer's bifurcations, described the division this way:

Doublespace is a noble attempt to bridge the chasm between Language poetry and the traditional anecdotal and meditative poetry of the "free form" mode. Free form poetry communicates in disciplined, conversational speech, one of its important principles. Language poetry defies this principle and goes about its work in lines that on their surface are a total mystery to the reader of free form. Lazer stands between the two antagonists like a Hercules carrying both on his shoulders adjacent to one another . . . is he trying to say that each has its place in the armory of the modern? (Back cover)

Here is a sample poem from Book 1 of Doublespace: Point Sur

As the spindrift

and ring of fog

blow out from the coast

my father and I

sit in the sand

of a small cove,

he breaking driftwood,

building a miniature


writing in the sand:

LA 300->

while I read

Robinson Jeffers

on the fog, stone,

hawks, and ocean.

My father stumbled twice

climbing down to the beach,

and because I am his son

I feel quilty

for his twisted ankles

and heavy breath.

He lies down and listens

to the Jeffers poems

and I wonder what he thinks.

Is this place sanctified

for him too

through the poems

or is it something else

that keeps stirring

his hands?

Today I felt

the death of a moth,

its powder in my hand,

and I wanted to take

my father's hand but would not

as we walked back up to the road. (pp. 81-82)

"Point Sur" (originally published, incidentally, in The Virginia Quarterly Review in 1973, when the poet was only 22) is a late Romantic lyric in what Charles Altieri has called the "scenic mode": its terse, low-key, open free-verse tercets track the movement whereby its speaker, spending a quiet day with his father at Point Sur (mythologized by Robinson Jeffers), tries to come to terms with his father's mortality. The poem nicely conveys the lack of communication between the father, who focuses on the distance (300 miles) between Point Sur and LA, and the son, absorbed in the Jeffers' ambiance of "fog, stone, / hawks, and ocean." The son knows that his father is ill and possibly suffering, but, not wanting to embarrass him, keeps his distance. Filial love, the poem implies, produces more pain than pleasure.

Here, by way of contrast, is the opening of "Compositions 22," from Book 2:

long rifLe ////////// am I my brother's weeper ///// when I have no brother ///////////// I said stay /////////// you'll be no bother ///// cutlets ///// for cufflinks //////// no one says /////// touring the links why does everyone want to find the missing link /////// couplets obstinacy //////// what designs //// the reception's great up here a dishevelled web of thought //////////// in honor of your opening hard to stop thinking about two //////////// my current passion is for /////////// profound skepticism is not it either /////////////////// (p. 170)

Whereas "Point Sur" was perfectly straightforward syntactically, "Compositions" is characterized by its disjunction." There is no specific location for the speaker; indeed, the "I" of "am I my brother's weeper" disappears after line 2. The piece depends heavily on pun and verbal play: "my brother's weeper," "cutlets for cufflinks," "cutlets" / "couplets", the play on "cufflinks" / "touring the links," "missing link. …

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