Review by Jake Berry


Jeffrey Side, Carrier of the Seed Buffalo, NY, BlazeVOX, 2007, 69 pp.
Available for free downloag at

In an essay, 'Creative Agnosticism,' Robert Anton Wilson (published in the Journal of Cognitive Liberties in 2001,Vol. II, No. 1) writes:

Our mode of consciousness seems historically to have been determined by neurological (unconscious) habits. When we become aware of this, and struggle against the inertia of habit, consciousness continually mutates, becomes less particle-like and "fixed," spreads like a flowing wave.

In his extraordinary new book, Jeffrey Side offers us a poem that is the fluctuating, shimmering, realization of the kind of consciousness Wilson describes. One would hope that it might be a poetry of the future, but it is more likely a poetry outside or beyond time altogether, perpetually new precisely because of its unfixed wave characteristics. Here are the opening lines:

You made Pandora
visit me from
her disruptions across
the sea her
mane was stretched
like Cyprus-flow
and her mind
was as smooth
as causation at
a time I
had reached my
most content you
pointed her up

Pandora was the first woman, wed to Epimethus, brother of Prometheus. Her curiosity regarding the jar she was given and forbidden to open unleashed all manner of evil. In Side's poem she had been summoned by what we might assume to be the muse of the poem, a "you" that appears throughout the work.

Regardless of the validity of the original myth, in Carrier of the Seed Pandora is a manifestation for the behavior of the poem itself. To the degree that any poet chooses his metaphors, Side has chosen Pandora with great care. Her beauty and talents, contributed by all the Olympians, is a perfect vehicle for the disruptions that lie at the heart of the poem. It shifts between layers of time, fields of activity and their mythic interpenetration. It is not content with a single theme or approach, but moves with skilful lyricism through an open form where change is the fuel and the music. In this way Side answers a question that many poets of the last and new century have asked: How does poetry retain its ancient bardic elements in the contemporary world of stock markets and flowcharts, glowing insubstantial screens and titillating trivia?

The poet as singing myth-maker and seer reaches backward, as those bards before him, the past, the habitation of the dead:

made my bed
in charnels and
on coffins robed
with pure snow...

These lines, classical and symbolist, are rendered contemporary by their context and juxtaposition. Rather than limiting himself to either the personal anecdotal voice or mainstream poetry or the refined academic avant-garde, Side utilizes whatever mode serves the experience. He is not possessed by the muse and driven to song by her, but he is not dismissive of her from an indifferent intellectual distance either. He allows the full mind to embrace the process. And Carrier is a process above all else. It is not a static work of literature that might be carefully inspected and unraveled for every shred of meaning. Instead, it demands the responsibility to question. Since reality is in a constant state of motion, and motions within motions, turbulence, chaos is its natural condition, why should the poet impose a structure that adheres to any particular genre or time?

mistaking the
rogue creative principle
through the dark
and profound hypothesis
into evaluation with
the template associated
format-tree broken

Rather than capture a poem he accepts Pandora's curiosity as a gift and allowed the disruptions to take their place in the song. Where modernism reasserted the classics in a new electric light and so-called postmodernism fumbles and fails even to find a name for itself, this poetry, though highly literate and aware of these quasi-movements, prefers a more individualistic, even iconoclastic approach. One must grant it the space of its own liberation in chaos.

as we are
moving towards a
theory of beauty
tremenous natures veiled
butane on jehoaphat
stigmata nationalist condensation
steals redemptive like
cool alabaster twixt
the seasons of
love finding foolish
fair for frankness
and killing the
mind she kept
in kindness

The poem itself is open to the great, infinite, stream. It carries the seed, the germ of poetry through time and from one person to another. The closest we may come to describing it is as a development of open field poetry, Olson's projective verse. It becomes self-conscious here — 'we are/ moving towards a/ theory of beauty' — but that tendency is immediately disrupted, we are moving through turbulence where words are probability as much as actual. The altered spellings 'tremendous natures veiled/ butane on jehoaphat' force us to look at the words again. Tremendous altered to tremenous intensifies the Latin root teremere — tremble. This is not the way in which we normally hear the word. Indeed, spelled in this way we feel the word as much as interpret it. Following this the rest of the line and the one following are shaded toward something more interior, as if we are seeing inside the nature of power. Jehoshaphat has become jehoaphat. A king of Judah, a figure of political and spiritual power given its Biblical source, is reconfigured. Is this what the king has become in the wake of tremendous, trembling nature? If so, the lines that follow read like revelatory commentary: 'stigmata nationalist condensation/ steals redemptive.'

This kind of disruption occurs again and again throughout the poem. Syntax and expectations are destroyed in order to indicate that behind the words there are forces at work that render language useless unless it is destroyed in the process. Side is not unwriting or self-criticizing however. He appears to be unconcerned with that kind of hesitating reconsideration. Instead, the poem moves confidently forward in its indeterminations. It isn't deconstructing so much as it appears and fluctuates through a process of constant death and rebirth. We don't contain the stream, we are immersed in it. The spirit at work here is closer to Heraclitus than contemporary poetics. Hardly a neo-formalist or classicist, Side is going much further back to the oracular impulse behind poetry and song — 'killing the/ mind she kept/ in kindness.' An impulse rarely evident in contemporary poetry of any variety except perhaps in the kind of lyrics one might find in songs since the mid 60s when the distinction between poet and songwriter began to blur again. The result, in the work of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Jim Morrison and the Doors, The Velvet Underground, and so on, made the kind of poetry we read in Carrier not only likely, but arguably the most valid approach to the art. Carrier is evidence of that shift come full circle. As the artists above were influenced by books of poetry, and in fact wrote books of poetry, then integrated poetry into song, so here is poetry reinvigorated by the energy of music and song. A departure from old literary hegemonies perhaps best indicated in lines like:

I was lying
down in the
rehab on the
way out of

This is no "patient etherized upon a table," but a poet looking to escape the weight of tradition and get on with the activity of the present even while he utilizes the stories and images of that tradition.

As with all oracular song, there is a call and response that moves broadly throughout Carrier. Here it is the conversation of lovers — intellectual, erotic and mythic. Often the poem seems to be a response to the lover's call beyond our hearing in the poem. It is clear however that the poet makes no distinction between individuals or what is call and what is response since the music runs in an unbroken chain from a time before anyone can remember.

we never existed
separately so nothing
can be sacred
and I cannot
love or hate
and I have
no care for
fate and it
will be chaos
in the end
when the wings
of fluid hold
you tight and
the beggars deep
in plight stumble
without sight somewhere
in the mind

When we read the phrase 'in the mind' we tend to assume interior spaces, invented regions. More often than not that interpretation would be adequate, but not here. Without ever becoming grandiose, a product of some cosmic ego, Carrier manages nonetheless to be transcendental and metaphysical in all directions. The mind is not always the self and the self is not always singular, whether interior or exterior.

I hear a
voice shell-encased
turtledove similar to
Tripoli where she
met me her
singularity showing itself
in the way
she descended mirrored

Even when the 'she' who is the partner in the call and response is 'shell-encased' and met in 'singularity' she shows herself, becomes known 'in the way she descended mirrored.' She is singular when she is mirrored, and only then her manner of descent. One thinks of the muse entering the poet, the passive receiver, but again those ancient notions are used only to be stripped away by the creative process of the poem.

this is
one of the
voices calling though
familiar among the
admired melting into
nature resented constructions

The reason art as a human activity survives is because it is not limited to constructions, even its own constructions. It remains open. Side accepts this as one of the fundamental realities of his work. The result is a poetry that is an aspect of nature rather than an imposition or reflection. It is ecstatic and inexhaustible, a living, evolving creature. Carrier may be a new kind of romanticism rooted in the real rather than the ideal. It is full of the joy of the effort of making the music, yet it never closes toward utopian heights. It is more like the joy of zero gravity and deep space where direction is relative to a tentative point of reference.

saw your true
nature when you
were dancing out
there strange love
when there's nowhere
else to climb
yet the lady
of turquoise and
the lady of
sycamore say that
nothing endures and
nothing substantiates through
the combination and
separation and all
will be dissolved
again in the
panic-flight as
the heat fades

Carrier appears to be practicing alchemy as fine art rather than transmutation of base metals. Instead 'nothing endures/ nothing substantiates' because whatever embodiment might appear in the moment eventually 'all/ will be dissolved' by means of the alchemist's work of combination and separation. Elements of all times and approaches to the work are combined and separated in the long lyrical sentence of the poem. Mythology, Internet vocabulary, classical literature, history, current events, science and technology all combine and separate in the deeply musical ebb and flow. Categories are rendered useless, exposed for the temporary constructs we often stubbornly refuse to admit that they are.

As each of our perceptions day to day materialize out of fluid, phenomenal stimulus and harden into what we call the world and our selves, only to shatter when new stimulus intervenes, Side's poem allows us our interpretations, but refuses to allow those interpretations to become definitive. It borrows from all time and kinds of experience without sacrificing originality — the authentic, natural music of its poet.