Stephen Ellis


Private World Gone Incognito:
Mark DuCharme's Cosmopolitan Tremble

Cosmopolitan Tremble Mark DuCharme Pavement Saw Press 1886350965 $12.00

Garish in presentation (blue and yellow covers) and often caustic and/or comedic in tone, Mark DuCharme's over-sized large-print "remedial" collection flows (clunk) post-Habermasian through a world constructed in transparence of referents mostly present only by fact of sheer remains: a trace of severely (dis)ordered elementals in mission toward the solid balance of the (thematically balanced) inner ear. Their themes sound primarily the household - the four corners of the (hilarious) universe taken as the solemn lyric of the Self - with answers echoing down corridors equally historic - what went on before - and sensual - what comes to now; both are intricately bound by the preliminary tones of lyric arousal and wounding commensurate with attempting to locate some sense of (pronoun) presence through intimate analogies to Otherness.

First line: "Every day is expected on the highlight without meaning to satisfy junk." It can be read as a double swerve; first phrase - "every day is expected on the highlight" - suggests "high hopes" at an outset that can only be fulfilled insofar as it contains no meaning but that which comes from without (outside one's self, or the going without of poverty), which then connects meaning with "junk" (the refuse of production or act; equally heroin or like substance of demand in broad determination: habit). The entire book is composed along these lines; practice rather predetermination, and with an ear tuned to contemporary poetic habits (the junk of the above reference?) as these become currencies whose rate of exchange slows and begins to refer increasingly if also haltingly to their own developing mannerisms, near to husk.

In this sense, DuCharme is a moral poet in a tradition that extends back to the Satyricon of Petronius, which is to suggest that his masque here is an absurdist one, rather like the Ashbery of Girls on the Run. DuCharme gives us a picture of a world into which he has (with)drawn prescription, and in which there is no concussive hammering on the basis of judgment (despite in the poem titled "A World", variations of the verb "to hammer" occur seven times over a page-and-a-half). Hammering implies lecture; it also implies fineness (metal-working, in part also alchemy); a shaping. DuCharme as moralist writes directly along the fault-line of the "all" that he assimilates, i.e., his entire breach, the interactive "I" as maker of its defining position and attendent critical relations whose cultural divisions come pre-assembled and gratuitously, as these poems arrive in their wake, incidentals cluttered (absolutely) with essentials, and with (non-absolute) awareness of same. After admitting he "could never remember all the names of the Brady Bunch", DuCharme confesses (the book is loaded with such) in the title poem, "Cosmopolitan Tremble" -

Trying to keep the acid
Rain out of my coffee
I realize
It's useless, the work you do has to be

Impure, to materially
Like the change in your eyeshadow.

The scale of the poem constantly shifts, leaves one off balance with respect to inner ear balance and the clear sense of the the words' sounds and what they outwardly "say." The poem is loaded, as any spectacle, with troubling comparisons, inflations and reductions, as the work you do - presumably the poetic work, but the day job one does for money as well - having to remain impure (there are references throughout the poem to infusions, not only of the "stranded desire / In the enormous therapy of your big blue eyes", but equally to codeine, shooting up and acid), to co-opt material associations to the decorative appointments of eyeshadow, similitude for sexual and active depth, the absence of which is precisely what the poem infers is at its odds.

So in the lyric the references run rogue, over valued, under-appreciated. Cosmopolitan Tremble is loaded with puns, repetitions and references with respect to homage, most noticeably for this reader, to Ted Berrigan ("baffling combustions") and Frank O'Hara ("grace to be born"). Puns become pawns that twist and extend the poems' gestures at meanings and the under -cutting or -scoring of these; in "Roam A Loaded Dynamo" "horse devours" becomes "hors d'oeuvres" which both sound (out) later in the poem "hours", which brings on the inspired claim to infamy, "I feel a song coming / On, at least two of them / No one / Talks about Power brunches . . . " (viz. in ref. Spicer's "no one listens to poetry"). Such language antics as these make the fabric of the poems something of the rubric in which one looks to the wrong heading for the correct outline.

The book is loaded with similar jokey pushes and asides; while these make reading Cosmological Tremble a pleasure, they don't of themselves constitute the primary thrust of the book, which has more to do with using all that falls to one in constructing a thing not only beautiful, but in some equivalent measure, integrally useful; the good trouble of the book comes in attempting to equate the individually made thing (or life) with the actual outer and daily life of which it partakes and in part what it takes part in defining. Everything becomes text, in one's own text, although everything is already text in the world, if you can read it, and, alternately, also if you can't - not to even mention everyone else's texts. Writing is a kind of power struggle in terms of separating and sorting the primary from the secondary; the horizontal from the vertical; world from World. Textually. This struggle is at core the central effort of Cosmopolitan Tremble: to unsettle in result, but to remain tight in method to one's own vert, one's uprightness and ability to turn, to make the twist of verse most actually twist. DuCharme's use of pun and quotation gives sufficient ground to accomplish this actualizing turn, with tonally applied sarcasm multipled almost numerically acoss the bounds of the nominal; in this, his diction is exemplary: clean, distinctly focused on "subject softness" and composed with close attention to sound form.

In this sense, the book is very much an irritant; it agitates for active sense, and ways in which this can be used and maintained in the face of the overwhelming drone of habit brought forth in attempting to maintain it without the unbalancing offense of cost. Lyricism, also, is a habit against which one must resist saying what one means, opting otherwise for positioning one's self in the utterance to say what's given there-in to be said, conscious always of sentimentalization in transposition of getting up and over the bridge of one's own vanity, crossing the river without getting wet. Impassable. But the peculiarities of longing for a way out remain for DuCharme the clarity of maintaining the clear spark of multiply crossing wires -

Poetry, he said
Is a battle for the intelligence
Of our bewitchment, against
The means of philosophy.
The meanings of philosophy
Exalt my headache,
But I'm still trapped
As a mock-
Intellectual free agent. The
Poem's coming
On me. Someone stands
Behind the desk, mocking me.
I am a poet
Who's forsaken air
In my desire to burn.
But the oxygen of your philo-
sophical attachment will not char us.
My desire trounces me.
Only when we're in love we're free.

"Means" here battles with "meanings". "The poem's coming down on me" sounds both like Hard Times as well as a kind of released cushioning (related to going down on), one's major (moving, been moved, keep on moving) mode of now-alive life vs aesthetic split-level survival; "forsaken air" foretaken as gift is the "desire to burn." The exchange itself is ballast in the moment of realizing temporally one is "free". And the first lines of the poem that follows - "Some people are very definitely fucking / In the museum -- but you don't want to hear that" - is the perfect way to continue: engagement. That the world be pocked, scraped and roughened in this enough to feel it to be so in the knowing, which can only be a deciding. Which is DuCharme's major ability, to make cosmos (of the language, in the language) "tremble" in the polis we all (may thereforth) share.