Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Citizen, Aaron Shurin


Sat in front of the window box speckled with narration – cotyledon turbine, etc. – looking for a twitch in the soil – pattern repository – or the periscope of morning … Made a new city, then, a jumble of colored houses down a hillside – to stand up and go out and walk along – in another tongue, resistant, fertile, florid idiom – clustered torches – flash … Talked, then, hammered by stuttering silences but mouthing thick consonants like fresh bread, a distant calculus of yeast and sound – listened from the trembling core the mute still air stirred – template drift – generation – as if of spring … speaking …

It took a while to engage with the poems in Aaron Shurin’s Citizen (San Francisco CA: City Lights Books, 2012), a collection of prose poems, partly for the sake of the blurred boundary between prose and poem that the pieces straddle. My immediate reaction wondered if these pieces lived closer to the short story, aware of fiction writers (Jean McKay, for example) who compose far more lyric stories than Shurin. The author of some dozen collections of poetry, there is a subtlety to Shurin’s work, a series of invisible turns that take time to sink in, and a cadence that appears straightforward but is actually understated, twirling tricks around in air. Time to sink in, time to understand, and even see. One could argue, what is the difference between these and short stories? Do such distinctions matter? Probably not, but there are those who might disagree. With each piece roughly a page in length, these sixty-four pieces are structured into three sections—“Flare,” “Gather” and “Hive”—and many appear as a kind of prose-koan, handing out wisdom in a sideways manner, trailing off into the unspoken, unrequired or even into what should never be spoken aloud.


Once I was an old man with wind in his hair – pulverized by the air – that wasn’t fair so I crawled back over the bridge to where the beautiful nights dance like bears – and sidling up to the Professor of Youth who was seething to see me unspoiled – tamped furrows – sat down in my former spot with a heft of purpose … and with my eyes now sparkling like fresh cream started to sing, “Attention purifies the vagrant mind” as if it had been peeled out of a hymnal from my childhood … Once I was a Young Turk with wind at his back – it was hard to argue with that … Once I had a tunic of cobalt blue, a twilight cape, a dark kimono … with a sweep of authority as if it were my hair I climbed the laddered air to where the voices hung like ornaments in cobalt space – dancing bears – and waited in the sonic arches as if I were at home there and learned my methods and honed my craft … Bridge and arch, ladder and stair … happily at home there …

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