A Simple Game: Frank’s Letter to the Workshop

Frank Rubino’s letter of invitation and inspiration to the weekly Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of February 9, 2021

Hi Everybody-

This past Wednesday we featured poet Kyle Seamus Brosnihan at our virtual Williams Center reading on zoom. He read his poem, Empire which you can find here https://www.alwayscrashing.com/current/2019/6/18/kyle-seamus-brosnihan-empire Empire is a long poem that builds a repetitive pattern:

my normal heart
my mandatory heart
my only heart
my tedious heart
my circular heart
my disposable heart
my blue heart
                  is a pit I keep falling into
my cancerous heart
                  is a bone I keep choking on

These lines are from the beginning of the online version. The “my ___ heart” protocol starts up right away, directly, forthrightly: the poem saying this is what I do, you don’t have to figure it out. As Arthur Russell put it: I’m going to keep playing this game. The simplicity of the game is disarming, and approachable. Unlike more complex patterns like sestinas or pantoums, this poem just keeps doing its tick tock thing. Not that other games aren’t running. Against this repetition, Brosnihan deploys:

1. Characters. Voices walk on and off the stage: my fascist heart/ forgot how to love/ whatever/ love is boring

2. Micro-Sequences: my unrelenting heart/ and and and/ my never-ending heart/ and and and /my paradoxical heart/ but

3. Taxonomies: a group of a dozen hearts or so are the “won’t love you” hearts and their appearance together is reminiscent of a hierarchical categorization. Each one a sub-species: “if you’re not my kind of pretty” “unless you won’t love me” “if you know all the answers”etc.

4. Emotional Arcs. The last major sequence of hearts are the highest expression of an ardor that’s been maneuvering and growing throughout the long poem: they each “long for love” 

The art of Ed Atkins https://cabinet.uk.com/refuse also uses repetition. Listening to Brosnihan’s poem, I thought of Atkins’s pieces, Refuse.exe, and The Weight of the World. In Refuse.exe, a customized computer animation program renders, without commentary, and with a half-heard piano soundtrack, blankly classical, various objects crashing through a floor. A massive ship’s anchor, a cloud of feathers, a pallet of books, a pile of human bones and skulls, fish, a piano. A fat rope. The action occurs in an anonymous dull gray space. Its “abject cgi” as Cabinet Gallery’s founder, Andrew Wheatley, calls it, is austere, and limits the game visually the same way Brosnihan’s simple verbal pattern constrains Empire. Atkins’s other piece, The Weight of the World, is a 19 hour reading from Proust, accompanying a relentless though somehow soothing progression of manufacturing processes at jigsaw puzzle factories, kayak factories, saltine factories, and all sorts of mass producers; it reminds me of the emotional payoffs Brosnihan gets with his characters and arcs.

Do your poems play with repetition, permutation, and rogue variance? 

What are the units that repeat in your poem? 

Consciousness seems to require both a mechanism for synthesizing consistency and a setting which produces novelty. I guess that’s not a question.

Author: dzirilli

poet, cartoonist, editor of Now Culture