Open Night by Aaron Lowinger
(Transmission Press, San Francisco, 2008)
Not eating sunflower seeds
living the dream goofing off at work
got headphones on like I’m in on some secret
a secret I only really know about and they don’t
they don’t even know it’s a secret
is day day today?
the sun looks tough enough
the churches still standing
but what happened to the dinosaurs
oh God Bless America
third planet from the sun
In Open Night, by Aaron Lowinger, every poem is titled “open night.” There are 52 of them.
Fifty two weeks, fifty two stars: the book’s a flag for a year: folksy, forever-fashionable, symbolic standard of life fully felt.
In life’s big hotel
with white towels
a leather jacket
and a pair of sunglasses
on the beach colored wallpaper
with the TV on
If that doesn’t strike you as more American than Nabakov’s motel odyssey in Lolita, then try the following:
Rain basil coins puke glasses
it’s a beautiful night
just sitting out here
drinking away the summer with you
eating onion rings
applying for jobs every day
on the phone every day
I might get one of the phones
that you wear right on your ear
and then ideas will be free
this street is long like the sea
I can’t see where it ends only trees
There just might, in fact, be something more American, but if so then it’s in this book of poems.
As for the poems: Lowinger’s language’s syntax & sentiment are common but not vulgar: it’s the good stuff of the speech we all share. As in the “secret they don’t even know it’s a secret,” there’s no artificial, affected, or poetically inflated speech here.
Simplicity is not interchangable with authenticity, or with clarity for that matter, but here all three obtain. And simplicity not only characterizes the line, it also determines within the composition: one line/one thought, on top of another: stacking sticks, like an Andy Goldsworthy work. One advantage of simplicity is that the poems rest on the most common, communing tradition: nature--be it sticks or speech or feeling. It’s an Open Night after all: it’s there for the taking.
Lowinger’s lines are robust and independent, like stripes on our flag heralding independent agencies of a single federation. You could substitute for the “title” of a given poem any one of its constituent lines, and fail less egregiously than you do at most things, to be sure. The way the line demarcates both thought and breath, there’s no need for punctuation, any more than there’s need to interpolate the words “comma” and “semi-colon” into your own speech. Any more than there need be customs agents or money changings between the states.
With very few exceptions (why impose a rule of prosody if not to strategically exempt certain speech?) each line is a self-contained unit of meaning and breath. Each line consists of what, in a sentence, would be a clause, so can be grasped by itself, often instantly. And, each line laid down in 2-4 feet without caesura: one short breath, which means it can be breathed HARD. Each next line lets you come back full-strength, full breath. There’s the insistence of strong emotion in the constantly renewed line. Nor do the longer, the four-foot lines, compromise the intensity; they force breath to trail off at the end, adding a different, sadder or more wistful emotion (see the last line in the 3rd poem above--or the “secret” lines in the 1st poem, which achieve a kind of comical self-deprecation by the extra feet). Intensity can only be sustained by its respites. Those who go at life hard need their rest, and those rests are sweetly melancholy, reflective--sometimes humorous things.
Taking Pound’s own insistence Only emotion endures, these poems might last like rockwork: a mountain-range in the mind, optically diminished by distance. They’re also rock-like in that layer atop layer, line atop line structure, achieving sedimentary mass by a temporal process--accumulation. Including time in the prosody gives the poems a feeling of time experienced, a documentary rendering of a moment through the human tools of the poet.
A tree collects mass largely by putting down roots and becoming heavier by virtue of invisible manipulations--toward conspiracy with other forces. Pieces which collect meaning or literary effect in a tantamount process are often described as organic: an apperception of going from tail to head manifests a kind of epiphenomenon of reading: a living thing. The open nights aren’t like that. They are aggregate masses few would call “organic” or “elegant”, despite the fact the lineated strata often interlock with rhyme and rhythm. They rather invite that other favorite appelation: “raw”; though I prefer “rough and rugged” because they are manly poems, suggestive of large forearms wielding heavy stuff. Herculean perception!
Finally, the open night technique of accumulation inspires reconsideration of the precept: poems ought not include anything unncessary . Taking the 3rd poem above: to omit“eating onion rings”, or “applying for jobs every day”, or “on the phone very day” jeopardizes the intelligiblity of the poem not at all--and does de minimis damage to the prosody. Just so, striking an item from a list does nothing to distort the identity of a list as such, yet the absence may be fatal to the roast-- or here, the feeling. So, this technique of stacking thoughts/observations/facts drives home the invaluable nature of every such thought and observation and fact, which is a life lesson of a life loved. Prosody indistinguishable from philosophy, morality, and living is prosody de veras. That’s not to say the poet isn’t being selective. Of course he is, but behind closed doors so that we feel the picture of the poem is complete, and all-inclusive. It’s an “effect” cynics would say.
The earth’s said to be a big rock, but life does grow atop it. Life grows upon these poems too. Half of them have been with me since 2006, when they were published as a collection by House Press. Now they’ve been married to newer pieces in this Transmission Press publication. Back in ’06 when the Miami Heat were champs and the stock market couldn’t open lower, the Open Night series wasn’t necessarily my favorite. But, the poems’ combination of particulars let meanings grow on them, when they’ve been long enough in the atmosphere of a mind. One would think such cultivation would take place in the more abstract fields, and so it does, but the particulars herein are chosen with a magic so they quickly become nostalgic--fuzzy with personal meanings.
summer 2006 electric fan
plugged into the wall
and that’s where God moves
. . . .
PBS tower crowded out by leaves
mother of wonder night calls
An elegance does show through. What will become nostalgic is of course unpredictable; nostalgia is being taken back to the commonplaces that were taken for granted: a dumb gift from a relative, a garbage-picked chair, the tomatoes that year. When you try to hold on to something in the present in order to remember it for the future, it’s like in the future looking back and:
trying without feeling
to remember or recreate any feeling
. . .
I go to the store
but there’s nothing to buy
go home again
put my head sideways
fill the hall with windows
listen to the water
moving around me
Open Night is the heart flag of one man. It seems meant to die with the poet. It’s got its place, its time. It’s not supposed to be mended and amended, not meant to be everlasting--which is why it will last, for a while. It’s precisely the country walked, and the mystical interaction of that earth with its sky and the person walking it. The result of that mystical interaction is feeling, personal and universal both. And he speaks it out, he raises the feeling for all ears in the open night. He knows life will end. But speaking to or into that night, loudly, or to “you” more quietly, but still with lots of stressed syllables and halted and renewed phrasing to fit the phase of energy, he ends up creating a little book of poems which may betray his pretensions toward the topical.
Lowinger ‘wholly dedicates the poems to night and the magic in connecting Earth to the infinite ocean of darkness around us.’ Night intervenes between earth and the cosmos, or separates them--most would say. Herr Lowinger says it otherwise. His poems testify he believes that whatever air earth light comes between one person and another does not separate but connects us in a body we all share. The Open Night poems are shouted secret messages, electrical activity in the emotional system of this larger body (the electric city?).
right now it is only November 30
wind rain dead leaves
and you don’t love me
this is going to be
a long winter
when it rains
I see money
And a good many of them are funny. Open Night!
Eric Gelsinger is a member of House Press. Originally from Buffalo, he lives in Brooklyn and works near Times Square as an equities trader. More of his writing can be found at www.gelsingers.blogspot.com