Playing the Amplitudes by Christopher Rizzo
(BlazeVOX e-book, 2008)
When I started sketching this text I sat with my morning coffee listening to a radio program/essay on (Max) Ernst. This is probably not a coincidence. Rizzo's first long book is brimming with extraliterary references, all given by last name only; Duchamp, Mingus, Coltrane, Mozart, Davis. It's no coincidence that these are some (or most) of the people referenced in the poems of Playing the Amplitudes. I am surprised not to have found Braxton among them. But as this is just the beginning stages of a great career he may well be around later.
So what may you, dear reader, expect when you open the pdf recently published by Gatza's BlazeVOX? If you're not already familiar with the poems of Rizzo, the first thing may well be confusion. That's quite normal & nothing to be afraid of. & it will mostly pass. Then you will probably want to read the poems aloud to yourself &/ or your significant other, should one be around. & that's when they might start opening up to you
Here we go and there you go, as in again,
say somebody took out the wager and never
Thus opens the first poem, by the way titled I Can't Get Started. It reminds me of when NoMeansNo played in a small venue in Malmö a few years ago & they were milling about on stage for a while until one of them said ”Well, we might as well begin then.”
& then they made wonderful noise for something like three very short hours. Rizzo does something like that, using logical leaps & lacunas, word-play, rhythmical shifts. As in Rifftide
Took scoops in blahs, ratcheted down
rhizomes, skimped on cumin to zero and steeled.
Such or else the intensity out of work
and order rebellion with strapped signage
the artifice of dying with your pants on
in the park, the hammer blights
for arson, lit up and downed
marionette minions, all the cool you could chow.
Nibble gable picks and find yourself
shunting in July, pitch clung poppers
star humming a bored infinity, nil the real
so anybody to turn out
the lights on the blot of polis, the scat
blat of city, a country called my, innuendoes
for extinguishers and the sigh
of unsightly, not human but humane
the hump day our communal
plight, bombs bursting in riffles.
Me thinking about NoMeansNo when engaging with this book is no coincidence. The Vancouver-based trio works on the fringes of the HC-scene mostly playing quirky expansive, apparently improvisational & deeply political punk & have been doing so for something like 25 years, on one occasion closing an album with two interesting covers; first Davis's Bitch's Brew & then the Ramones' Beat on the Brat. Rizzo works on the fringes of what? Himself? His senses? Maybe. In a literary context maybe the surrealists, dada, Black Mountain, the beats, langpo? Most certainly. But also, & more about that later, all the commercial & political nonlanguage that surrounds us. Which brings us to what I see as a political dimension in Rizzo's writing. Apart, of course, from my favourite notion that the writing of poetry in & of itself is a political activity, in that there is so little money in it that it could be seen as an actively non-capitalist act. In all this dazzling fireworks there is manifest a will & an attempt to reclaim language, to infuse it with (non)sense, meaning &, may i venture, life. & at times we reach a clearing, where the poem opens in, often, two-word sentences. As about half-way into So What
Nice asinine. At nine. Hip crush.
Flick look. Back in. Have gun.
Will go. Read smear. Say what.
& with this we exit the Breaks which is the first part of the book. & a strong opening indeed. & with an interesting epigraph by Ralph Ellison
“Invisibility, let me explain, gives one a slightly different sense of time, you’re never quite on the beat. Sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes behind. Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead. And you slip into the breaks and look around.”
The last sentence could be said to be valid for the whole book, not just the first part. The third part, Zone, is fascinating. 10 loose sonnets of observed language, ”billboard taglines, road signs, bumper stickers, etc” (as he writes in a note to the sequence), written on an approximately four hours long bus trip. Nothing added. & yet the language is very Rizzo. I call on the second one to serve as example
Apportioned diamond – proud to be an American –
Motors project – mile police – only you know
long view pioneer – south speed music
wanted and available – wines and lodging – tiger
next press show turns – Tom Western –
open shell – attractions one way north –
maintenance designs – home office
exit – charburger yes we’re open liquors –
office dialysis – WWII banquet – Angelo’s
Old South Street lot – long term other –
stop stop in – pan staff – hours wanted the people –
sub pots – anytime SooRa – Lucky Nails –
market limit – parking for gas – center time deliveries–
laser grandstands entering and left –
Here we are in the midst of the commercial & political nonlanguage. Displayed on its own terms, arranged into this poetic structure. & stripped of its original contexts. In this new context some strange things happen to the phrases. They turn into poetry. They take on meaning(s) heretofore unknown to them. They remain political but they lose what little commercial value they had. Instead they may be seen as a scathing critique of a completely commercialized landscape. For example. Or as showing a fascination with this (to a european quite surreal) landscape of billboards, road signs & bumper stickers. Anyway it's clear that the political content of the phrases changes dramatically. This becomes even clearer when reading the whole sequence quickly. The cumulative effect is really strong. & it's an exciting contemporary take on the sonnet
With this I ruthlessly leap to Muthos Lingos, the sixth & last part of the book. In doing so I skip past the fifth part, Of Sound Mind, a wonderful & rich four-page prose poem which would warrant its own engagement. But onward now & into I'm Feeling a Little Irony which ends
All this information, and I still know
nothing for noting for knotting up such messes.
Show me the money, Dr. Quietude,
I’m feeling frisked yet quite alone.
War? What fucking war? History’s done
like lunch by a swami. Before you know it, finis
and oracles come cheap, armies
of exegetes with ink on their paws or–
did someone say Schnapps?
What to say about all this information, other than Schnapps? Here Rizzo covers quite a lot of ground, as he often does in the poems in this book. From information through confusion to the Silliman division of (mostly) north american poetry, back to politics (yes, it may be hard to keep track of all the wars) to Fukuyama's end-of-history nonsense & on. & can swamis cook? Aren't they supposedly too lofty for such worldly endeavours? About half-way into No-No we are asked
Language, how language?
& I have no idea how to answer that, except maybe “green”, or “jumping”, or with the phrase ending Dear Marks, the last poem of the book & thus ending the whole of Playing the Amplitudes as well as this text
Hey Capital, sell this.
Lars Palm likes to run off to subtropical islands when winter sets in. he has written some poems & will write some more & he runs ungovernable press.