On before it begins there is the space

monday, february 3, 1997

In the late '90s I thought a lot about the Empire State Building (ESB) and even considered building arrows pointing toward the ESB into the titles of each of these audio-originated works (prephoems), showing where I was in direction relative to that skyscraper when I spoke them. They also would have been of varying breadth, with the thicker the arrow indicating correlatively the closer I was to the ESB at the moment of its making. I wanted to give the works an epicenter and even considered proposing to the ESB owners my spending a night in the dirigible mooring mast at its crown, the graphic representation of which would be a black page.

I write the above here because the building in this transcription is not the ESB but one coincidentally along Central Park West at 77th Street I walked daily past to a job near Columbus Circle.

In part informing my decision not to title prephoems with such arrows is my understanding that they not require an anterior structure of significance: That the moment of their composition is the location of the ESB. Each "more wakeful glimpse of the wonder" is a "building" - a thing built in "wake" - which may be a declared "state" in words ("to state"). We rule this building state, and perhaps all we rule. "Empire" as a word related to "rule" (and here I think of "pattern") echoes building as a made thing, even one monumental: The cognate of "empire" lies in words like "paring," ("trimming"), such as "prepare" ("make ready") but also "give birth to" in the Latin parere, from which we get "parent," for example. This understanding seems to manifest in the phrase, "to force one's self to the road to the child," going on to elaborate the awkwardness of that position: "held by one leg the other arm under the shoulders cradled there waiting."

Set against "state" we must remember "cadence," the fall: This is the poetic preserve.)

The prephoem starts, "before it begins there is the space of its beginning." That is where I was and, to my mind, where we always - in all ways - are: setting out, beginning. Though there is no beginning, too, and as Parmenides goes on to say, there is no end.

The voice recordings and the subsequent AV strips were more often than not inscribed by a physical setting out, as they were made in transit from one place to another, principally in the confines of New York City. This was mostly on foot - they are compositions on the hoof via voice recorder - though also standing or sitting on public transit or in cabs.

As in this prephoem, the pivot ("crossing the circle") is walking, and the integration of the rhythms of that double pendulum, forward-falling-and-catching inalienably human knack into my talking composition process is crucial, the continual crux ("cross"). Walking echoes our human beginning - in the archeological record over three million years ago - with Lucy ("light"), the angle of whose knee joint shows a walking humanoid. It also echoes "verse" derived from the Latin vertere "to turn," from the PIE *wert- "to turn, wind," from base *wer- "to turn, bend." Verse as a poetic stricture originally was tied to song and speech by the stage, with the limit of a line defined by the edge of a performance space at which a performer, walking to and fro, would about face: The supposition being that the verse limits of song and speech were tied to movement, specifically to walking, in a context of performance and the "make believe" of a theater. Further, the stage is field, the walking behind a plow behind an ox or ass or what have you making sounds, even speech. But work songs and of blading language into the heath, perhaps, wherein the audience per se is the earth (one is working). It recalls the magic-square, Latin palindrome SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS ("planter works holds wheels") that, written in a square, may be read top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, left-to-right, and right-to-left, with "holds" assuming the cross/center. A building, like a field, holds by wheeling work.

That these works are made walking and talking ties them to what is common to us. Not all people write or voice record, but most walk and talk and sometimes do so simultaneously. The rhythm of walking - my walking in particular - finds itself in these talking works.

The near-term signification of the recordings' walking-centrism flows from mid-19th century literary lines: Firstly, from Poe and his short story "The Man in the Crowd" into the figure of the urban flâneur, "stroller," through that term's evolution from Charles Baudelaire to Walter Benjamin; and from Thoreau's essay "Walking" and his use of the word "saunterer," a similarly French word, the derivation of which Thoreau locates in either "holy lander" or "without land" (sans terre).That word's common meaning ("stroller") is close to flâneur, and in Benjamin's treatment of that term, he stipulates that it is not from the flâneur, in whom the "joy of watching prevails over all," that the "revealing representations of the big city" evidenced in Baudelaire come. Rather, "They are the work of those who have traversed the city absently, as it were lost in thought and worry. The image of "˜fantasque escrime' ["fantastical fencing"] does justice to these individuals; Baudelaire is thinking of their [flâneur] condition, which is anything but the condition of the observer." Placing Baudelaire outside the flâneur distinguishes him as one who profoundly ruminates on this disenfranchised class of wanders as types of a Cainian (and so inherently urban) modernity.

For Whitman, however, observation in the elucidations of particularities seeds his "vision" of America and its urban "blab." Moreover, flâneur also means "loafer," and so we see at the outset of his vista both these terms broadcast:

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease . . . . observing a spear of
summer grass.

While Whitman's use of "observing" calls to Benjamin's flaneur in "joy of watching" simultaneous with his distinguishing Baudelaire from "the conditioner of the observer," Whitman's invitation to "soul" seems akin to Thoreau's "holy calling," staking walking to preservation of "health and spirits." The distinction, however, is that Thoreau's saunter is dislocated in not only sans terre and the "holy lander" quest but also his preserved ("embalmed") but cut-out "hearts":

It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers,
nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending
enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again
at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the
walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest
walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to
return - prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics
to our desolate kingdoms.

While Thoreau laments the absence of "persevering, never-ending enterprises," Whitman, not leaving - and even locating himself in our own self assumptions ("what I assume you shall assume") - attempts to relocate perseverant, endless acts in what is immediately observed. His "invite" while at "ease" is toward an absolute concision of field observation: a single/singular "spear of summer grass," just as "Song of Myself" distinguishes him from the Baudelaire of Benjamin's portrayal as pensively mulling the fate of shiftful urbanites. Yet the soul in Whitman's equation is anterior to self - the loafing "I" - and separate from the "observing" and the "grass," the combination of which form an occasion for soul to surround. Similarly Thoreau's "hearts" like soul may be dislodged from those he imagines might "go forth." His writing that they be "embalmed," and rendered fixed, like "relics," seems to indicate two things: They are made "undying" through crusade; and/or anything that can be fixed, like a heart or "hearth" in the dynamic (walking in this case) of "spirit of undying adventure," is of light account. In both Thoreau and Whitman dislocation and separation are relevant only as they may disclose what waits: A scrap with infidels and/or the arrival of soul. Moreover dislodging both heart and soul from an interiority allows for a vacuum - absence - and so a context within which distinction emerges, like Heidegger's "worlding around us": in a moment as building a state of our own making declared in moving words we rule: or "ESB."

It was in the path of my "walking ESB," then, that I came to make the spontaneous compositions enabled by electronic media, which is phoetry's ground. In taking a picture, I take the observation - "spear of summer grass" - out of the equation and am left with what might be closer to Benjamin's "thinking of their condition." That ground is haunted by abandonment - Thoreau's "never to return" - down to the "hollow metal globe," of this prephoem: To find and lose silence, a last defendable concept.