For centuries, poets have sung the praises of the rural. Recent vanguard American poets, however, have had an ambivalent relationship to unspoiled nature. “One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes,” writes Frank O’Hara in “Meditations in an Emergency.” The poet Cody-Rose Clevidence grew up mostly in New York City, but for some years now has been living on four acres in the Ozark National Forest, accessible only by four-wheel drive. From this Walden-like fastness (which would no doubt give O’Hara the heebie-jeebies) has emerged some of the most extraordinary visionary poetry of recent years.
The poems of Aux/Arc Trypt Ich, one of two volumes Clevidence published in 2021, are shot through with a sense of nature’s vitality and with the possibility that the numinous, even the divine, may inhere in that nature — and especially in nature’s generative processes. The poems of the first section, “Poppycock & Assphodel,” are redolent of sexuality:
unshamed, sun thoughts, sensations goat, boat sudden, come perilous, eagle-eye perpendicular, lizard-sky lamb-of-god, whippoorwill masochist, [thy] animal all-the-way, magnificent cluster-fuck, accident— dodecahedron, demi-god parallax, “kiss thy rod” (“[I think there is]”)
Clevidence’s voice is fragmentary, stammered, emphatic, tentative, but never inert: an electric lyrical vigor presses through their lines:
it was the green, the green & the blue the green & the filtering of light, it was the rough & the tumble of light that shook & that trembled that came forth hard in the light & the dark. (“[it was]”)
The triptych’s second section, “Winter,” is a single, long poem of close natural and seasonal observation, shot through with longing and grief:
how vision culls th eyes at dusk my heart rolling [in] [th] [gentle] pornography of dusk disintegrating [into] [th] [thick] lashes of night, where th echo breaks down, there, where th dim bell of my heart grows dim, moth-like, molting in th excess of self, how th gown grows soft with the steady—o steady—th lashes of night.
“A Night of Dark Trees,” the book’s final section, folds a host of classical references — Homer, Ovid, Virgil — into its exploration of the maelstrom-like experience of longing and desire, cruelty, and “mercy.” Rilke’s terrifying angels, Arkansan fundamentalism, the Ozarks’ topography and flora, and the tale of Actaeon from the Metamorphoses all feed into “Cygnus th Swan”:
I will rein my one angel back, stumble my own self up, bull-thistle & cardinal-flower, sworn, by my own river, naked in all th world, th aralias bloom while their leaves turn deep violet, dark red, devil’s- walking stick, Mercy is a verb. Mercy, mercy, call off th dogs it’s just me, remember—
The sequence ends with “Mercy [Addendum],” which includes a number of “Other Words for Mercy” — a kind of lexicon of potential intimacies: “I can be gentle”; “find one form and then let loose another”; “don’t | stop.”
Listen My Friend, This Is the Dream I Dreamed Last Night is something else altogether from the fragmentary lyrics and broken diction of Aux/Arc Trypt Ich. It is a single 124-page paragraph, both hectic and meditative, a wildly scattered but hypnotically recursive presentation of the world as it unfolds in the poet’s consciousness. The Ozark surround is very much present here (along with various other places to which Clevidence travels): we are with the poet drinking beer on the hood of their truck, looking up at the stars, sleeping between their dog and cat. But the outside world, thanks to the internet, presses into the writer’s consciousness in ways that Theocritus or Thoreau could never have imagined: not just the daily news of the pandemic, the numbing recurrences of police brutality, the Black Lives Matter and other protests erupting across the country, but the whole archive of human knowledge and evolution, which the book announces as its purview:
the binocular vision, the grasping hand, flat teeth, reverie, grief, mourning, string, the capacity for psychological violence, opposable thumbs, intentional deceit which implies an understanding of the interiority of others, unabashed versus abashed sexuality, red/green optical photoreceptor cells evolved for seeing fruit. yr not from around here. what is there to drink. this steep cliff in you.
Listen My Friend is punctuated with quotations from Clevidence’s viewing, listening, and reading — in particular Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, but also a host of articles, YouTube videos, and podcasts on history, current affairs, gender theory, psychology, evolution, and ecology, among much else. These factoids and observations, long and short, are woven into the fabric of the poet’s day-to-day existence, their desires and satisfactions, their longing for far-flung friends, their mourning for their deceased father, and their anxious concern for their mother, who is slipping into dementia.
The book is intense reading: so many shifts of attention and emotion, so much sheer data packed into its closely printed lines. It is an epic of our precarious human moment, circling again and again around the notion of “home”:
to go home, to be home, to have a home, to have a body, to be a body, to make choices, to love, to feel things, to feel what it is like to be a body, to remember people you love, to grieve and keep living, tachycardia, crying as a morphological response, smells of each place, the sensation of safety and the absence of the sensation of safety and all the neurochemicals like an orchestra giving us the world. and what can we do but receive it.
Listen My Friend holds in suspension huge vistas of time, and finds the poet gazing with almost bewildered wonder at the place to which the unimaginable complexity of the evolutionary process has brought us — the technologies by which we have conquered and warped nature, the societies we have evolved to aid and oppress one another, the whole rich panoply of visible and knowable existence. Clevidence ends by quoting Gilgamesh: “‘Sometimes we build a house, sometimes we make a nest,’ the Sumerian poet writes, and then of the mayflies on the river, ‘their faces look upon the face of the sun, then suddenly, there is nothing.’”
Aux/Arc Trypt Ich by Cody-Rose Clevidence (2021) is published by Nightboat Books. Listen My Friend, This Is the Dream I Dreamed Last Night by Cody-Rose Clevidence (2021) is published by the Song Cave. Both are available online and in bookstores.