Duration Knows No Law by Steven Seidenberg (Released by ypolita press in June 2016)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Reviewed while listening to Blanck Mass and Midori Takada
“Of everything that concerns you, and all the shreds and clippings of the rest, of pitiful misadventures and star-crossed agonies delayed, . . . “
Density of textuality meets a precise level of aural acrobatics in Steven Seidenberg’s Duration Knows No Law, a chapbook/pamphlet publication of 50 sections. Here we have prose poems converging with philosophical treatises, or, at the most basic definition, explorations through language. The poetic is strong here, in the same way the poetic is strong within the most ethereal, philosophical ponderings of the French, and often that mentioned density of text clouds the meaning of language from itself. And yet at the same time, it is a small but powerful book questioning authority, artistic privilege, and the journey in the life (the duration) of the artist.
“Consciousness has three tombs—its body, its world, and its representations…”
This feeling of being alive, dead, buried, encased, entombed, protected, walled-in, is as Lautréamont as it is Camus, and yet we see the beautiful, the mysterious of poets like Char here as well, who create their works because of their process, their staring into the voids of the entire spectrum of time. Though Seidenberg avoids the use of setting and scene and the apparent, concrete image (his awareness being an abstracted, internalized one), the monologues and conversations of self and selves in Duration are quintessentially pastoral. They are arousing and introspective beyond the noise of the urban, globalized, digital existence erupting most contemporary poetries this decade, and this degree of elsewhere and meanwhile, this sit back and dig in, is refreshing.
The actuality of Seidenberg’s intentions are difficult to interpolate, though they are certainly something, decipherable through intense inspection and scrutiny; yet their power is driven by a maddeningly manic speaker whose methods consist of wrangling around the mind of the reader, moving almost ecstatically from one statement to the next. The speaker of these arrow-like statements, effigies of inspiration and progress that burn bright, dwindle, pass forward, is one who moves methodically, albeit somewhat mechanically, through lace-like motifs of time, history, beauty, purpose, intention, and on, and on. The vocabulary, like in Wolsak’s Of Beings Alone, is often discombobulating and derailing—it is challenging, though beautiful. The constraint of injecting what often appears endless lingual bar-raising and head-scratching for the sake of itself and of opening new doors, windows, is that breath of fresh air, and fresh light.
In the opening of the book, there is the definition of closure, which is balanced (or countered) with an emphasis of awareness, perception, and description. These qualities of a heightened state of artistry and intellect are the key to the door that must be opened. And there is that “must” sensibility throughout too: an urgency, a definitive stance, despite the lingering around and out of and for the language itself. Ironically, the book feels more about opening than closing, and yet the tone and statements of the speaker lean more toward the latter, toward finding some degree of stability, some essence of being set, established, understood—but perhaps that is the juxtaposed nature of the idea of awareness, the contradictory core of truth, that we begin to see unraveled through Seidenberg’s wit.
As with Berger’s Ways of Seeing, Seidenberg’s Duration Knows No Law is at its height, at its most practical and its most pronounced, when individual moments are most accessible. Such moments of access that do the pivoting have to be unique to each reader and their personal states and tastes, and their relationships to writing, and also such moments are quintessentially related to image, and identifiable sense of place. Similar to those contexts and situations throughout the recently-reviewed The Demotion of Pluto by Deborah Meadows, on an almost Bachelardean sense of space becomes the much-needed reprieve and salvational anchor:
“A room that resembles a dream—surfeited with angles. A stomach of a room, split up floor to transom. A room egressed by trapdoor, tripping into…over…into…”
Earlier in the book, Seidenberg speaks to avoid beauty, and yet throughout the work here, an ironic presence of the beautiful is impossible to avoid. Such an impossibility makes all the challenges of reading Duration, enduring it, so to speak, a pleasant journey. The journey for the reader becomes remarkably displacing of the surface qualities of the book—its language, its tone, its overall ambiguity—is disrupted by its own metacognitive core. And as such Duration Knows No Law could become a keystone for other poets and artists as one way to transcend and overcome, and be aware, of the general turmoil all must face when concerned with the creative act.