Pierre Joris, who grew up in Luxembourg, once told me that he only speaks Luxembourgish with his mother. He may have been exaggerating, but the linguistic nomadism demanded by living in this European crossroads provides much of the experiential mulch for his poetry, going all the way back to the earliest poems in his first selected collection: Brecchia: Selected Poems 1972-1986.
This is the first in a series of occasional posts on Joris' poetry that will stem from my rereading his two selected collections—Brecchia and Poasis: Selected Poems 1986-1999.
My first observation is a simple one that involves lineation. Poetry, of course, is defined by line breaks, and this is especially true of nonmetered poetry where such breaks are solely a choice on the part of the poet and define the rhythm, emphasis, and sonic lay of a piece.
When I think of Joris' poetry, I generally picture nervous, one- to three-word lines often placed in something of a staccato fashion indented from the left margin. However, this is only one of his many modes in his earliest work. For instance, "A Bundle of Rods Bound Up with an Axe in the Middle, Its Blade Projecting" often has thick, clotted lines of about ten words replete with little punctuation.
The light jitteriness of Joris' better-known early work, "Antlers" or the notebook poems from "Tracing," gives way to a compactness and, for me at least, semantic obfuscation (in the sense of Bernadette Meyers' "The Obfuscated Poem":
like acorns assemble the sows or
not like but still the glyph distilled
in place of which is nowhere & only
in time & first letter is a matter
For me, this poem bangs and crashes with possible meaning—"like...not like but still..."—not settling anywhere. When reading it, I feel overwhelmed with the violent potentials of language and its associations.
In his better known early poems, Joris seems to feel out and test turn and ripple away in a dance across and through language and myth and time and space. Here, we have just the opposite: a sediment of thick language left after the dance has been burned off.
My next post will be on "Antlers." I wanted, however, to begin by calling attention to some of Joris' less-known poetic practices.
Brecchia: Selected Poems 1972-1986
Poasis: Selected Poems 1986-1999
Pierre Joris' Amazon page
Pierre Joris—Cartographies of the In-Between, edited by Peter Cockelbergh, contains essays on all things Joris.
Nomadics, Joris' blog—Currently, you can read an interview with Joris' longtime collaborator Jerome Rothenberg.