Lag by Steve McCaffery

I received Marjorie Perloff's Radical Artifice for Christmas and I am in the middle of it right now.  I was particularly interested in her reading of Steve McCaffery's Lag from The Black Debt in her chapter on The Billboard Field as Poetic Space.  Perloff writes, "The typeface and continuous print [of The Black Debt] call to mind signboards, tickertape, and electronic mail."  Lag is 119 pages of such print.  See page 50 above.   Perloff's discussion of contemporary poetry's response to billboard culture and Lag's format immediately brought to mind Kerouac' On the Road scroll.  Typed in 1951 after several years crisscrossing the country, Kerouac experienced the beginnings of billboard culture and the Las Vegasing of America first hand.   

Perloff prints a page 11 of Lag.  One line jumped out at me:  "these enormous movements of soap intact and called a breakdown on the road."  What have we here?  Is not Lag with its page breaks a breakdown of the continous scroll of Kerouac's manuscript.  In addition, McCaffery breaks down, dissolves, and discards the plot, narrative and story elements of On the Road and keeps only its flow of language and its critique of America' culture as viewed from the road. 

And what of the reference to soap?  Francis Ponge's prose poem Soap comes to mind.  McCaffery keeps intact the form of the prose poem and the process of assembling, structuring and observing, in a sense its movement, but he discards the soap, the object of contemplation, leaving only the language.

Spending a brief 24 hours with Steve McCaffery in Buffalo was one of the defining experiences of 2009 for me.  In 2010, it is time to spend more time with his work.



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