LYRIC INVESTIGATIONS Jo Clement “Iron Work, V & A”

There’s not a pot to piss in. Least not the kind I’m looking for. / Move on, she said, You read too much into these things. // Still, our kettles boil, crucibles stew and sing. Their withy hooks / turn to litterfall. Wooden limbs left behind, long eaten. // But the iron pots we wrought, have they not weathered here / or found their place amongst the crested railings, locked gates // and all their keys? Now I see them loosed from wall and earth, / were these black balustrades not cast by the fiery Smiths?

from THE DARK HORSE, 42, Autumn & Winter 2020, p. 70.

FRAME OF REFERENCE As originally a charged field of communication, the idiocy is saturated with worth, prior to determination and self-determination. One might say that there is something overdeterminate to it as a kind of “too muchness,” though there is also something quasi-indeterminate about it, as opening to further determinations and self-determinations. The overdetermination is redolent of the good of the “to be.” The idiotic is an elemental field of communication, shimmering with the endowed promise of the good of the “to be.” WILLIAM DESMOND, The Intimate Universal, 206.

The “Notes on Contributors” in the new issue of THE DARK HORSE says of the author: “ Jo Clement is Managing Editor of Butcher’s Dog. Her debut pamphlet Movable Type (New Writing North) was published with support of Arts Council England.”

I will order a copy. Anybody who uses “movable type” in her title has my vote of confidence. I remember when I moved from newspaper work to book publishing. Movable type was an anachronism but in traditional book publishing preserved its aura.

Aura is relevant concept as we think about her poem Iron Work, V & A. The presence of works (not perhaps works of art) in museums challenge our sense of self as we entertain an other time. The voice of the poem is abruptly reconnected to her body and needs a lou. She speaks up and is rebuked as if she had hermeneutic issues. Aura of “things,” indeed a matter perhaps of thinking too much, is irrelevant to the bodily needs of the speaker, but it has everything to do with the poem.

This opening has an epigrammatic irreverence that locks in for the moment what we are to expect. The next couplet engages us at a still dialogical level but triggered by the equivocity of things. They have their depths, historical-aesthetic-dialectical. Kettles that boil are subject to the universal impermanence, they are like us in that, flesh of our flesh. Their withy hooks/turn to litterfall. We are at the o-level of being: the basic organic stuff, “o” meaning “organic” or perhaps “ontological.”

In the museum setting common things may undergo an aspect change, such as we expect from lyric. Now the style of the poem has access to new energies, new syntax, new levels of attention. “Now” has its corona or firmata effect.

Call it with Desmond (see FIELD OF REFERENCE) the idiotic dimension. Foundational thereness, pure possibility. The pie locates her pits and pans, flesh of her flesh, HERE. The grammar is precise, interrogatory but polite (compare the opening). “Have they not …or found their place”: the agon of high state-sponsored culture vs. how we live among our things: the idiotic aspect is intimate, pre-subjective, pre-objective, transhuman, to use categories invented by phenomenologists to make sense of human reality at its most universal.

Of course all this metaphysics may distract from the tone of the final lines. But the mode of existence of the lyric is embedded in, say, the conceptual litterfall of consciousness. Clement skillfully, gingerly, sifts through the life-appearances of her topic. Lyric succeeds as it keeps proportion among its voices.

Seen from a distance a question looms: isn’t there something truly other on the horizon of this question? Were these black balustrades not cast by the fiery Smiths? And since this poem interrogates the idiotic dimension, is not the imagery here acknowledgement of the powers of the enabling figure, analogy? Ana is a Greek prefix for “up.” Unlike metaphor, which lives in likeness— you might say description— analogy lives in difference. Its light is not the daylight of metaphor, a sort of convivial if conjectural half-light, but rather the darkness of difference. But like the balustrade of the poem, up not down (though we know from the chiasm that up may be down, as Heraclitus won’t be denied).

There is a powerful erotic yearning in Clement’s palate. It’s mixed with the differences of high and low. But as I don’t tire of saying, the lyric chiasm involves us in connections between outer and inner, lower and higher. The overall figure is analogy, which acknowledges the final differences between dimensions of thought. There’s a surplus energy in our efforts to bring every thing into the rational light of one museum. Analogy is the play of the gods of memory.

So thanks Jo Clement for this fine poem. May you write— and publish— many more.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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