Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Permutations of The Arakaki Permutations

Jared Stanley responds to Arakaki Permutations

I love Jim’s project – his desire to bring his poetry writing and the embodied practice of the Kata together might seem kind of scary, or too pure, or something, but you know, there’s drama in its rigor and (should I say it?) faith in its unity of purpose. Mostly it’s a great pleasure to read – the mind turning the graphemes into motions. It’s exciting, and more than anybody else I can think of, Jim’s trying to write poems that are embodied (not ‘about’ the body) and are, at the same time, about a rigorous, demanding idea of embodiment. Jesus fuck, that sounds like a blurb.

Has anybody mentioned the form of the book? It’s divided into five sections of permutations of the first poem in the section. So, the first line of the first poem, is ‘word.’ This serves as the title of the next poem. The second line is ‘in process’ serves as the title of the third poem, and so on and so forth. There’s a kind of rigorous efflorescing out of the first poem’s primary intention which I find super exciting, hinting at levels of meaning that can be endlessly generated from the first line. And they’re not glosses, or poems dependent on each other, permutations, gusts and motions of changes.

Permutation. Do I even need to say it? It is the most important gesture of poetry, in these days of endless, extrusions, transformations, metamorphoses. So much of it seems uncontrollable, apocalyptic, I don’t know, disordered, some fearful inevitability, nihilistic even. (I read this headline: Ocean Noise Pollution Blowing Holes in Squid’s Heads) So, sometimes, I think of permutation, and I am afraid of such things. This world has trained us to fear transformation.

But not in this book. Here, permutation and change are ‘of the process’ – should we have a look?

Arakaki no Jo

aroundabout way to confer
cropping with the best of all

intent  rivet gatling
in the offing
strategies  break one loose

I want to stop and hear the cryptic echo of ‘conifer’ in there. And indeed, the permutation explores the echo fully. The violence of motion, and of rhyme! Can you imagine sapling and gatling together, in this way? the motions of the kata are supple (saplings).

Here’s the permutation of the third line, exciting to me for its animistic conflation of trees and body parts:

III. (storm-knees)

bough (breaks)
the tension wire

by swinging it low
you get
a battery’s worth

of spent shells
and without care

in ward or wood
or that
centrifugal stress

intertial force lost
as it’s
flung from orbit

The permutations linger on pain or violence. The suppleness and grace of the knee is snapped or broken, and the language is rife with the special intensity of concentrating on the work a knee does – you know it when it stops working. I don’t know if you’ve seen either Grizzly Man or Twin Peaks, but both the movie and the TV show have these amazing shots of trees, just trees, in motion, in wind, both supple and breaking, falling apart, being acted upon. There’s a similar feeling of an invisible strength made visible in a form in this poem, of centrifugal stress – now you, and your reading mind, are flung –are you not? 

Jared Stanley is the author of Book Made of Forest (Salt, 2009) and four chapbooks, including How the Desert Did Me In. With Lauren Levin and Catherine Meng, he edits Mrs. Maybe, a Journal of Skeptical Occultism. He is a member of Unmanned Minerals, an art collective, and lives in Reno, Nevada.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

richard lopez responds to James Maughn's The Arakaki Permutations

My first love was karate.  I was, I think, about eight years old when my father took me to my first dojo.  The martial art was Kenpo, a hybrid style developed out many disciplines, and when I watched the instructor complete a ballet-like thrust and parry with his hands in a demonstration to my old man about the beauty and efficacy of the martial arts, I was mesmerized.

Later my studies took a different turn.  I studied Shotokan for a number of years.  Then I discovered drugs, girls, punk rock and poetry.  Not necessarily in that order.  And I abandoned my study of karate, but not my love of the martial arts.  I can still watch a beautifully executed kata with that same sense of beauty and mystery.  In addition, my preferred form of karate is the traditional kata and not what passes for katas as they are broadcast on ESPN with all its music and somersaults like a gymnast on crank.  I like clean lines, deft movements, and purpose of form.  Perhaps poet and karate practitioner James Maughn’s studies took a similar trajectory along with a similar preference for traditional kata.  But that Maughn continues with his study of karate and with it creates gorgeously realized poems that are at once fluent, muscular and graceful.  These are lyrics that work against the lyric “I” and instead turn traditional poetry on its ear.  In fact, I don’t think there is writing quite like the poetry Maughn creates.  He is, to use an ancient, and, ahem, traditional, expression for poet, a maker. 

I’ve not seen Maughn perform a kata.  I have read his second full-length collection The Arakaki Permutations which is the second book in his Kata series.   The name Arakaki, explained in a note at the end of the book, was a karate master who founded the katas Maughn chose to study both in the martial art of kara-te [empty hand] and the techniques he employs in his poems that use the katas of Arakaki as a frame. 

Kata to the untrained eye appears as a dance.  Its purpose is manifold for the acolyte: discipline in movement and practice of techniques.  Katas are pure movement, kinetic, precise, an orchestration of space with the body whose purpose of being is to becomes the dance.  Kata, in essence, is a fake fight with an unseen opponent.  Kata is central to the study of karate and was my favorite practice in the discipline.  I love watching a well-executed kata, I love it almost as much as I love reading and writing poems.  In this book Maughn distills his discipline in poems that are as mysterious, and as beautiful as a kata.

I can’t fathom all of the texts located in Maughn’s gorgeous collection.  I suppose that’s not necessary.  Reading these poems brought me back to that first meeting with the Kenpo instructor where body and movement turned into an art that I could not quite fathom, but fell instantly in love with.  As Maughn declares in a snap that sounds like the crack of a gi after executing a roundhouse kick, his studies become an apprenticeship both in writing and the writing of the body


wherein I, reading these poems, was mesmerized.  With this book I fell in love with karate once again, and was once again a proof of why I so much love poetry.  As I’ve said at the beginning, I’ve read Maughn’s poems now I want to see the katas. 

richard lopez is a citizen of the world.  poems and reviews published at otoliths, jacket, galatea ressurects, dwang, and other places. he keeps a blog where her publishes poems, reviews and miscellany at stop by and say hey.

Copies of The Arakaki Permutation may be purchased through SPD.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New review up in Galatea Resurrects #16

By T.C. Marshall:

"James Maughn has four books out now that I have, and they just keep getting better. That is to say, from book to book as I read them they are sharpening their practice, and as I read them again and again I get more from it. The last two to come to me are the Arakaki Permutations (SF: Black Radish, 2011) and Worldbook: 1925—a poem [g.e. #5] (SF: Poetry Flash & g.e. Collective, 2010). These books deal, each one of them differently, with form and feeling. These are the two most basic of the five skandhas or “heapings up” of consciousness in Buddhist thinking. These are no orientalist volumes, though, despite the presence of Maughn’s serious kara-te practice in one of them..."