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On Alice Shapiro’s “The Twittering Machine”

The Twittering Machine (painting by Klee here)
Alice Shapiro

“A line is a dot that went for a walk” – Paul Klee

Clock. Time’s machine
twittering off each glassy moment
fragile soundings faraway
at the nape of memory
reminding, rewinding.
O clock, o’clock
machine of mornings
to wash, to work, to win
against your ticking, always
on.

Toaster. Bread burner
hot molecular intrusion making food smack
of sweet and crunchy bliss,
morning’s stomach-hug
tactile power in the lift of a stiff slice
buttered, jammed, swallowed
well before the dreaded time to clock
in.

Auto. Legs in, torso in, head
swivels east to west checking traffic
from a rear-view looking glass.
Leather smells spiked with stale tobacco smoke
suffocate in a cloistered cocoon space
blasted by a vulgar booming song
muffling twittering signals
from a wrist-clock, reminding
of commitment.
And the auto, instead of turning in,
punching in to work
drives straight into the sunset.

Comment:

Watch me join “The Twittering Machine,” but first look at the painting and read MoMA’s short commentary in the link above. We could spend time talking about the “natural”/”industrial” fusion; the ambiguity of the lines upon which the birds are perched, or are shackled to, or are defined by. The hand crank, the pit that seems to be the same color as the top of the painting, the “monstrosity” of the “birds” are more what I’m interested in: why the deformity, why the suggestion of a greater horror inside a music box? The appearance of the whole makes one wonder if what keeps us in the cave are sounds more than images, but again, watch me join the machine: images do not necessarily liberate.

Onto the poem. The fragments that mark spoken word are not quite twitterings, but what if we recognized them as everyday and incessant? Clock, Toaster, Auto: the location switches but our subject’s movement is at best defined by restraint. “Toaster” sticks out: it is a machine made for the human. “Clock” and “Auto[matic]” are machines we are within.

“Glassy” and “glass” may hint at the abstractions used to create the machine: first, the form of the thing, not the thing itself. Take those moments, they are emptying; react to the reflections of other autos. Those “fragile soundings faraway at the nape of memory” are otherworldly, even though they are the empty tickings of the clock. The clock is time’s machine, not ours necessarily; it becomes the machine of morning once the dreamworld is abandoned for the dream (“to wash, to work, to win”). We fight the clock as we are beholden to it; it is “always on.”

“In” ends the second stanza, and it isn’t hard to see the mechanistic process that we are come into full swing (“buttered, jammed, swallowed”). What is interesting is the “smack of sweet and crunchy bliss:” a toaster isn’t a deformed or deforming machine necessarily.

But our “human” spoken about sticks himself into the car and limits his own motion and seeing for pure speed. The car is filled with narcotics of one sort or another: smoke replaces air, the noise replaces even the twittering. We are in the pit. Our subject may or may not be going to work: if he can only imagine material happiness, then the cliche of driving off into the sunset with his automobile will suffice. He may be going to work, though: we could say “work” is the “sunset” – the finality – since “work” has been reduced to being machinery. Either way, it doesn’t matter: this whole poem has been at the nape of memory; twitterings are no replacement for the awareness, joining and articulation of thought. There is a machine at work there too, but one that strives for consciousness rather than bliss or a substitute for bliss. At best, twitterings are a memento mori (cf. Dickinson, “The Earth has many keys…”), and that is all that has really been said so far.

2009 in Review

I’m not fond of making these posts which link to lots of stuff I’ve written. It’s not that I’m against self-promotion. It’s just that all the categories, tags, even titles of posts exist to make this blog searchable; while I haven’t updated the index, it still points to a wide variety of posts; finally, I’d rather be producing new content than looking over old stuff and wincing at what has been written.

So yeah. Happy New Year to you too. If you’re a reader of this blog and you remember reading something over the past year not listed here that you want to see listed, let me know in the comments. I realize I haven’t linked to everything I’ve written.

Poems covered since January, in order of appearance on this blog:

Emily Dickinson, “I fear a Man of frugal Speech” (January – considered by a few to be the best commentary on this blog)
Amy King, “I’ve Opted for a Heart This Mid-November Morn” (January)
William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming” (January)
Emily Dickinson, “A Moth the hue of this” (February)
Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Heaven-Haven” (February)
Derek Walcott, “Europa” (March – Walcott is an actual epic poet. I know, it sounds insane; he’s as good as advertised, though.)
Emily Dickinson, “So the Eyes accost – and sunder” (March)
Emily Dickinson, “We like a Hairbreadth ‘scape” (March)
Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Caged Skylark” (April, for Easter Sunday)
William Butler Yeats, “Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors” (April)
Emily Dickinson, “Me, change! Me, alter!” (May)
Li Po, “The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance” (May)
Charles Wright, “Words and the Diminution of All Things” (June – maybe the most heartbreaking thing written on this blog)
Ario Farin, “Up, up and away!” (June)
Jane Kenyon, “Otherwise” (June)
Amy King, “Calling all Agents” (June)
Emily Dickinson, “I stepped from Plank to Plank” (June)
Robert Frost, “The Gift Outright” (July – for July 4th)
Alice Shapiro, “The Twittering Machine” (July)
Stanley Kunitz, “The Abduction” (July)
Kay Ryan, “Turtle” (July)
Emily Dickinson, “Fame of Myself, to justify” (August)
Jane Kenyon, “Mosaic of the Nativity: Serbia, Winter 1993″ (August)
Emily Dickinson, “A South Wind – has a pathos” (August)
William Stafford, “At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border” (September)
Emily Dickinson, “They say that “Time assuages”…” (September)
Ario Farin, “As sad as the scent of smoked fish” (September)
Alice Shapiro, “I” (September)
Robert Bly, “Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter” (October)
Nomi Stone, “Why I Came” (October)
Emily Dickinson, “Expectation – is Contentment” (October)
Amy King, “Ivywall of Sparrows” (October)
Tom Wayman, “Did I Miss Anything?” (November)
Emily Dickinson, “Away from Home are some and I” (November)
Yehuda Amichai, “Near the Wall of a House” (November)
Emily Dickinson, “How well I knew Her not” (December)
Emily Dickinson, “Good to hide, and hear ‘em hunt!” (December)
Emily Dickinson, “I made slow Riches but my Gain” (December)
Cecilia Woloch, “Slow Children at Play” (December)

Song lyrics:

The Weakerthans, “None of the Above”
The Roots, “False Media”
The Weakerthans, “Utilities”

On Philosophy:

Kierkegaard, “Every Good and Every Perfect Gift is from Above”
An Introduction to Machiavelli’s “Prince”
On Socrates, Dancing and Philosophy: Xenophon, Symposium II 15-20
Why you should read Heidegger and ignore trash partisan critiques advanced by people whose notion of “philosophy” is “having big names tell them they’re right”
Plato, Menexenus
On the intersection of poetry, politics and philosophy

Politics and the age:

Plutarch, “Pericles”
Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 1
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to William Ludlow 9/6/1824
Jefferson’s Epitaph, Education and the Enlightenment Republic
Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation of Thanksgiving”

Here and there:

In Omaha
Homeward Bound: In Houston
In Dallas
A Tale of Two Art Galleries

Index

Yehuda Amichai

Aristotle

W.H. Auden

Charles Baudelaire

Marvin Bell

William Blake

Robert Bly

Emily Dickinson

Ario Farin

The Federalist (Hamilton, Madison, Jay)

Robert Frost

Martin Heidegger

Hopkins

Thomas Jefferson

Immanuel Kant

Katia Kapovich

John Keats

Jane Kenyon

Amy King

Stanley Kunitz

Dorianne Laux

Abraham Lincoln

Friedrich Nietzsche

Plato

Plutarch

Ezra Pound

Kay Ryan

William Shakespeare

Alice Shapiro

Gary Soto

William Stafford

Wallace Stevens

Nomi Stone

Alexis de Tocqueville

Virgil

Derek Walcott

Tom Wayman

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Cecilia Woloch

Charles Wright

William Butler Yeats

*end authors*

Music:

Movies:

*end arts*

Selected Poems:

Selected Fiction and Travel Narrative:

  • Meals
  • Puppy Love
  • Dreaming in America
  • Collegium in Costa Rica

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