Sampson Starkweather - Distinct but kindred, these books are like four ecologically diverse quadrants of one realm, in a Disneyworld of poetry's possibilities. The poems themselves are invested in the purity of experiences and the varieties of contemporary language—news reports, video games, WWF wrestling, Mike Tyson
Sampson Starkweather, THE FIRST 4 BOOKS OF SAMPSON STARKWEATHER. Birds, LLC, 2013.
As Jared White points out in his introduction to THE FIRST 4 BOOKS OF SAMPSON STARKWEATHER, "We live in an era when a book of poems is often a 50-80 page manuscript bound with a thin mustache of a spine." THE FIRST 4 BOOKS OF SAMPSON STARKWEATHER seeks to "upend this orthodoxy."
Distinct but kindred, these books are like four ecologically diverse quadrants of one realm, in a Disneyworld of poetry's possibilities. The poems themselves are invested in the purity of experiences and the varieties of contemporary language—news reports, video games, WWF wrestling, Mike Tyson. These poems are, as White puts it, "a phantasmagoria worthy of Arthur Rimbaud but a 'Rimbaud chugging Robotussin®.'"
THE FIRST 4 BOOKS OF SAMPSON STARKWEATHER is no less than this: a book of books about the lonely yearning to be transformed by poetry, and through poetry, transform the world.
THE FIRST 4 BOOKS OF SAMPSON STARKWEATHER are King of the Forest, La La La, The Waters, and Self Help Poems.
So if a book is an afterlife, why not have four? For these are indeed four separate books with their own forms and voices and preoccupations. KING OF THE FOREST—the title cleverly unites Jack Spicer’s wounded language lion with the title of one of fugitive novelist Benno von Archimboldi’s titles in Roberto Bolaño’s 2666—works in prose with the material of dreams, fantasy geographies and the sudden appearance of magical children, ghosts of childhood. LA LA LA fractures syllogisms, turning them inside out and reworking them into bass-voiced sexy soul-singer slow jams. THE WATERS steps into the footprints of Cesar Vallejo’s Trilce, gently inviting this paradigmatic work of modernist poetry to haunt a latter-day homage that is not a translation but, Starkweather instead suggests, a ‘transcontemporation.’ Residue of Vallejo—words rummaged through and arrayed like broken bits of stone—remain like a mineral deposit swirled into these poems that record the experience of a confrontation, a dialogue between ghosts. Bringing this passionate late-into-the-night conversation fully into the present, SELF HELP POEMS transfigures email dispatches into an exploration of poem-friendship and wounded, punch-drunk Harlequin-robocop masculinity. Disparate but kindred, these books are like four ecologically distinct quadrants of one realm, attractions in a Disneyland of poetry’s possibilities. - Jared White
Sampson Starkweather started a press in 2006, and while the vagaries of the Internet don't, in this instance at least, permit efficacious research into the author's personal biography, what's clear is that he started "Birds, LLC" with a number of recent MFA graduates: Dan Boehl (Emerson), Chris Tonelli (Emerson), Matt Rasmussen (Emerson), and Justin Marks (The New School). Perhaps Starkweather also studied in such a program and is merely shrewder about disclosing it; as of press-time, this author can't know and it doesn't really matter. What matters is that even as longtime darlings of the avant-garde--we know and thus need not name them--are conjoining themselves to university presses in Alabama, California, Connecticut, and elsewhere (or, alternately, offering literary fodder to the giant "trade" mills of New York City) the gaggle of MFAed youngsters behind Birds, LLC is self-publishing their own work with a vivacity and alacrity that would put seminal avant-gardist Louis Zukofsky to shame. The product of this homespun industriousness is a series of collections that not only eschews insider status socioculturally but also leaves more than enough room for the poems themselves to receive a similar assessment.
Sampson Starkweather is announced, with the publication of The First 4 Books of Sampson Starkweather, as a pioneer of contemporary American metarealistic poetry, something which would have been evident from this first publication (or, as one likes, the poet's first four publications) even if Starkweather's next, still-forthcoming work weren't entitled The Tennis Court Oath By John Ashbery By Sampson Starkweather. What Starkweather achieves, through Art, is a warm acknowledgment that planes of reality exist on an infinite loop without clear origin or terminus; we can and do move between these diverse metaphysical, sociolinguistic landscapes all day every day, and it's these movements which (at least when we fail to call them what they are) cause us so much unnecessary alienation, disillusionment, dislocation, and ennui. That contemporary living underscores the predicament Starkweather explores in verse--that is, that Starkweather is not merely a literary theorist with access to a computer and a Norton anthology--is a testament to the poet's ability to reorganize Art according to the praxis of Life and vice versa.
Starkweather implicitly references the Jungian "collective unconscious" on the first page of the first book of The First 4 Books of Sampson Starkweather; generatively cites his first Jungian archetype (the "forest") on page two; and concludes this second page with the phrase, "The trees in the trees," thereby foregrounding the Venn diagram of dimensional interrelation that (as you like) describes Jung's trifecta of "persona," "personal unconscious," and "collective unconscious," or (alternately) the way in which we cannot approach the fifth, sixth, or seventh dimensions of space and time--or, it says here, even the elongated elegance of the second and third dimensions--without the recalibrative function of metarealism.
Metarealism, a term most often associated with the Russian postmodernist poetry of the 1980s, aims to delineate, in "realistic" and readily-identifiable fashion, the hyperphysicality of all objects in space and all events in time. More to the point, and perhaps more digestibly, metarealism employs a form of non-visual metaphor called "metabole" to juxtapose separate realities (as metaphors do) without getting locked into the descriptive function that typifies discussion of individual planes of reality (a failing of metaphors). If that's still too obtuse, we might say that metarealism is preoccupied with the "superconscious"--the ability to see how the reality we experience is just one of many possible realities, a realization normally blocked by our universe's accursed three-dimensionality--whereas much lyric-narrative verse explores the ego, and much conventional avant-garde literary production various facets of the sociolinguistic subconscious. In other words, there is no "headier" poetry than metarealism, for it maps entirely ideational spaces we can long for viscerally (as many of us do) but not in the narrow emotional terms so common to discussions of How Things Are. The relational anxiety produced by the Program Era (and discussed in several of the reviews in this essay) naturally produces an instinct toward metarealistic verse, and Starkweather is one of our best examples of the trend.
It simply won't do to attempt a summary of the many excellences in Starkweather's debut. Each page offers stunning exemplars of how the younger generation of experimental writers is challenging received literary wisdom not at the level of the transcendent or the immanent but at the level of what we may call "hypersemantics" (the idea that a written mark's "meaning" is also a function of its dimensional context rather than merely semiotics and cognition). To many, the work will not immediately present as being of an experimental bent; we've been trained, in part by years of quasi-scholarly essays written by poets in the lineage of Language poetry, to see experimentation as consequential only when it theorizes language via what scholars deem the "philosophy of language" (or, related but different, the "philosophy of mind"). Consider this, however, from Starkweather: "The shortest distance between any two points (peoples' lives) is a straight lie." The reduction of a four-dimensional construct (the human lifespan) to a one-dimensional unit (the "point") permits Starkweather not only the realization that the investigation of hyperphysicality requires collapsing traditional lyric preoccupations--such as the ego--into geometrics, but also that the attempt to use relational logic while doing so ("the shortest distance between") is necessarily self-deceitful, even paradoxical. In other words, throwing out the conventional understanding of the ego (and the human gaze) requires, for once, tossing even the baby out with the bathwater. That Starkweather makes this observation using a parodic allusion to contemporary idiomatic speech (cf. "the shortest distance between any two points is a straight line") is the poet's wink to his readers: Readers (the poet seems to say), don't worry, I know we're still living in this reality, let's just all try to forget it.
There's little use to pursuing further this particular analytical vein; the joys of The First 4 Books of Sampson Starkweather are a Christmas present every poet should get to open for themselves. "The body is an obsolete barometer," writes Starkweather, and given the relational anxiety of the times the poet's prescription for moving forward--for awakening something more than the body--is an apt one. If language is, as Starkweather writes, "the zoo we all lose our nature to," how do we recover that nature without either a) reinscription of the sort of presumptuous metaphoric pablum that's been the province of (largely if not exclusively) bad poetry for centuries, or b) reducing language to commoditized material as dead in our hands and on our tongues as decades-old rock candy? "There is/ no difference between a poem and a tree. A crooked/ tree has no responsibility," says Starkweather, and in such proclamations we see the enactment of a dimensional collapse the philosophers of the Eleatic School--Monists like Zeno, who believed that because nothing was actually moving, not just language but all matter was part of an indivisible whole--would smile at approvingly.
The First 4 Books of Sampson Starkweather is (are) rife with the sorts of gestures we haven't seen in poetry in--well, perhaps never--and for this reason we must call this text not only thrillingly accessible, not only deeply thought-provoking, but also, and without exaggeration, historically important. This staggeringly ambitious debut collection is, in sum, to quote its author, "the sound of a finger pointing to some/ unseen thing. To be reckoned with, or perhaps,/ reckoned by." While not every poem (or "book") in this collection is consumed by the same preoccupations, enough of the work is committed to doing the intellectual heavy lifting mentioned in this review that, in its totality, the work stands apart and distinct from all others of the past few years.- Seth Abramson
Sampson Starkweather Interview/Podcast with Ben Pease
Sampson Starkweather Interview/Podcast with Ben Pease
from KING OF THE FOREST
The boy, mostly seaweed, was born in the forest. Specifically, where the forest meets the sea—
a floor of dead things and trees that won’t budge to any music, that complain about their roots,
that don’t know if they are dead or not, that listen to the boy’s thoughts like a radio, occasionally
swaying to his anger or leaked dreams, but mostly that compose a darkness, a darkness that is
its own color, a darkness that opens up into a bright shoreless sea. The sea where everything,
from LA LA LA
from Self Help Poems
Nintendo always felt more real than life. Simple yet somehow beautiful worlds, constantly breaking down, designed, whether intended or not, as pixilated avatars of hope. Old school video games are perfect precisely because of how unreal they are. They don’t try to teach you anything, except if you see a hammer, you better grab it.
from Self Help Poems
—a transcontemporation of Max Jacob
The binding is rendered from the excess stitches I snipped from my wrist. The cover is made of my melted G.I. Joe collection. Snake Eyes, if you’re out there, I’m sorry, if I knew how to pray, I’d say something about the classic geometry of your crotch and the screw in your shoulder I lost at the zoo. When the book opens, you can hear oars rowing, geese flying by, people pointing their fingers at the sky. The pages are made of paper, naturally, and everyone knows paper comes from trees; each tree was a persona from a Fernando Pessoa poem. The pulp of lost lives. Page 122 ripped out, rolled up in a pinch, a canoe full of burning grass…the smoke said… who falls…all of one mind…black dishwater of love…sunken spoon. Much of the ink is smeared like a slapped mosquito on the collar bone of a beautiful woman. The book is chained to a dresser in a Motel 6 in South Carolina. Its author has gone into hiding.
A LIMITATION OF BIRDSTWO POEMS
from Self-Help Poems
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Department of Commerce
From Dear World Never Render:
no one owns water to act to come to
be more than oneself is to be being
snow is music trouble a living verb
it is actually pragmatic to kiss dirt
mapping the known ways of letting go
an agency round and blue and turning
a record of this streaming silence with-
out end bury us in anything but earth
Adam Robinson: Sampson Starkweather Strips it Down to Just Chapbooks