Michael Cross has created a pastoral theatre in which elaborate patterns of resemblance are poetically measured by counter-voiced assertions of autonomy and difference. The world is invited to 'err' and to 'air' its intentions freely, treely, freewheelingly, treelingly

Michael Cross, In Felt Treeling: A Libretto, Chax Press, 2009. 


"In IN FELT TREELING, Michael Cross has created a pastoral theatre in which elaborate patterns of resemblance are poetically measured by counter-voiced assertions of autonomy and difference. The world is invited to 'err' and to 'air' its intentions freely, treely, freewheelingly, treelingly. These poems are "felt" doubly, as both noun and verb, with their layered emotional registers and their playfully theatrical costume dressing. As this carefully scored work is animated by the vocal fabric of its setting in the woods, the reader becomes transfixed, like Daphne, within the lush, felt landscape of the poems"- Elizabeth Willis

Michael Cross' post-objectivist poems lace archaic vocabularies into airy filagrees spun wisps of whispered fragments and obliquely glimpsed scenes barely suspended in the draft. These poems suggest ''tracery'' in both senses of the word: a delicate interweaving of open-work lines, but also phrases traced from other pages, records of reading rendered as writing. And yet, despite that filigrane and the impression of found language, in felt treeling also has an astonishing sonic density that proves Cross' language infelt [''inwardly felt or experienced''] and leaves the reader reeling, as syllabic hints and fragile internal rhymes transform words in a tour-de-force series of seriously playful midsummer metamorphoses. The slightest sleight or faintest feint moves this language from ''squints'' to ''sequins,'' from ''herr'' to ''err,'' from ''slips'' to ''lips'' to ''lisp'' to ''ellipse.'' Scored for Mezzo and Chorus with Narrator, this Virgilian libretto is also scored by virgules which cross the page in a signature poetic device that puts cæsura and linebreak into new lyric tension. A genuinely original formal invention, these distinctive marks both open and anchor the text, echoing the book's dialogues of intimacy and distance. Airy and solid, felt and seen, separating and soldering, those solidi or separatrices are like the poems they punctuate little strokes of genius. - Craig Dworkin

In a recent review of George Albon's Momentary Songs Michael Cross writes, "When I’m really listening to Oppen [not Albon], I find it difficult to read anything without demanding that each word, each lone phrase... call into question the ground it has just established." The same set of demands Cross places on each word, begging each to self-reflexively investigate the conditions — the consequences — of its own call to being no matter the poet, are demands we can responsibly place on his own work. At even a quick glance, In Felt Treeling announces itself as a careful project that unfolds with a keen awareness of the material force of language and the need to develop a language that might adequately respond to the present cultural moment.
On the level of form, the work is a libretto — a form that immediately calls attention to the intersection of text and sound, poetry and music. Libretto. Libro. A relation to the book — a text-based semantic construction that, in Cross' appeal to the form, rigorously thinks its complicated relation to sound through sound. Presenting In Felt Treeling as a Libretto reminds us also that the composition of such work typically resides not with a composer but with a poet, one working in collaboration with a composer or with a prearranged composition. And it is precisely the character of this working with embedded in the libretto form that calls our attention to certain signal words and phrases that recur throughout the work, particularly the words "yield" and "cede":
a smith / wrought burlesque
handsome and to yield / and yield alike
forthright / cede
thy static / chatter there
a useless slag / of villainy

Vengeance. Process of inquiry. Accountability. This is the figure of Eumenides speaking. In Felt Treeling: a libretto — text containing both stage direction and dialogue. Here there are three characters: Eumenides, Lavinia and Forest. Eumenides = Furies. Lavinia of the Aeneid, Titus Andronicus — of another source or perhaps a conflation of these instantiations of the figure. A language of the pastoral ("petals to the ground," "beneath the sycamore / drew crystal to the wood," etc) courses through the work suggesting Shakespeare's Lavinia — and it is this Lavinia, raped and silenced in order to preserve an order of force operating both through and beyond legitimate forms of power, that allows us to think the multiple forms of "yielding" and "ceding" the poem grapples with.
The question the poem relentlessly thinks over and over again is one of gender and its relation to force. But there's the role of language in figuring gender: "useless slag," "wrought burlesque," "debutante," "pasties." On the terrain of gender class difference lends itself to shoring up a zero sum game. But what is it to "yield" and what is it to "cede"? To yield to power is perhaps not to give up power but to accept its terms, allowing it to legislate and effectively determine relations (viz Lavinia's attackers — and later her father — ape the contours of power, yielding to it but not ceding it). And what is it for Lavinia to yield and what does she have to cede beyond the character of a living always already subordinate to the force of those that unknowingly yield to the demands of power? What would it mean for those that yield to power to cede force? Even Eumenides — the Furies — operates by way of an ethics of vengeance registered in an economy of force.
Force. The Forest. A character without dialogue. And a forest is not a ground. An undisclosed narrator discloses the character of this Forest to us. And the character of this persona too is imbricated in a discourse of force and is perhaps force itself or the spaces of relation through which force moves. The narrator tells us:
(desiccate too tied yield
a tint in berths
the upper wealth enlaced
a sanction
vines the more still
virus in the grass

For this Forest, the space within which Eumenides and Lavinia move, the question of yielding is also central. Desiccate. To be desiccate. Lacking in spirit. This too tied yield — possibly an ability to yield, to defer, to renounce the demands of force. Forest itself, the space through which we move, is itself complicit. A form of contagion resides in the grass (recall Burroughs' remark: language operates like a virus).
Like Zukofsky's 80 Flowers or Hopkins' "Harry Ploughman" the poem involves a relentless play of torsion and tension at the level of sound. The insistence on non-normative syntactic formations calls one's attention to sound first — to signal words and phrases and their ability to generate latent but unremarked meanings through a commitment to turning, twisting, reconfiguring. Through the poem familiar words unfold again and again into strange formations and specific narrative contexts such that we've no choice but to reconsider these familiar words and attend to them more carefully, considering the consequences and potentialities embedded in their material force.
As ever, I may be grossly misreading the work. But the book is unsettling. The questions it pursues. The work is difficult — the narrative architecture of the work disclosing just enough to make demands on the reader that work which completely jettison's narrative structure typically does not.

Michael Cross, Haecceities, Cuneiform Press, 2010.

“In Haecceities, Michael Cross has made an interim language, his invention a relation between the words—as if this unknown relation or ‘noumenon’ is ‘a hide enthinned’ of futuristic Elizabethan single words each at once tactile, optical, aural simultaneously traces and events of reinterpreted future-present spurred in ‘the many hundred wing-lit hives'”— Leslie Scalapino

There are few poets who labor as intensively and with as much consideration for and toward others as Michael Cross. Any number of names come to mind, dozens in fact who work with a commensurate measure of intensity and generosity, but I often find myself struck and humbled by Cross' ability to work so completely without any discernible horizon of expectation. 
Editing is act says Barrett Watten and I have for some time now taken the totality of Cross' various practices — writing, reading, curating, publishing, thinking — as forms of editing, a paring down, as with a knife, to make use of only what is needed, what can be reasonably carried like the whole of a house on a single back. Before the contraction, when the confluence of technologies, resources and conditions invited the tendency toward gratuitous over-investment that generated vast bubbles built on air and crude ambition, Cross was, so far as I know, given to the sharp blade — excision, distillation — a desire perhaps to extrapolate dense resonating kernels from vast bodies of work, the reduction of bloated estates to tents over and against the cheap desire to peddle shacks as mansions.
Rifling through the second edition of Snow Sensitive Skin — a collaborative effort between Taylor Brady and Rob Halpern first brought out in 2007 by Cross' Atticus/Finch and just recently republished by Displaced Press — I was shocked and delighted to see a new preface provided by Cross who, as Tyrone Williams suggested in an XCP essay a couple years back, functioned as something of a silent collaborator in the building of the book, the original design and material production drawing the work somehow out of itself, the object itself embodying radical contradiction, at once an almost grotesquely opulent excess and an asphyxiating austerity. The force of this contradiction, its explosive yield toward the impossibility of a perfect vacuum (the perfect void is particle free) appears to inform the whole of Cross' investment in poetry, his own, as Brady himself acknowledges in a comment on Cross' Haecceities (Cuneiform Press 2010), referring to the work as a digging, not simply excavation but the radical evacuation of matter by matter and toward something: What emerges for me in this digging — research as song, singing as search — is how densely the domain ... of these words is packed with sites of emergence, points at which the abstraction of meaning from song, law from custom, value from use, army from body, state from commune, first proposes itself as possibility, but has not yet installed itself as the inevitable ... To drive a wedge — to disenclose space — between these two powers, discovering the field of words' public illegality, is a central task for poetry, and this gap of historical closure's not-yet might be the waste margin in which to glean a new life in common with words.
What cuts can, I suppose, dig (certain digs cut to the bone, shear away the flesh that frames). Speaking first to Brady in his preface to Snow Sensitive Skin, Cross writes:
I first discovered Taylor Brady’s work after a memorable conversation at Small Press Traffic circa 2002. Brady made some trenchant comments about the work of noise—how distortion too falls prey to the whims of capital unless it succeeds in reconfiguring the frames of legibility around it: that to be noise it must remain noise. I was struck then by how decisively Brady honed in on the value of the negative, especially because, post-9/11, everyone wanted to make noise but nobody seemed to know how against the din of rhetoric and sophistry and predator drones washing over our impotent negations in waves of terror and abjection.
What I find crucial here is the attention to negativity, an interest which informs Cross' approach to writing no less than the other modalities of building he participates in. Although I find myself more than a little suspicious of writing practices that devote an inordinate amount of attention to questions of framing (management / administration) and illegibility (which might presuppose difficulty but is not itself difficulty as such), I think Cross — and no doubt Brady — are doing far more than, say, blindly transcribing and reframing. Thinking specifically about Cross' poetry, the work is absolutely discriminating, a deliberate thinking. Take "blitz" from "Throne," the last section of Haecceities: 

porphyry bore a rebus that

lambent by a nacreous

glaze, mottled modular

nodes, each flayed

palm rapine and exly rackt

the vexierbild asks the filch

lucent by the drain's spate

of cocytus, Terrifier, eyes gleed

faced charis as an impasse

dehiscent that they will

aggregates where we find them

At the level of the intuitive, certainly at the level of affect, my first impulse (and you'll have to trust me on this) is to trust the work, suggesting there is something legible within it, however faintly. Difficult but not entirely illegible. The shards of normative syntactic formations and the somewhat alien but vaguely familiar fragments and word formations like "dehiscent" offer a gesture toward communicability, at once noise and not noise, an object both familiar and alien. The traces of familiarity offer a promise that creates the conditions for, or invites, a reading of the work — that is, the ghostlier presence of something distant but familiar in the work functions itself as a sort of frame or sign that invites further investigation. But what is most important is that here there is no sign or frame beyond what is already contained within the poem itself, this promise that something is there, that the work we are now engaging was built in good faith. In this way the poems saddle a horizon or threshold, holding in their grasp both a here and there, embodying precisely the same sort of explosive contradictory movement which, through the act of struggle which difficulty at all times presupposes, allows the work to offer an unspeakably essential something, this promise it grants, an imminent or sovereign quality. -  damn the caesars

Michael Cross, The Katechon 1-100, Delete Press, 2012.

...All this brings me to Michael Cross’ The Katechon. Taking its title from the biblical concept of the katechon, Cross refers to ‘the one who withholds’ the Antichrist from appearing and, by extension, from allowing the fullness of Christ’s redemptive work to be complete on the earth—though of course “It is finished.” In this context, the one who withholds can only be God’s unseen presence on the earth actively working against absolute chaos, destruction, and mayhem from being unleashed.
It’s a relatively minor moment in the book of 2 Thessalonians, let alone all of the New Testament, but this belies its presence as a deeply intriguing theological concept—it implicates that personal, political, and cultural suffering is actively allowed by God, presumably for the sake of His Larger Purposes (which I guess would ultimately be human redemption). It also implies that it could (literally) be a hell of a lot worse.
Beyond this, however, it’s also an intriguing place for Cross to begin the poem, particularly because of its political ramifications generally, and more because of its connections to our political and cultural climate at the moment. On the first page of the Delete Press edition of lines 1-100, Cross writes: “… rugged, sat at meats, huckled bones—canaille fucked too // its licking blood, likely cleaved a face from outbreath—sprays blood on my blood.” (lines 2-3) Here Cross mixes brutal imagery with the act of ingestion in a sonically, tactilely, and viscerally dense language that expands across the page in long lines appearing to approach prose. Elsewhere, he writes:
“…the mouth’s smallish beads secreting themselves 
like garbage in a muslin bag, a bouquet garnie, but a daub to ear at at first nothing, 
then nothing prised out: kids stuffing themselves in moist burrows, forbidden to lick 
their fingers even scrapping for a bit of the carcass.” (lines 21-24)
The body, particularly the mouth, figures prominently in several moments. By extension, this implicates language, the language of the poem itself, and the political uses of language and speech: “put tongue to take of the dust // of women what’s dug free by the pate of speech, so its violence, sans-, cum-, qua- // cruelty—the trick of speech that breath comes fluttering out when the tongue sweeps.” (lines 5-9)
In thinking of the ‘concerns’ of black metal, I can’t help but think of Cross’ poem. Cross’ language in The Katechon is easily as ‘dark’ as those of black metal bands—but of course, it’s much more satisfyingly and sonically dense, attending to itself as a tactile, textural object in ways black metal lyrics don’t even approach. Cross’ poem also addresses ‘concerns’ of our political and cultural moment: “… the tongue literally pearls // from bone, ribs blossoming light, bearing fruit in the shadow of the light // beaming through its cage and out past spatial enclosures of law (pardes).” (lines 57-59) He also writes that: “we’re so stacked against ourselves from the outset, // we who benefit from the recrudescence of franchise despite black earth, // infixed mortgage-pillars, pilferage rote to loose debt.” (lines 72-74)
In his postscript to lines 101-200 of The Katechon (in Damn the Caesars’ 2012 Crisis Inquiry special issue), Andrew Rippeon highlights the tensions between the personal and the political, tying them directly to the historical moment in which the poem is being written. And really, this is exactly what ‘concerned’ all those early black metal musicians who were more interested in reacting as against in their particular cultural, political, and personal moment (sometimes going so far as to commit suicide). Rippeon reminds us that Cross read from The Katechon during Occupy Oakland, making the point that:
“[i]deological conflict, too, has its eschatology. Protests are issued permits; maintenance schedules are cited as cause for evictions… [a]t a moment when Law and Anti-Law have crystallized so clearly in static opposition to one another, one possible reading of the katechon is merely the symbiosis of these two, their mutuality, the total figure they share (and with it, the illusion of their opposition)—a withholding, not through interdiction, but interaction.” (10-11)
So Cross’ poem posits a direct connection between each of these, asserting a relative co-existence between personal concerns (of the body, of paying our bills, etc.) and their political and cultural connections. In looking toward a future in which a political (and biblical) katechon has been removed, through a necessary release of chaos, a ‘hope’ of a kind simultaneously arrives, one in which the presence of his poem and the act of its writing posits the possibility of redemption. This would certainly seem to be against all the ideological underpinnings of black metal, but isn’t this what they were really all about: asserting that the present is not enough, that there’s something else available, even if it’s not immediate?
In the final lines of the Delete Press edition, Cross writes that “[w]hat benefits inward construals might be a singular thing in a sea of paler attributes, // may harm the body outside, name proclaimed, may be found, may be lastingly renewed.” (lines 99-100) Here, the sentence completes, but we know that the poem isn’t over. And in the final lines included in Crisis Inquiry, Cross writes of “a non-existent narrative // corresponding to a non-existent desire to explain, but take it: what goes on…” (lines 199-200)
Here, expectant for a future in which the promise of redemption takes place, where all concerns find their resolution, here the sentence hangs—here where there is no resolution. – DAVID JAMES MILLER

Suspense is not telling: Camille Roy with Michael Cross

Michael Cross is the author of In Felt Treeling (Chax, 2008), Haecceities (Cuneiform Press, 2010), and The Katechon 1-100 (Delete Press, 2012). He is the one-time editor of Atticus/Finch chapbooks and current editor of Compline and On: Contemporary Practice (w/ Thom Donovan). Other projects include Involuntary Vision: after Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (Avenue B, 2003), Building is a process / Light is an element: Essays and Excursions for Myung Mi Kim (Queue Books, 2008), and a forthcoming edition of the George Oppen Memorial Lectures at the Poetry Center (National Poetry Foundation, 2015). He lives in Oakland where he studies 21st century poetry.


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