Annotation: Enigma and Light
Enigma and Light, by David Mutschlecner
Ahsahta Press, 2012
reviewed by Timothy David Orme
If a poet’s work is words—the words that call forth the sun, that cause the sun—the poet’s work must be a site of divination, a place where the poem both creates and causes the world. “I divine from what’s under the sun / the poem’s first cause.” Like the world of the mind, the work of the poet is infinite, “a complex gestural nest,” but also “an empty nest holding claim / on us,” a work that is “a place in us we fill and fail and fail to fill.” A poet knows there is a knowledge that failure sustains, and bravely sends a voice into the void, into the world, as an attempt to recover an irrecoverable eros, all the while knowing that recovery is always lost at the moment of its greatest realization. Language betrays the world only to return us to it. The poem is not only the site of that desire, but the space wherein that desire enacts itself. In David Mutschlecner’s fourth book, Enigma and Light, that desire becomes a work of rigorous intellectual and poetic inquiry, a work of a transcendent lyric poetry that in its inscribing both weaves and unweaves the very nest of its existence.
In this book, the poet’s work is never epiphanic, but instead Platonic, dialectic. It’s a work whose poems brings together two thinkers (poets, philosophers, visual artists, etc.) within each title (“Gertrude Stein / Agnes Martin,” or “Charles Burchfield / John Henry Newman”). These titles establish the primary s of the conversation (but these conversations are frequently visited by others—for example, Pound and his “radiant gist” are always close to the work’s thought), that hold the two thinkers together in one title poe line break connects.
At its greatest motion, this is not a poetry that puts one thinker against any other thinker, but a conversation that does its greatest work by allowing each voice to interact with another. It is through that interaction the voice of the poet is birthed. In a poem like “Robert Duncan / Dante Alighieri,” the poetic speaker must not only place word against world, idea against thing, but also risk conflation of the poet’s voice all voices) risk in a world of constant becoming:
The poem is always all quotes,
the whirling of a thousand voices from a poet who was not afraid
to call himself derivative and dilettante.
These poems know that the poet is always dilettante, that the voice of the lyric poet is never a voice wholly one’s own, but that always becomes another, always consumes itself in “a vision / where sight arises from its pyre.”
The pyrrhic nature of Enigma and Light is almost palpable as the work eschews any kind of didactic impulse in favor of the image, the locus where the ideas can move from “thing to thing, from whole to whole.” In “Martin Heidegger / Ezra Pound [An Enigma Lies A Priori in Every Relation],” the poet’s observation of “buffalo grass” that’s jetty “edges / the parking lot” leads to a “question of being,” specifically Heidegger’s notion of “dasein,” which the poet ties not directly to himself but to the “cyclic / lyric spun…self- / searcher…The front man / in the heavy metal band” who also “runs along the jetty from the stage.” This brightly lit front man “sings / at the center of an incredible volume of which he is a part,” and yet the audience also becomes his voice. It is through this wireless, unconnected rock star’s performance that the poem realizes:
We have done our best;
we have come
close as we can
to severing being
from meaning, seemingly
unaware that once
the tendon is cut,
both are lost to us.
And yet the poet continues to probe this edge of voice and self and object (“the undistorted / presencing of the thing”) until the front man’s voice is “lost / in a stillness that reclaims us / even while the solo sears us.” It is “Alethia,” which the poet translates for us as “revealingness,” but that translates as truth, disclosure. The poet names again: “Alethia: a flower’s name / when opening,” and one thinks of Oppen’s sense that “the emotion which creates art is also the emotion that seeks to know and to discover.”
The poetry in Enigma and Light is ekphrastic, but also work aware of the chain of calling one thing by a name leads toclarity isn’t some kind of clear vision or a reclamation of either the word or the world’s meaning. Each poem, committ to its th, acknowledges what it does and does not know. This movement is like an ever branching of concentric circles, one radiant arm branching into the other’s circumference, a Venn diagram overlapping area becomes somehow not smaller as more variables are introduced, but larger. Each poem must work not to its end, but to its next thought, an utterance made possible by adding another voice, another poem to the conversation.
This work understands that knowledge is in the work towards itself and is always able to discover its own dithering path, a path filled with both enigma and light, that which is inscrutable, complicated, and yet still illuminated.