Tuesday, November 1, 2016

[Head/Lines: A DW Song DW Song]

Dorian Rolston

Head/Lines: A DW Song DW Song

Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest:[1]
Fame's pillar here at last we set![2]
Give me more love. Or more disdain[3]
When I have fears that I may cease to be…[4]
Black beauty, which above that common light[5]
Thou hast made me. And shall thy work decay?[6]
I that have been a lover, and could show it,
In this strange labyrinth how shall I turn?
You jerk, you didn't call me up!
Next to of course God, America—I 
Move him into the sun.
The eagle is my power:
Invisible, chimerical.
Others abide our question. Thou art free.

[1] The first thing to note is that this is an opening line. It opens Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 3,” and now it opens my “Head/Lines: A DW Song DW Song.” What struck me immediately was its call to fame: look in the mirror, tell yourself what you see. In other words, you may see yourself on the cover of the morning paper, but what, exactly, of yourself is reflected is for you alone to know.

[2] The next thing is that this, too, is an opening line, this time from Robert Herrick’s “The Pillar of Fame,” which the Norton Anthology (5th ed.) makes a point of noting “is ‘shaped’ to resemble a pillar.” That a conspicuously pillar-shaped block of text should have to be pointed out to me as being pillar-like is a little patronizing, sure, and perhaps that flaw of indiscretion extends to all footnotes kissing the feet of poems. But here the scare-quoted “shaped” redeems the kiss for me, napkin-dabbing the bit of something on the lips: to shape anything but a three-dimensional object is to shape figuratively. Herrick’s “pillar,” then, would seem to hold fame only in a kind of metaphorical space, which has a real consequence for those who equate themselves to it—I am famous!—and, ultimately, for poets trying to talk about it.

[3] And I am trying to talk about it, with this next opening line from Thomas Carew’s “Mediocrity in Love Rejected,” and with each that follows. The art installation to which this (my) sonnet is a kind of footnote is a (my) visual sonnet called “Head/Lines: A DW Song,” and its visualization is meant to give some physical extensionality to the flat text, extend a grubby hand out into the world, greet you. Love me or hate me, the poem wants to say: here I am! No more mirroring, in this song (sonetto in Italian) I want to break free…

[4] …now especially, as Keats’s on deck without even so much as a proper title, leaving us to default to the opening, “[When I have fears that I may cease to be].” But the thing I’ve come to like so much about this opener is that it does what my installation aims to do, which is, first, refresh our old ideas about what a headline is, and next to play some with the new ones. I started this project cutting the heads out of the Daily Wildcat cover photos, figuring that it was these actual heads, not the textual heading lines, that were the center of attention, that ought to be the literal headlines. And if you figure a poem’s opening is kind of like a cover photo, then that seems to be just what Keats has done too—on top of which (forgive me) lamenting a future inexistence “that I may cease to be” while giving us that very future (sans title).

[5] I just resisted the urge to Google this next one, turning instead back to my Norton, where poems are indexed at the back, for my convenience, by opening lines. There’s the black beauty, the first of the black Bs (followed by jackets, a maid, some reapers and some riders), hooked to pg. 346. A quick fanning flip: “Sonnet of Black Beauty,” you’ve got to love that, it’s right there in the title. Oh, Herbert…how sincere! I got the anthology when my girlfriend moved in, lugging the old verse-clunker with her, and it’s been a real pleasure to register her reactions to my project as it evolved, from the collecting of Daily Wildcats stage without any real purpose in mind to the pun stage that made it apparent just why I'd been collecting and just what the project should be. She liked the headline pun, especially—though, come to think of it, when she saw the finished work, including as it did cutouts not just of heads but of helmets and footballs and volleyballs and fireballs and rocket ship noses and cactus flowers and…hands, that last especially, she made a sound like something unrealized, not what she’d been expecting.

[6] Ah, Donne.

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