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Mel Bentley’s “Fish Song”

Mel Bentley’s “Fish Song”
Mel Bentley

Mel Bentley. Photo by Hassen Saker

This week’s Revisioning is from Philadelphia’s Mel Bentley, author of the chapbook Stub Wilderness, which has thoroughly and permanently consecrated the PDF (with stuff like this: “it wasn’t vandalism / to cast two / females / into all that / moon imagery”). Linh Dinh once called Jeremy Hoevenaar “such a pure poet”—and I think that’s true of Mel. I mean Mel reminds me of Jeremy, yes—someone you could imagine heartbroken but never cynical, if you know what I mean. Here’s Mel with thoughts on revising culled from an email exchange with Toby Altman, followed by three versions of a poem: “Fish Song.”

  .          .          .          .          .

“Consolation is not for the person who suffers, even if she is sometimes unaware of her suffering, or of its exact nature, or its meanings, origins, ends. Consolation is not for the witness in the immediate moment, the one who performs the roles as they present themselves: caretaker, truth teller, fictionist, daughter, mother, author. Consolation exists, if it exists, in the act of description, which gives my mother back to herself, though she cannot read it.”
– Susan Schultz, Dementia Blog

Recognition is built out from a material self. Salvaging from the trash-heap of culture for repulping. Annealing the residue of language to induce ductility, relieve internal stresses and improve cold working properties.

Poetry for me is grief work, yes.

The poems move and continue to change, iterating. We work each other. Grief work is in, and on, and through. Reworking language through which experience shapes. How one languages and selves back into it. I am reading into a new form. I am finding ways to be able to be alive, and it’s slow. Annealing and rewiring. Avoiding conclusions, recognizing absence. The pre-sensical evokes a phantom pain of meaning beyond which a reach that is at least not foreclosed by another formulation. What language we have is often not well matched.

Either total fatalism about the possibility of understanding, or total optimism, I’m not sure.

Often as we use it language is not well matched, and this undermines our capability for recognition and insight. What we have needs to be broken and reconstructed if it’s ever going to be of any use to communicate, connect, understand, have intimacy. I think that’s what’s at stake.

We have been robbed of language and cannot often communicate.

Because I am constituted by my environment, I’m trying to disrupt myself with the experience of work through which one is changed. As someone with a labor background and academic impulses. The product is not the result but the experience. The poem exists differently at different moments.

Cyclically developing complexity.

I’m also interested in the contingency of individual experiences, and the effect of material conditions on perspective, which is something most philosophers are almost always conveniently forgetting. So, if I am a bit of a masochist about form and formal process, it is an unfortunate individual proclivity rather than a moral position.

Always hoping it turns into its own thing and escapes.

This began with the body working on itself. It is delightfully, immediately, viscerally true that the body itself is a dialectical process. Form is an activity of the body on, against, through itself. The personal, like history, is weirder than we remember. Always coalescing, never coalesced, therefore a, the, problem of saying.

To work under a negated possibility of wholeness.

Leery of the label system, I am invested in erasure, appropriation, re-arrangement and procedure as a turn towards stubborn collaboration with (and against) the past. “Lyric,” L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, The Confessional, Conceptualisms, etc. are all doing just fine and need no defense, nor will they be harmed by any individual abnegation. I want to say “yes and” to lyric and form and rigor and depth and fragmentation and narrative and personal and theoretical and political. A form is tied to the past and has its resonances and connotations, like a larger word hovering over the poem. But, like a word; free to be pried open, used unusually; contrariwise.

Use What You Can. Take What You Need.

Mostly I’m trying to believe it’s OK to survive, which doesn’t seem given.

[Fish Move: One] (1/16/2015)

fish move
slow, continue
and remain, still

slip of fish
quiet in the rocks
sleeps never sleeping

sleeps never sleeping
quiet in the rocks
slip of fish

with mucus some
slightly made
remain, still,

slow, continue
fish move

fish move
smelling
band of gentle muscle band
stream slip fish whispering
like sleep sucking sucking sleep like
whispering fish slip stream
band muscle gentle band
smelling
fish move

and remain, still
slightly made
with mucus some
smelling band
like sleep sucking
slip of fish

water smelling
feeling sound
through one fish
fish one through
sound feeling
smelling water

turbine
filter feeding
sound like water some
filter body in and made from
stream
filter body in and made from
sound like water some
feeding filter
turbine

the song does song
not belonging to
the singer the singer’s found
found singers the singer does
not belonging to the
the song does song

noodled by
some version of
that not worm
breath washing
wet fans
lung combing
combing lung
fans wet
washing breath
worm in not that
of version some
noodled song

[Fish Move] 11/30/2014

slow, continue
and remain, still
slightly made
with mucus some
slip of fish
quiet in the rocks
sleeps never sleeping
smelling
band of gentle muscle band
in the stream slip fish whispering
like sleep sucking water
through one fish
turbine consciousness
of sound like water some
filters of not memory
body in and made from
stream the song does not belong
to singers the singer’s found
noodled by some version
of that not worm
breath wash
wet fans
lung combing

Fish Song (10/14/14)

fish moves slow to continue to remain, still,
made of mucus, some
slip of fish quiet in the rocks is sleep never sleep smelling
band of gentle muscle in the stream
slip fish whisper like sleep sucking water through
a one fish turbine
to be tubelike in sound like in water unconscious
filters no memory the body in and made of stream
the song does not belong to the singers the singer is found
ain’t no singer, anywhere made up a song
no, we’re getting noodled by a version
of that not luxury, flip flop, escape back
shove off on yr own
delighted island
breathing wash skiff body
wet fans of lungs combing
to be, in and of, to depend on invisibility, sometimes
to be un-immune.

Mel Bentley sporadically organizes multidisciplinary performance events in Philadelphia. Obstacle, Particle, Spectacle, was released from 89plus/Luma Foundation as part of the exhibition “Poetry Will Be Made by All.” Chapbooks Stub Wilderness and &parts were released from Well Greased Press and Damask Press, respectively. www.melbentley.com

Param Anand Singh

Param Anand Singh is a poet and translator who used to be called R.M. O'Brien. A sticker he made might be in a movie.

About The Author

Param Anand Singh

Param Anand Singh is a poet and translator who used to be called R.M. O'Brien. A sticker he made might be in a movie.

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