Mark Weiss’s very particular landscapes

Mark Weiss. As Landscape (Chax Press 2010).

Mark Weiss writes perception especially well, taking that term in as wide a sense as Pound took ‘image.’ Weiss takes his place in the tradition of USAmerican poetics that descends from Pound, Williams, & others. In his ‘A Provisional Poetics,’ an essay concluding As Landscape, he speaks to the way that provisionality works, in a poetics of process that pays as close attention to all the world that he encounters as it does to the language he pursues. The poems themselves demonstrate how such a provisional process operates, carefully avoiding what he calls ‘The language impoverished by forethought.’ Each section of these serial poems (serial both in the book’s 4 sections, & in each poem) arrives, was caught on the move by the writer, in an act of perception that gets inscribed most often as image, often moving. Weiss is especially good as rendering what’s seen, or heard, or felt/touched, in closely observed quick cuts.

I found the casual (& certainly not causal) development of each poem fascinating; many of the small bits seem at first unconnected, but their accumulation works, & I never felt dissatisfied by the end. The breaks allow the reader to fill in the lacunae in whatever way s/he can or wishes to. The individual ‘stanzas’ (I’ll call them) stand well on their own, almost haiku-like in their intense articulation of percept. Often they render ‘landscape,’ if we take that term to include soundscapes, historical marks & inscriptions, bodies. Only in the final section, ‘From Darkest Europe,’ do the two poems, ‘Begins and Ends with Blood’ & ‘From Darkest Europe,’ offer something like an ‘argument,’ but even there it’s carried by the perceptual images.
An example? Here’s the first stanza from ‘XXVI’ of ‘Figures: 32 Poems’:

Some sort of weird distortion. In the distance
under the mist
gulls on the beach the size of turkeys. A heat mirage. The air
wavers, the ruck on the sand
appears to skate on water.

I like both the specificity of the images, & the way the (re)presentation reveals something about the observer. Weiss also has a fine sense of line, & line breaks; there’s a sound rhythmic motion to all the poems here.
Which means As Landscape is a damn good book. It definitely brings the reader into touch with any number of & kinds of landscape,’ but that ‘As’ reminds us that there’s a lot more going on.

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