Michael Boughn. Cosmographia: a Post-Lucretian Faux Micro-Epic (BookThug 2010).
Also a GG finalist in 2011, Cosmographia: a Post-Lucretian Faux Micro-Epic definitely lives up to its full title, & more. It’s post-modern, post-war, post-philosophy, definitely post-lyric, hoping for post-capitalism/consumerism while knowing that’s not to be, & very much something of an epic gone postal. Michael Boughn erects a tottering tower of words, up the stairs of which both he & we can only slip & slide trying to maintain balance & not fall.
Cosmographia’s almost flammable rhetoric, its huge excesses, sing of epic’s failure to do more than signal & point to the wounds in our world, our civilization (if we still give it that title). An index, then of social & political abuse, yet also a comedy of errors & the eros that stands against such painful reality. Boughn is a master of both high & low culture as both his many allusions & feckless footnotes declare. These invite each reader to bring her specific knowledge to bear upon the fluid & highly indeterminate cantos of this book-long poem. Undecidability is its mantra; & that begins on the Contents page, with various ‘Book’ titles out of whack. Thus each reader will find a particular way through the maze of this ‘faux micro-epic.’
Boughn brings his formidable learning to bear throughout, just as any self-respecting epic poet would seek to do, but that learning is also highly scattershot, often slipping from high philosophy to slapstick in a single line, & continually sliding up & down the high to low culture scale. Many of the cantos take up, or on, social & political issues of the time, but even as they do so (say George W Bush’s also ‘faux’ wars in Book 2), they admit the futility of poetry trying to actually affect change or speak to any but those who already think about such things (& probably agree with the poem’s apparent perspective).
There are a few figures who (or which) carry whatever narrative such a ‘faux’ epic might have, the major ones being Razz & Tootie, & the cows always trying to come home on time. But Boughn plays with language throughout in a number of ways, one of which is to suddenly construct a kind of mini-character out of a word or phrase. These tend to appear & disappear, mere ghosts of meaning sliding in & out of sight. As to syntax, it’s as malleable as can be, all grammatical forms open to metamorphosis, as the following almost seems to explain:
Returning to the lintel hell-bent
on encounters staggering out of eternity
intersecting negentropic excursions
into hostile circumstances extenuated
beyond decent limits satisfactory expulsion
of familiar strangeness leaves the sentence
with nowhere to go. Aleatory horizons
roil with shadows tracing hands on heaven
grasping nothing – hi, I’m here – while
itinerant bands of carnal determination
hoot from the sidelines waving banners
with Gordian pleasures newly imposed
penetrations depicted in bold but simple
strokes. The waste laid to wholesome
interpretations leaves therapeutic
dispensations on hands and knees begging
for more. Seeing no cure can find its text
in such predictable vocabularies, viral
misprisions cut loose, galloping through
morphemic projections six shooters
blazing, wreaking havoc on cows
stampeding through streets of home.
Eventually, there could be many theses written uncovering all the allusions, notes, references, & games in Cosmographia: a Post-Lucretian Faux Micro-Epic. Probably requiring as much time & patience as the poet took to write it. Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, & some other jazz masters are its muses, but I hear the echo of a Beach Boys song as I read: Michael Boughn will pun, pun, pun, until Big Daddy takes his language away.