Monday, July 1, 2013

Agony - Steven Zultanski

Today's book of poetry:  Agony.  Steven Zultanski.  BookThug.  Toronto, Ontario.  2012.

Steven Zultanski's Agony is the first part of a trilogy of long confessional poems.  To hear Zultanski read from Agony is to feel the sense of urgency that pumps through this litany.

Zultanski employs mathematics and logic as the pillars to hold Agony aloft.  At first blush the math seems anything but poetic or possible, but there is a mantra type concert playing out here.  Think John Coltrane turning to sheets of sound and then think Ornette Coleman.  Steven Zultanski is past bebop as he rhythmically pounds away any resistance to his new form of autobiography.


     I live here.

     They know it.


     I yawn in their faces nearly continuously.

     Given that the average person breathes, on average, 16 times a
minute, and that the average tidal volume, that is, the air displaced
between inspiration and expiration, is 30.513 cubic inches, we can
assume that when I breathe normally, that is, when I am not yawning
in anyone's face continuously, which is nearly never, I move 703,109.52
cubic inches of air a day.

     Not to mention in a year.

     Now.  Considering that the average person who happens to be male,
such as myself, for now, yawns ten times a day, and that each yawn
forces 289,709 cubic inches of air out of the lungs following maximal
inspiration, on average, we can assume that, when I'm breathing
normally, which is nearly never, I yawn in ten faces a day, or in one face
ten times a day, and thus I force 2,807.09 cubic inches of air into their
mouth or mouths, over the course of it.

     Whether I yawn in ten faces one time or in one face ten times
depends on the relationship of their faces to myself.

     If I am alone I yawn in my own face, which is also theirs, in the sense
that they see it.

     If I am in love I yawn in my lover's own face, that is, theirs or the one
closest to them that is mine.

     Since we've been in love two or three times, it's hard to say whose
mouth is whose.

     So I won't exactly say.

     Given that I've been in love three times, say, and that, on average, my
being in love has lasted a year, we can assume that I've spent three years
yawning in their faces, knowing they know that I live here, at least for
those moments immediately following maximal inspiration.

     So they've only known that I live here for three hours and 2.5
minutes, if we assume that each yawn lasts merely a moment, and that a
mere moment is measured in seconds, one.


     Just enough time for me to force 1,536,881.775 cubic inches of air
into their faces.

     Just enough time, three hours and 2.5 minutes, to live a little, to see
a little something come of breathing, finally, which at first seems to yield
no return but the repetitive consolation of mechanical certainty, tidal
and all-together inhuman, like a birth rate.

     I was born in the morning.

     After my first cry of many must have, because it usually does, forced
8.604 cubic inches of air into my mother's doctor's face, which said face
I am not counting as one of theirs, but only as one of mine, since it was
no the face of a lover, but of an impersonal representative of a hospital,
which might as well have been, for all I can remember, the hospital itself.

     That is, I guess so.

     So then they, the lovers I've loved who are not hospitals, force at least
the normal tidal volume of air into my mouth every morning of my life,

     Now then.

     It's that time of day.

     That is, then.

     When they, the average sums of all known lovers, come in to my
year, a mere moment, to count again their fingers for you, and count
again your toes for them.


These poems itemize the mundane and the profound with equal enthusiasm creating seemingly fantastic lists and formulae that may or may not be accurate - but lead us to a new understanding of the order of things.  Zultanski is quite happy to rearrange the way you think.

It is an impressive feat of self-examination and an extravagant purge of inner demons, all playing out on a mathematicians notebook, a philosopher's ledger.

Steven Zultanski has given us lots to think about.

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