The more I read Cold Mountain Mirror Displacement, the less I can think of to say about it. Perhaps that’s because the poem, a piece of live 21st century Poundian antenna work that unfolds across 16 sections of more-or-less consistent 8-15 syllable lines, says itself so succinctly and completely. Perhaps it’s because Anselm Berrigan’s afterward so deftly and confidently characterizes the work as stemming “from a belief that all language use in America is fundamentally parodic” and that “the poem is a present to give back to every source” of language that finds itself manipulated and bent into the figures of Hoevenaar’s consistently questioning lines. “And that’s irony, and that’s the available view,” as a line from section 13 has it.
One of the more compelling aspects of Cold Mountain Mirror Displacement is its simultaneous clarity and opacity, a condition saturated with an irony that’s inextricable from candor. “Do you have this life in my size?” It’s like the poem asks you to interpret it (“Open the box open/the box open the God/-damn box”) then laughs at its own lack of depth, locating that depth, that interpretability, in the laugh itself, a laugh that stems from and echoes across the poem’s “varieties of adhesive post-hope.”
Or maybe not. “Just because I’m nodding my head/to the beat doesn’t mean I agree with it,” as a line from section 8 has it. At any rate, the book manages an incisive criticality without didacticism, an immense animating intelligence without editorialization, and an often playful lyricism without sheepish grinning. The voice of Cold Mountain Mirror Displacement questions the validity of poetry as a means of dealing with the world, but never feels the need to justify itself:
Shake the box and the contents will tend
toward nonsense; likely a sort you’ve seen
before but no less charming for all their quaint
pastel catastrophizing and cornered
exhortations of hunger for a polished significance.
If gravity didn’t exist, it would
be necessary to invent it. I’m doubtful
that necessity exists as anything but an illusion. (22)
While it mistrusts the fun its having, it never fails to have that fun. Which is to say, you can have your cake and mock it too. Or, following the logic of inversion, a logic carefully employed by Hoevenaar throughout the book, you can have your mock and cake it too.
Hoevenaar’s inversions and détournements (“every phrase…available to be pretzeled, and put into a poem,” as Berrigan has it) focus one’s attention on the pressure that can be exerted on expected sense by tiny defamiliarizations: “Have a blessed one.” “Buddy/up and make a room of a map.” “Doing quietly, sitting nothing.” Or the last line of this excerpt from the beginning of section 10:
We do, we do. Would you
like to look it up or would
you rather resume speculating. That’s the way
I operate, both hands on the jammed
exegesis, eyes closed to deflect
the winds of reference. My inarticulable
regrets communicated to a window.
My vocabulary did me to this. (36)
Here, in Hoevenaar’s pretzelization of Spicer’s famous last words, I think of language as parasite, how one often thinks of it propagating itself through its hosts when it might be more relevant to think of it as propagating its host through itself.
This notion of language as engine of identity is at play throughout Cold Mountain Mirror Displacement. On page 29, a lone fingerprint appears at the bottom right corner of the page. In some ways, I read this as the poem’s talismanic mirror. A symbol of uniqueness devoid of ascribed specificity, nameless. A human abstracted into an ink-based form; utterly singular in its particular iteration (“into the spectacular laughing timelines…”), but, as an attribute, almost universally shared.
All of these things. Zoom
in until the specific becomes
more general than the general
you started with. As above,
so above. See above… (34)
Throughout the poem’s manifold “commands, imperatives,” and direct addresses to a “you,” the “you” and “I” seem to shift referents, within a tonal space simultaneously resigned, optimistic, self-effacing, and generous. As a line from section 3 has it, “you are what you fidget with.”
Perhaps I can think of less and less to say about Cold Mountain Mirror Displacement because it’s so generously complicit in its parody of language. The poem and its reader are jointly implied in all its faltering and lovely confusions. If, to borrow a phrase from Berrigan’s afterward, Cold Mountain Mirror Displacement “will survive…by singing itself through your process,” maybe that’s because its process so closely resembles our singing.
Daniel Owen is the author of the chapbook Authentic Other Landscape (Diez Press, 2013). His poems have appeared in Clock, Death and Life of American Cities, Lungfull!, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, where he co-edits Poems by Sunday and is an editor at Ugly Duckling Presse.