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Poems by Clark Coolidge with a cover by Jasper Johns.

120 pages, hardback

First published January 1, 1970

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About the author

Clark Coolidge

70 books26 followers
Coolidge attended Brown University, where his father taught in the music department. After moving to New York City in the early 1960s, Coolidge cultivated links with Ted Berrigan and Bernadette Mayer. Often associated with the Language School his experience as a jazz drummer and interest in a wide array of subjects including caves, geology, bebop, weather, Salvador Dalí, Jack Kerouac and movies, Coolidge often finds correspondence in his work. Coolidge grew up in Providence, Rhode Island and has lived, among other places, in Manhattan, Cambridge (MA), San Francisco, Rome (Italy), and the Berkshire Hills. He currently lives in Petaluma, California.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 reviews
Profile Image for Eddie Watkins.
Author 6 books5,450 followers
October 3, 2014
Space: I’m in Coolidge’s mind space digging on the various resonances of this simple word with the poetry contained within the book of this title. It helps that the epigraph is a direct transcription of a dictionary entry of SPACE. It’s an open word, capable of encompassing the specific and the unspecified. It is an emptiness but also a thing. It’s like the number “zero” in the realm of things. There is so much going on in this simple word that the dictionary entry could be a complete poem in itself. The title of the collection itself is a stroke of genius, let alone the poems that make up the space of Space.

The book is divided into four distinct sections that in my analysis travel a rough progression from a poetry of things, of things of the world, to a poetry of fragments of pure word. In my mind it traverses a similar narrative arc as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – from earthy apes with feet firmly planted on earth to astronaut fragmenting into ethereal space baby (the last "word" in the book is nize - and as it came out two years after the film for all I know the film was one of the ten thousand things in Coolidge’s mind as he put this book together.

Though this is poetry very much constructed out of individual lines which themselves are constructed out of individual words (or even word fragments), as opposed to poetry constructed out of overarching ideas or concepts, it can not be readily illustrated by individual lines, as it is also a poetry of cumulative rhythmic effect and composition; but the following four lines are examples of each of the four sections of the book:

roughen the skin around the lapel, the lemon

what buck last cattle lap form pits

lock mix deem

or the and dense

Instead of picking these at random I could have searched for lines that more directly illustrated my idea of the progression of the poetry through the book, but I liked the idea of randomness, and I think there is some indication here of my premise, of a progression from direct tactility of things (however hard to actually envision) to a tactility of pure words.

Here is a complete poem from section four that is one of my favorites in the book:


We’ve the doesn’t.
This suspension. This this.

Then but.
Back at a.
If the: here which, now why.

Because they.
Out. Mode they.
They they.

That I we’ve.
We’ve risking.
We’ve and.

Nothing but words. Not an image here. But if you read the book in order by the time this poem is reached your mind is so full of Coolidge’s extreme concision and denseness and tactilenss of language, and rhythm, especially rhythm, that all these “filler” words, words with no tactile resonance or associated imagery or even simple meaning, actually become overblown with significance and feel and music, which all add up to a meaning that is more music meaning than language meaning (if one is unaccustomed to regarding language as music rather than functional meaning).

This book is Cooldige at his best, and as it’s also his first book, I do wonder how he managed to produce other bests after it, but do it he did, and do it he did in spades. Through a long career, which is still continuing, poetry such as this, with infinite variations, has appeared from him, while managing to remain a more intuitive than theoretical poet, which for me is generally a higher aesthetic level. Of course it is also a poetry of extreme subjectivity (in language that is; he very rarely proceeds from a psychological space, which is usually what I associate with subjectivity), and so is elusive even to people who have been reading him for twenty years, such as myself. But it is also a poetry of mystery, of deep aesthetic mystery, as in “What in the hell is he doing?! And why do I like it so much!?”.

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Profile Image for Tentatively, Convenience.
Author 16 books191 followers
April 5, 2008
One of the things that can be specified when manually adding bks here is the "primary language". When entering bks like "SPACE" I hesitate to even say that that's English. But English it is, just an English that's so fragmented & syntactically screwed w/ that most people who read English wd find it incomprehensible.

I actually got my copy of this in a thrift store. Astounding. That's kept me looking thru bks in thrift stores for decades since. After all, there might be something as unique as "SPACE" in one of them again someday.

When the poems have names, the names often seem more conventional than what follows. Eg: "CIRCLE DEVILS". That's evocative enuf.. but then the poem starts:

"6th floor seated on a brief card game sometimes called
it a hut or boat kelp does not shut or struggle cheap"

& where DID those "CIRCLE DEVILS" go, exactly?

The inside cover blurb says: "At first glance, Clark Coolidge's poems appear to be completely impenetrable parades of apparently unrelated words arranged in meaningless patterns across the page. If you keep reading, though, the poems begin to have s strange effectiveness, and eventually you begin to see the words in an entirely new and exhilirating way." I agree. & whoever wrote that sd it better than I ever will.

493 reviews16 followers
June 9, 2018
In the continued adventures of "I'm reading this because it's discussed in a work of literary criticism I want to be able to deeply understand" I've finished reading Clark Coolidge's SPACE. I probably got even less out of this than I got from Susan Howe's Pierce-Arrow, which was deeply confusing and difficult. Part of why I'm invested in this criticism is that I tend to dislike certain strands of avant-garde poetry (such as this, although I'm not giving it a rating lower than three, since I'm not confident I will be able to talk about it meaningfully) but like other poems and poets that share the characteristic of a lack of logical/narrative comprehensibility. I don't feel like Coolidge gives me any handholds for making sense of his poems. For example, "Machinations Calcite" begins
acetone imprinted
oblique swatch on the skin car barn oil wall
ocarina & mumps
much wet green
I'd leavr sole key to this game to my friend, sheet water cat
or "Milk on the Lob" which begins
double the banshee? rocks do loom
& red subtle & green castrate chair
is knowledge (& realms) beery
over the knee childless Jinuary
monkeys with the trees moreless
and I just have a lot of trouble finding any sort of pattern of image, sound, or grammatical structure to latch on to and help with "understanding" or really even just feeling like I have in any way shape or form processed what I just read.

Ostensibly, this book is a meditation on all the many forms of "space"--possessed as it is of an epigraph that consists of a whole dictionary definition of "space"--but I can't find any sort of logical, conceptual, or narrative thread that makes its way through the text. It did have a few moments where I thought I almost picked up on something: "The So (Part Two)" had some intriguing sound and grammar patterns revolving around questions and "Hot Dark Miles" almost approached a sort of fever-dreamed roadway driving experience that made the poem among the most enjoyable in the whole book. The critical work that I look forward to reading claims that there is something allegorical in the form of SPACE, but having not yet read the whole argument, I'm not so sure. We'll see what I think once I read it.

I found most of these poems remarkably devoid of content and connection, but I suppose I did enjoy the few that I managed to extract any meaning from and that there were some interesting graphical decisions (especially in parts 3 and 4) that could be interpreted by someone with a better handle on typography and visual effects than me as commenting on the workings of space.
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