Issue 6: Robert Mueller on Ronaldo V. Wilson

With Every Object in View

Review of Poems of the Black Object by Ronaldo V. Wilson

Sometimes poetic sequences seem to talk to the reader about just that: poetry and their poetry.  This one tells of culture, wonders about culture.  Since talk of culture requires a background and a history, the reader may first go to Ronaldo V. Wilson's embracing dedication to his mother, Vergelioian Space IV: The Bulimia Method.  This poem is a beginning and a middle, and not a put-on, and it provides best evidence of that exquisite regard of an artist's world in vivo. 

As well the reader may, perusing forward and back in different terms (of difference), find more than she would like to know, more than he would care to contain.  Yet as long as the poet sustains the writing generally of these particulars, he may help himself to his boundaries and still not stand still in the taking. 

But on writing generally a first look can find Barbara Guest's Rocks on a Platter and the instructive subtitle Notes on Literature.  The reach of Guest's writing, spanning to the geographical of all the literary ports north and south, reminds of how, as is true of Wilson's sequence, poetry may take the form of essay, of in her case a mightily stumping intellectual wherewithal; provided it speaks, genuinely speaks, to its concepts; provided in his case the range and language of wonder, about what the place and choices of cultural belonging can and will offer of Ronaldo V. Wilson, now the person of the poet, who strides out into this especial world of ambition, speak genuinely of what it is to be, and not only to state and affirm, the writer of the book, of the book and of his planning and percolating, of the book Poems of the Black Object (Futurepoem Books, 2009).

There are more subtitles.  Eleni Sikelianos' The California Poem, for instance, paints a landscape of quite a different order, but from which Wilson’s memories (and longings, own up to it) are not that far often disguised, and from which he overtly rises in a person's twice-trials and cropping down to size.  And Sikelianos’ concerns have to do with a lttle “noir” and a lot of sludge and survivals and natural history and beauty, even the famous southern California glitter (“. . . of glittering Venice Beach, in the fabulous history of vaqueras, the bending / of wondrous fenders, in the folding membranes / of organelles . . .” (p. 90)), but again are not that different from that searching tenor that peps it up swell in Wilson’s book.  Her sharpness can evidence, at intervals, a mulling, a heavier attention: “. . . I have not // remembered to mention the darkest of series the place where I was thinking California . . .” (34).  By the same token, her placements might signify his placements on occasion, and so Wilson’s touching objects might seem not so strangely personal; plus, they can be far far offshore (Guam, The Philippine Islands, Africa, New York City).

But it is a portrait, a “self-portrait,” and not a country.  Fine.  Yet in another title, The Black Object’s Memory, this self will give self-image away.  A figured — if not landscaped — and enculturated subject, whose causes surround a fancy of much splendid squalor, may, in such a setting, talk large and does emerge and grow bigger: “In either case, the room is hot and small, and the fly, latched to some surface, is as big and black as the blood is dark.” 

In yet another moment, another slow bath in the quick sequence of a section titled Chronophotographie, the self-images are again more, a full instance.  They approach not unto the confessional, but are myth-minded, are at once infernal and earthly, at once stooping and spirit-sired.  They are the out-of-the-way same-sex encounters of a nearly fustian character, when delightfully they could have been furtive, and they do not seem so pleasant in the telling as they might be at times.  They do not seem so, but, a sure dive, they are more so — morsel, mind-trip, honeyed millet: 

Helmet in the tundra, brylcreem and fixed — boxed hip bone and cock pumped, bow down to it. His hands, like large cages, arthritic fuck toys. Sycophant, the brain deadens, as in confusing effluvium for effusia. Nostrils flare, an ill wind. I lick a mass of glucosamine. I want his wire glasses on before he fucks. Makes him soft: scarecrow arms pulled back by wild marionette cords.  The pink bulbous head over which I slip.  Old spiced, meat, I swim in his tit hair and crawl over his milky paunch.

The power of all portraits, all stock events of a form of playing in a game, lies in their timeliness, extending figures as differently of the black object as auto- and as oral- or agoral-perceived so far along in their development that the deepening round of these photographs and their chronicity (not easily defined but necessarily past) will (somehow) talk our way back to those incisory photographs constructing a black poetic self occasioned earlier.  Occasioned when?  How?  It will show, and the task of weighing what rides into the black poetic self (so-called or impetuous or impending) and so how and how many times will the black object be “re-formed” grows on a reader, and the strides of a sensibility not at all certain will be rewarded. 

A photograph qua memory, an hypostatized objectification personified par elegance, in short a questioning of the outer phases, titled Construction of a Black Poetic Self in Four Narratives, indeed illustrates or extends the multiple conductivity, the many possible constructions, of the object.  A cultural pull emerges out of preoccupation of self, but to be truthful shorn of the usual velocities and thus a belonging to, and an always becoming, within the tangled vectors of merely doubtfully chosen subject and object positions.  The interleaving that Wilson enacts as narrative, disruption and “writing between” in this immunal brand of self-construction enables such intimacy of subject and object even unto the conjoining of maternal and paternal diagrams, surprisingly.  So too mother’s poem, Vergelioian Space IV: The Bulimia Method, may reflect if you like the very “borderlining,” the big and close experience that Julia Kristeva theorizes as contact with the “abject” in her essay on the subject, Powers of Horror.  But it is in the armful of “construction” that Wilson alights on father and mother mixed, on aesthetics of “objet trouvé” plunged into poorly realizable desire, the photo-less photo through a lens that sometimes seems a bit charred, revealing an object as not sure what for, what pertaining to: “. . . or again, more simply, digging under one object and stumbling on meaning asks: Does this narrative begin in a black hole? Does it create another diasporic space? Is this space black? Is it a black?”  The questions and the answers, the markings by “deliberate gesture,” fall short continually only to brace beautifully their strong claims, against body portion as existential cause célèbre and for the “act of writing into the fear of fat.”

Fear is that which bears on any close experience.  The “abject” is all about fear and may be understood, though not in Kristeva’s dutiful terms, as a fearful blob encountered by anyone unfortunate not to have a suitable object within reach, not to have graduated or separated properly enough from the needs of a mother to the deeds of a father.  Yet if ab-ject can participate in, for later exclusionary purposes, the black object as being undefined how the self becomes a culturally (im)potent imaging, then the poetry of the black object can participate on the positive side (no surprise when Kristeva’s argument has to de-polarize her concepts) in the delights of undifferentiated semiotics, in other words singing and dancing in the squeamish candor (or in the ironies of an unwitting outrage perhaps) and, without judgement as such, the filth, on the way there.  A falling short of differentiation (of clearer objects you might feel), thereby an accentuating of difference, could plot a parading of cultural identity across borders of one kind or another.  Perhaps this is what animates the posturing in The Black Object’s Deportment.  Culture talk, with unmessy enclosure, is in all the places, and all the way through them.  Where it begins, a scene that is meant to find beauty in a quiddity meditates the passing over of a color spectrum: “The black object’s phlegm is green in the center of a milky white . . .”; where it ends, the assertion by “a crass black object” that “‘I’m from L.A.!’” redefines this unlucky humor, the portioning of it, as if such a response from a person who needs to be more laid-back were part of an undecidable but orderly scheme.

Finding the expression for how identity leads to being in general may thus be one of the joys to be treasured in Wilson’s writing.  Where finding one’s self, where posing as object raises a troublesome prospect, so does placement of exposed identity tread uneasily in spheres that the self-constructed category approaches neither satisfactorily nor securely.  The vectors and the assumptions, and their undoing for sparing and for necessary values, kick into drive in almost every vexation.  The way haunts already in the book’s first poem, On the C Train The Black Object Ponders Amuzati’s Family Eaten in the Congo.  You cannot safely define the humor that inaugurates the representation of black objects here; you can know you have been there, however, and will be eager (not afraid?) to find where you have been:

In the story of edible blacks, hacked and splayed on lattice,

how am I to finish the dishes


with all this dining

in the fields of my instance?

Well, then.  The burners are turned to an object relations issue, and out stirs certain delights of a writer’s experience.  As pertaining to a self-imposed black object for any period, these experiences, these re-takes, emerge in swirls of discouragement while piercing through to confidence in their turning out.  Delight will welcome in turn the reader, not for change and displacement, not for self-mutilation or self-manipulation, but for a cheerful and almost, almost insouciant form of gay and almost, almost grand acceptance.  At the close of the sequence titled The Black Object’s Memory, “You want to unload on his beautiful black beard what you give to the urinal’s mouth, a radiant stream splattering on his dim and tired lips.”

Recovering further direction, we note that all (not-)revealing in deepening parameters is a challenge of the process itself; and once more the delving and the thrashing and splitting hearken ever more irresistibly back.  Why Mr. Wilson's book is important, why it is a self so pleasured in so full an involving, but do not ask why, is what a "Vergelioian Space" can test out.  Coming from or going back, as planned, the tribute to mother and the citing to past and to context provide moments of truth.  The cracking linearities cede to excerpt and depiction, less whole poem and more engulfing volume in which to wriggle out a sheeting clarity or leathered dullness of immersion.

Yet, before limning exquisitely coutured mother, consider a shocking truth; yet, that the self is a question of culture, for Mr. Wilson, has the metissean qualities of his and our culture gaps to thank for it.  The experience of writing and mixed blood, and bleeding, of mixed being and the liminality crossing into a world of (non-)identification, and the freedom thereof, where the question of whether excess and brilliance and eloquence do not merely attend to that non-identification, do not merely precisely extend to a net loss, as if the self were a question of the writing of the culture, of culture itself, where the question of self and the self-portrait is not limited to the rich qualities of memory, of the consideration of father and son under the valencies of such memories as may produce the sweet and perfect snapshot of the remembered elegance — such is the remembered and reconstituted excellence of the tennis pro in action (1. A Narrative, from Construction of the Black Poetic Self in Four Narratives):

Between memory, muscle and fat is a poetics out of a black, pleather satchel full of photos.

A few shots are of my father, teaching tennis to a group of men in Guam, most of them white. Everyone is wearing white. And there is Leland Doane, who is all chest hair and long hairy arms with a sloped forehead, who had a wife named Phong, who my parents said had gone crazy.

When Leland Doane sent us some of our belongings to Tennessee from Guam, the pots and pans were missing.

When his wife suffered a brain hemorrhage, he came to Tennessee, alone. Too trusting, my father let Leland Doane drive a U-Haul full of our furnishings from Tennessee to California, and of course, we had again, by this man, been robbed.

Not looking at the photos, but instead, to think of them, reveals this action:

My father leans forward, knees bent, black mustache, loose skin, afro, leg out, a lunge mimics where the imagined ball meets the racquet.

Nothing more comes of that in retrospect, not pearly as a good fast clipping could be.  Say the “pensée-autre” gets magnified, by the Moroccan writer Abdelkébar Khatibi, to an Other above borders, above this stroke or that stroke, not inscribed as non-identity within the identifying machinery but far Other, riddling Other;[i] then nothing more comes out, in retrospect of this or that memory, until this and that merging, until this and that scrambling to alleviate, elevate and envelop wisely.  Other, object or abject, critical self-constitution — all feed into this lifeline where where can be anywhere.  So many questions about race, about projection and identification, are deflected from the standard procedures that it seems a map of the world, some other world, and not just a discourse about feelings, or parentally about readings.  Strength radiates and relays back from that established fact, somehow, of our very own reading in the shadows.

Fascination thus grows in sequence once it is seen how the problems of poetic writing, which are all of the old constitution-of-self questions, emerge as unanalyzable in all of the usual ways.  And that is how in the enjoyment of Ronaldo V. Wilson's writing we may turn with high expectation to the fascination of the mother, as a mixed property and the exuberantly self-invented or rather self-modified model par excellence.  Similarly, in the In-An-Imprint poems, a series within a sequence within another sequence, those are real photographs and real writings of them, released of the burden of psychosexual, psychosymbolical-tactical bravura.  As readers, we are instead corralled in words shot forth, as: "Hone on love of an art. Or an arc. An arc of light." and "Your own language against that flash." and thus against what would be a false self-dramatization that would be the, here denied, "… sonnet to prove your eloquence."  Because so many enter and so few succeed, it is a delight to live through how Mr. Wilson orchestrates this substitution out of a poetic self.  It is in his readers' fair interests how a sweeping motion posits and forms that very topic only, through an elation that is itself posed against the odds, transforms them and does so in the aid of progress, strikes out to a brave performance of further extended construction — much much further, even terribly further, as you will see if you endure.

The In-An-Imprint series, to proceed, sets forth a networking of implications and dramatizes a good-faith application of them.  Cultural life and competence, rather than, as mentioned, the “sonnet to prove your eloquence,” is on display, and the lasting effect of these performances, with their markers, is attenuated by the migration among the different strategies of adjusting, so that the sequence has a geographical make-up, and the trick, or pleasure, in understanding Wilson’s writing becomes a kind of effort at reconnoitering and thereby determining the best place to locate, then the next best, and so on.  Practices on a personality stage take the effects of communal transparency, such trans-appearances, and farm them out to choice, culturally based or imaginative, both the same.  They read like fortunes, and attitudes and real positionings, such as: “No north star. . . . but the mesh of your dissolving.”, and, equally on a sliding map scale: “Photographed in Kordofan . . ..  Signaled with the inanimate: an end, an edge in a world where you are the limit.”.

This result — location, location, location, but grabful melting sensation —, only a possible one, in truth becomes a strength because it brings the action of writing, as selection of suitable languages, into our homes, into our immediate relations with what is going on: “Be quiet. Resist a blues. Be-the optic in b OP. Cacophone, harmony. Stir by Soul-Food. Swallow a saxophone.”.  In the timings of sophistication and cool, Mr. Wilson stumbles and straddles, as in turn he might.  The unconcealed effort, the care, and the cost bring home the goods, and bring our experience forward to certain only possible pleasures of a connected life thus tried and tried.  The cultural transcendence at which this self-portraiture aims, the “black object” in all his powers of suggestion, sets the living and the reaching against the chords of a writing in the genuineness of spirit.  That Wilson spends forth such rhetoric in a personified and dangerous world makes the genuine character all the more apparent.

Here, finally, is an extended look at a portion of Vergelioian Space IV: The Bulimia Method:

         I could care less, but care deeply about foreign matters, new modes, obsessions and have been thinking about "cull and repose" not call and response for the last few months in my writing and reading. [note omitted]

         And now, what would a thematics after (gas p) loss, silence, hiding, hindrances, gaps, cuts, slits, vacancies, holes, (ga sp) desecrations, ah-loves, olives pose or manifest or re-pose or (g asp) anti-manifest? [note omitted]

         Now what is this, if not an overt thematics? The idea, here, is that recognizing failure, the failed, the exhausted is to embrace WRECKEDCOGNITION, something after the spirit of my mothers thinking in her novel, "Maghug Baboy Bilang I Nag," a wonderful village tale that ends in basic hand-to-hand combat between some VERY angry darkies.

         To go under, to go down, to avoid, to sink, to slip, to see the idea of confronting the head-on collision in being found.

What a shame. I am lost all the time, lost just enough to know that this loss is part of an aesthetic economy that evolves me in more evolutional orders than I can eat, but I keep stuffing my face, eating with my mouth open and vomiting like a good bulimic.

         I am writing a poetry toward the bulimic!

         I am writing notes to all casual bulimics!

         I am healthy AND had for lunch today the most amazing chicken salad and seven grain masterpiece made by a woman that I felt I had to charm in order to get the bigger plate that featured the slippery chips and big VLASIC Pickle. [poem proper ends here]

Look at all the phonemics, and look inside the phonemic interventions to find the layers of blending.  A surprise comes in two takes, in just that sort of thrilling immersion in what is being displaced. You could hardly think more deeply of wallowing than inside a bulimia method.  Not measurable, these slanted (and not bloated?) pleasures afford ecstatic (and not sarcastic?) realization, always within a picture of sequences that will, at first, seem buttressed by the simple need to find place.  Continuity and tradition, figuring questions about identity within a recognizable or typed space, give ground to create more penetrated sensations (“more evolutional orders than I can eat”), when the space opens out to be interrogated or to be subjected formally to other turns.  Disruption of a comfortable space engineers the opposite function, a carefree disturbance after the determined reprisals, a matching play of inflated excesses bridging to an engulfing, or enlarging and changing, or in ways shrinking, space.

It is surely worth the effort, and requires effort, to join in this manner of cultural belonging that is Ronaldo V. Wilson’s prize in Poems of the Black Object.  It is worth exploring the slipped or split frames, each one of them.  What, at this filial attainment, at this bettered affiliation, could be more sweetly uplifting to a good son of good mixed background than a village tale (“a wonderful village tale that ends in basic hand-to-hand combat between some VERY angry darkies”)?  Robust comfort ensues from the robust mockery and the joyous abjections.  Gratifyingly, the language found in suggestion does not displace merely, unilaterally.  All the while the continuing overindulgence by a child of excessive disgust will parody, without so much as a look, the social and economic order that — its own self-pecking order greatly magnified, industrialized, globbed and globaled, snowballed — observes a regular appointment of its self-caricaturists to their self-anointed, self-analytical tasks.

Mother, providentially, reclaims extreme aesthetic control and panache.  The stunning, enabling figure of accomplished bulimia pragmatics, she arrives and has always arrived buoyant in tight dress, carrying off such aesthetic aplomb as to raise the bar of the enculturated voice, assured and pre-assuming in his own power, by way of the trending of his novelist-critic mother over the semiotic substantiations of a theater piece by Pina Bausch:

Cry/ cock/ a diddle/ doooo

ooohhh ooohhhhh . . . cock a diddle, dooo ohhh ohhhhh . . . 

Which, of course, is less important than the tone of Ariel's voice, but singing taught me a little something about blackness and being as a collective sight and about my trust in the word fun. [note omitted]

         Without my mother: I have to ask her how to be more Sycorax-sexy later on this afternoon. She wants me to come along. She has a date with her very elegant editor, which means tea and lots of paper at XXXXX. She's working on a piece about the dance company Pina Bausch and the Sublime or something — more riffing on Wet, Walrus bodies as anti-castration narratives; she's deft and crafty that way.

It is so cool to exercise by fiat that disgorging of the wet walrus bodies of the protective fat, to subsume an ultra-protective coolness that becomes the transforming parallel for the "black object," the scene-for-being made of the poet and by the poet, within his adopted sleek adaptive sphere.

What encouraging fascination are the twist and thrust of the phrase “of the black object” where phobia, disgust and hunkering after what Kristeva theorizes, ultra-complicatedly, as abjection prove not their personal dispensation, not at all, but are the acts, the making do, amid the dissolves of a margin-worthy cultured setting, of a slick and slow-created, one dare says liveable, work.

A poem of an un-teary, spearing space, of collecting admiration to mother, folds on blessed urges and is grand, and begins with sweetly swinging airs over starry chambers of visceral Caliban, Mr. Wilson’s late and lonely Pyg-tailing counterpoint cue.

*     *     *

That is what we mean by a bulimia method.  That is what we mean by tradition.  That is what we mean by exuberance.  High mimetic design, faithfully interposed, front-and-center-worthy, fountain-shellbowed, close and gold.


[i] See Suzanne Gauch, "Fantasies of Self Identity: Khatibi’s The Book of Blood," CR: The New Centennial Review 1:1 (2001), 201-28.  Print.  Khatibi elaborates the concept of “pensée-autre” in the first section in his collection of theoretical writing titled Maghreb pluriel ((Paris: Denoël, 1983), 9-39.  It might be helpful to draw from the book’s second essay, on the “double critique,” the role of the “pensée-autre” in “radicalizing the margin” and undoing the subordinating framework of Western metaphysics over against that of traditional Arab culture (pp. 62-63); so that, in Ronaldo V. Wilson’s terms, a thinking otherwise of the black object, a sequenced and sustained effort to think otherwise of the black object, similarly would empower an effort to dissolve the given frameworks.  Nothing new as an idea for a project, but the pleasure (or one of the pleasures) lies in enjoying how these essay-poems accomplish the feat again and again.  If the pleasure grows, the reconstituting uplash acquires its greater authenticity, and greater dissolving push, all with brilliant release.

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