Pinging Always

Although I’m familiar with the bulk of Mike County's poetic output through chapbooks (e.g., Copper, Pardon Our Progress), the poems that he’s been posting on his blog lately—after a bit of a hiatus—have asked me to rethink how the newer pieces use language in a variety of different ways that, incidentally, resonate well with his older, more formally collected work. I won’t go into explications of previous work—I invite you all to go take a look for yourselves if you haven’t already done so—but as my title suggests, each one of the newer poems “pings,” both to locate meaning and, in doing so, to make contact with what is meaningful by way of test signals or words, despite language’s slippages or seeming disassociations with tangibly real people, places and things.

Even through a string of abstract, negative fragments, a poem such as “Contact” is able to present us with a positive vision. Two negatives can indeed make a positive, but a series or string of them can, on the “frozen” (and slippery) surface, leave one immediately daunted. Here’s the poem in full:


pardon me...

No such thing.

No amplification of

No verbal to-ing
into seizure

Nothing that can’t be


only frozen objects
need apply

What’s immediately interesting about this piece is the punctuation. The two locutions that begin the poem, “Nobody...” and “pardon me...,” trail off into white space, each leading to the next line, which ends the first part of the poem with a period: “No such thing.” What gives me pause here are the negatives that begin to accumulate (such as snow or ice might) as well as an ambiguous “pardon.” The motif of sound that follows these lines suggests to me that, idiomatically speaking, “pardon me” excuses either a lack of hearing, or a mishearing of a first line that exists now as only a momentary word, a “ping” that attempts to locate some lost or missing meaning. Inherent in “pardon” is the edge of judgment, which itself is undercut by “No such thing.” Or, “No such thing” period, that dot of punctuation acting as a symbol of finality. But what’s final here? The very idea of finality is distrusted. There’s no such thing as a final judgment, either at the so-called beginning of the poem, or at the so-called end, which carries no punctuation at all. Words must continually ping.

This leads me to why I read all these negatives accumulated into a positive. Despite the notion that there’s “No verbal to-ing,” or no verbalized present participle verb in the infinitive (e.g., to verbalizing confounds grammatical sense, presents a language element that seizes, or sends one “into seizure”) and, despite the doubly negative “Nothing that can’t be / molded” (a break well placed after “be,” an indicator of passive presence), the unspecified “frozen objects” at the poem’s apex leave one to anticipate the future, rather than to reflect upon the past. In other words, the poem’s conclusion is no conclusion at all, the fact of which sends one forward into an unwritten and speculative future. Any object that’s frozen, no matter how solidly present, isn’t bound to such a state. “Contact” itself, in this respect, is a “frozen” object, words solidified into what only seems fixed. One is in the “fix,” so to speak, of contact—a verbal contact that always already leaves one searching for what comes next, i.e., another pinging.

Such a distrust of finality—a finality which, by the way, is intimately linked to the slipperiness of language vis-a-vis meaning—is also threaded into “Untitled 1,” the poem from which I took my title for this post. Again, here’s the full poem:

Your daughter like silk
a touch of ecstatic from
one side of the blood

Two pennies that continually click
together in the mind

never rubbing but
pinging always
past what’s called order

Not knives of stimulation but the
touch touch touch of your life

And again we find a lack of punctuation, which isn’t anything novel—either for Mike or our contemporaries—but is, rather, all the more prominent and pertinent after an inspection of “Contact.” The triplet “never rubbing but / pinging always / past what’s called order” does more for me than simply recall Beckett. If Mike’s recent pieces are up to anything, then, without a doubt in my mind, they’re up to “pinging always / past what’s called order.” When formulations or systems of order occur as “knives of stimulation,” or the sharp edges of the life one lives, the “touch touch touch of your life” becomes the “ping ping ping” of real contact—what’s finally, but not finally, understood in some provisional way. The phrase “what’s called order,” moreover, calls the notion of order itself into question. What purpose does order serve, if indeed it fails to test meaning in a meaningful way? All that one can do, all that such poems do, is to conduct such tests, to continue to judge the distance between that which means and that which is meaningful.