Word For/ Word: A Journal of new writing

Michael Leong

Review of prurient anarchic omnibus, by j/j hastain

(Spuyten Duyvil/Meeting Eyes Bindery, 2011)

Prurient anarchic omnibus is a gorgeously ambitious and generous book of experimental ecstatic love poetry; as its very title suggests, it is verbally complex, and it is surely a refreshing and vigorous addition to the contemporary scene. Hastain writes--according to an introductory note--"as a modern Rumi scribing and etching non-linear musics." This important three-paragraph note, which follows the book's acknowledgements and precedes the copyright, not only establishes prurient anarchic omnibus within the tradition of Rumi's mystical writings but it signals to the reader a set of its most salient concerns: newness, modernity, and contemporaneity. Prurient anarchic omnibus is "a book as neoteric lace" that aims to provide "new worlds and/ or new sensations." Indeed, the word "new" occurs three more times within just the book's first four pages: "new places to trust" (1), "a new bio-mimicry" (3), and "a new indigenous / wherein cyborgs can become earth" (4). In addition, one of the book's epigraphs is a significant contextualizing quote from John Cage: "you have to distinguish between the old music which was a music of concept and of the presentation of that concept to us and the new music which is precept and arousal of perception in us." We live in an age, to be sure, that fetishizes technological and aesthetic innovation and novelty; the new--whether actual or rhetorical--is always at risk of being commodified and exploited for hegemonic interests. But hastain's insistence on the new, on the neo-, is grounded in an ethical commitment to registering and perceiving "previously undetermined structures" (24) and "things that have yet to be named" (25); this commitment is in the name of everything that fails to fit within, to quote again from hastain's introductory note, "the dominant culture's required structures." Newness, according to hastain's poetics, is not a newfangled luxury but a socio-political necessity, and prurient anarchic omnibus is a persuasive call, a kind of manifesto even, for "new classifications of loom" (17). We can read "loom" here in at least two ways: 1) as a technology for weaving, a machine for the creation of textiles (and, by extension, texts) and 2) as a nominalization of the intransitive verb meaning "[t]o appear indistinctly; to come into view in an enlarged and indefinite form" (OED). If we take this second, more unexpected meaning seriously, we apprehend that hastain's innovative language is a determined effort at making the indistinct distinct, a way of arousing within us the perception of the indefinite and undetermined.

The book is punctuated periodically with the reoccurring invocation/address (which, isolated on a page to itself, also acts as a repeating section title) "dear weaver of disparates,"--a gesture which frames the poems (or poetic sections) as epistolary offerings regarding the irradiating intricacies and intensities of existence. Ultimately, prurient anarchic omnibus proposes a new and radical religiosity, a lyrical reverence to "a spans of god that I can understand." "I am trying to express an additive Sanskri t// a new type of holy book," says hastain (38). And just a few pages later, we get another statement of religious ambition: "I am constructing a transfigured bible" (44). In an interview with Gabriel Ricard in the electronic journal Unlikely 2.0, hastain calls prurient anarchic omnibus "a book of psalms within the prurient." This is, in short, a new kind of religious poetry for the twenty-first century. By some accounts, the word "religion" derives from the Latin verb ligāre (to bind, to connect); religion, then, is at root a reconnection. Following this logic, we can read prurient anarchic omnibus as an insistent attempt to reconnect and yoke what seems unconnected. This connective impulse is evident not only thematically--as in the luxurious, multisyllabic phrase "accentuated coadunation" (92)--but in the many compound words that thicken the texture of hastain's text:"corpuscle-scripture" (77), "ever-future-primordial" (98), "an ongoing // legato-devotion" (124), "a sought-crest" (126), "an accordion-lung in the chimera," "vigorous panegyric-cosmologies" (127). "Legato"-- interestingly--a musical term meaning "smooth and connected, with no breaks between the successive notes," also derives from the Latin word ligāre; it is a perfectly chosen and precise term that indicates both hastain's poetic musicality and fluency as well as larger religio-philosophical thought.

In the 1924 essay "Introduction to the Discourse on the Paucity of Reality," Andre Breton wrote of a dream in which he imagined "a rather curious book" that had a spine "formed by a wooden gnome with an Assyrian-style white beard" and pages "made of thick black wool." Near the end of prurient anarchic omnibus we get a similar oneiric vision, which is nicely accentuated due to the fact that the passage is presented in a larger font than the rest of the book:

      I dreamt of a red handle coming out of the book itself
      like a combo-emotional net appearing as a solid protrusion

      always part sacrosanct part lunacy

This dream-object, which acts as an idealized metaphor for the book itself, makes it clear that prurient anarchic omnibus requires a prehensile perception, a haptic grasping of its linguistic and imagistic sensuousness. The "red handle" as "solid protrusion" comes out at us as an invitation, as what hastain calls in the book's beginning "a truly / non-linear // offer" (2). As readers of challenging and rewarding poetry, it is in our best interest to take it.