Poetry News

On George Albon's Aspiration, a Radical Essay in the Form of a Book

By Harriet Staff


It's hard to keep track of the impressive content at The Volta, so we are here to help. Did you know that there's a Volta blog? That is, in effect, a "reviews-based supplement"? This is good for you. Up this week is a review of George Albon's new chapbook Aspiration (Omnidawn), "the first part of a four-part section about the lyric, to be followed by Practice, Immanence and Migration." More from The Volta:

As such, it follows works like Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson and Charles Olson’s Call Me Ishmael, continuing this now rich tradition of radical poet’s essays. Like these seminal works, Albon’s acute ear for close reading opens a world into poetry criticism that traditional scholarship finds unavailable, although in contrast to them, his commitment to the essay as an acutely poetic form in itself demands another sort of reading eye entirely.

Aspiration is about the lyric, about the lyric’s aspirant state of being. After an introductory close-reading by way of DeLillo, we’re given this state as a point of both fact and potential:

No, DeLillo does not give this printout to his math-characters, and no, none of these definitions, poached by me from a variety of sources, has the lyric as its original referent.

Thus, we’re early on privy to the knowledge that Albon’s book is a series of reflections on the lyric prompted by non-lyrical source texts. And in turn, prompted to consider this exercise in creative reading a formal argument for the aspirant state of lyricism. Or as the volume later notes in connection to John Cage’s 1974 “Empty Words” lecture at Naropa:

Then the aspiration, the word for this first movement, might rise from the ground and become one of the drifts to claim, most suffusive just at the point of evaporation.

Like this account of the lyric, Aspiration is an essay that lives at the this precise point of evaporation. It soon moves from Cage to sound poetry, from Dada to Childhood games, and from Heidegger to Bruce Boone in a way that creates its nexus of meaning without telling readers what in means. In this way, the book really is much more like a poem than an essay in any traditional sense, although still, to call it a prose poem would be to deny the distinctly critical insight afforded by this reflexive project.

On Hugo Ball, for instance, there’s the piercing insight of how

Through the smoke-choked confines of the Cabaret, his recitiaton gained in volumes and rhythms, as he realized that these sound poems could either sink back into novelty or cross a threshold into apotropaic incantation “jolifanto bambla o falli bambla.” It was a conscious decision but so is the one to jump across a widening chasm if you’re on the part sinking into the cataclysm.

We want, we want! Read the full review here.

Originally Published: September 9th, 2013