by Jackson Meazle
The first thing one notices about Fred Moten’s new book, The Little Edges (Wesleyan, 75 pages), is its shape, a hardback book not that much taller than it is wide. And upon opening the book, there are many long-lined poems snuggling close to the margins. Does it matter if this is prose or poetry? The poems seem to form a template for an ever-expanding open field. The initial feeling is reminiscent of the typographical expanses in Charles Olson’s The Distances, how it pushes the text straight across the page, barely adhering to the physical constraints of its borders. In The Little Edges, these often longish medium-sized poems and even longer multiple-sectioned poems represent a huge breadth of a wildly imaginative poet. The project can be boiled down to a practical handbook of makeshift improvisation, ideal performance notes, and choral song pushed “over the edge of what you’re listening to like somebody listening to you.”
Past the initial stage of holding the book, there is an immediate awareness that this text is an act of protest, by way of projecting internalized elements. A key word in this book is “inside,” which is a common word that Moten has variously used in his other books as well. This work is a quasi-biographical menagerie of “occasional pieces” written to accompany–as the reader is not so much invited as made witness to the shape of things in scanning sketches–professional, social, musical, poetic, and even geographical activity:
that’s what rodney asked about,
can you make what we already (do
you remember/how did the people)
have? let it get around and get on in
in scar city,
in complicita, la. here go a box with a lid on it. if you open it you can come into our world.
up in here you look
like cutty do. house
look like he up. if so,
don’t you wanna go?
The book’s opening places Moten’s work in impulse and in nerve, using by using what is at hand or in “possession.” Often it is that which is already there that becomes the collage of discourse. This is utilized to great effect with Moten’s wordplay. Sometimes this is done in a tight little run of lines, obviously addressed to a lover as lyrics in a song:
take this and think about
me in the first place. begin
in the real presence of my
skin, baby. you shook me!
your hand is my pocket.
I’m a pocket man. your
hand is in my pocket. I
fix broken rockets. you
are my starship. you’re
all I need. you send for
me and I can’t keep my
self from coming, baby,
as I am, I have what I already have, I’m yours.
Moten’s poems contain a marked sincerity in his joking and sex-talk. The definitions and contexts in terms of possession produce the effect of clinamen, with words swerving away from their earlier meanings like consciously turning over cards to reveal a variety of simultaneous flushes.
The Little Edges further expands Moten’s trademark musical and intellectual rigor by highlighting a number of his conceptual collaborations with artists and poets. The multiple sections of the poem “hand up to your ear,” are directives or imperatives on “how to make / little works just walking down the street, collaborating.” Not really stage notes, the poem and its sections are pulled off as more like a guerrilla “Things to Do” list poem. Moten flourishes poetic asides tied to an improvisatory protocol. Again, the sections are lines of prose and/or poetry, not necessarily clear of which form they take, blurring the field to test themselves against their practical application. The poem’s sections move in and out of description of street performance toward a real-time response in several dimensions [ed. note: what appear to be couplets below are printed as one line in the book]
Your body is a mixing board
Come take a listening walk and admire your hand twisting. The listening is in watching how you move to
touch in sounding, brushing up against your friend, to see how his position sounds to make the music we are
making by moving the people moving around. Make soundworks out of rustling to notice the material that
comes up on us, that we come upon, do something with. Do something with the sound like it’s your friend,
like you met her at the quadrophenic playground.
[from “hand up to your ear”]
The “little edges” are barely there between performer and audience in a mirroring participation. This form also allows Moten to denote capitalism’s alienating and disenfranchising qualities with fragments of ugliness and beauty. Lines like “the prendergast machine is discipline against an echo of shopping,” “a general antagonism of noise, the fugue of / the absolutely poor, her gift of diving,” and “the sound of that, in the absence of the enemy we keep making” are compelling fractures. Moten views sound as a weapon against the obstacles of commerce, even when he embraces or dispels certain functions of the “binding” contract of love. He is Virgiling the interlocutor through the positives and negatives, saying earlier in “fortrd.fortrn”:
you might be someone that needs listening to. you might need somebody, too.
a lot of this is found in what we have. almost all of this belongs to you, are you
gon’ gimme some? naw, you on your way to work,
little sister. that’s alright, young man. bye, baby.
The geographical, fabled or realistic, is intertwined with the biographical in the poem “hard enough to enjoy,” where the choreographer Ralph Lemon is the personification and ventriloquist of Cincinnati, Ohio. Moten’s sweeping grasp of environment is a Fibonacci sequence of references and association, sustained as real time across the page. Lemon’s inventions are compared and likened to inventions of other southwest Ohio natives such as the siblings that made up the funk groups Zapp and Heatwave. Now as an audience, the poet chronicles the audible workings and received images of the dance, seeming like notes in a notebook.
Gone nowhere, gone everywhere, here come marching. This burled expanse of welcome homelessness sound
like marching. Here come here come last time. I sat and waited for you to leave. Ain’t I gon’ see you no more?
How can you stay? The southern question of travel makes a joyful noise and moves slowly in awareness. Now
we can speculate on the relay of our common activity, make a circle round our errant roots. Dancing is what
we make of falling. Music is what we make of music’s absence, the real presence making music underneath.
I’m exhausted so my soul is rested.
[from “hard enough to enjoy”]
This poem is saturated in air, where the dancer lives, breathing and yelling in similar fashions. What arrives is situated in an open field of possibility for tight and loose performance, the best of a freed-up art. Moten goes in for the feel behind the movement, as he is so openly moved in wanting affirmation:
Our clearing is partrolled as a series of air, spirals in conjunction made by pointed running. It was affirmation
where we learned how to talk by walking pointedly, to organize air offstride by tapping, like a lion. My touch,
my mouth all fixed to say these words, my listening in winter, my mirror glancing. Big-eyed cartoon, all this in
there as an audible surface that my eye wants to help you think about as you feel me. Feel me? That’s why I
always ask if you feel me. Because I know you feel me. I ask you if you feel me because I know you feel me.
[from “”hard enough to enjoy”]
The clearing is a grid and not a grid. The endless associations of character and place are finally internalized and aptly felt. It’s where all of a space or place’s particles become a living structure. Moten’s structure is created of lines like 2 x 4s, made of listing and listening. He is doubly a poet of projection and interior, intellectual and benevolent in his pursuit of a “beautiful proof of concept.”
The Little Edges is available at City Lights Bookstore or wherever good poetry books are sold, published by Wesleyan in 2015. Fred Moten was a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry in 2014 for The Feel Trio, published by Letter Machine Editions.