Exile and Exegesis


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This pdf begins theoretical and critical inquiry into the books of American poet Adam Fieled, from collections like Before the Sun Rises, Meta-Notes, and Phenomenology : Cheltenham Elegies. Cover by Caravaggio.

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Exile and Exegesis Adam Fieled


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Preface One thing this pdf points to is the self-conscious adoption, by me, of the role of a kind of Renaissance Man of literature: I write the books, and then proceed, in the manner of Wordsworth, to create the taste by which they are to be read. The irony of this imbroglio, in 2015, is that literature in the Western world, outside my own endeavor, has fallen into a rather pitiful trough of sloth, greed, mediocrity, and thoughtlessness. For me to add to, rather then subtract from, the responsibilities of a thoughtful author (and “responsibility” is a substantial Wordsworth critical motif as well), would seem to cut so ludicrously against the grain of the 2015 Zeitgeist as to be senseless. On the other hand, what Wordsworth would have made of the Internet, as an egalitarian realm offering unprecedented support and opportunity for literary thoughtfulness, is difficult to say. In any case, the point is moot: I and this mystery here we stand, and the clear, sweet mystery is how to break in the United States, from Philadelphia on out, as a country developed enough to withstand major high art consonant literature from within its own borders, imposters, press drivellers, cranks, drug dealers, and “oppers” in general be damned. This essential strategy: taking the broadly performative, and doing more, rather than less: is hinged on the idea of building both a repertoire of literary skills and a stout body of work to subsist along with it, remaining mindful of striking while the iron is hot. That the iron is hot is also strange; that, despite the mediocrity and thoughtlessness within the charmed circles of English language literature, a grass roots following has developed around my books and the other Philly Free School artists, so that this arrow is not being shot into empty space. I am proud to witness the transformations which are incrementally creeping up on the American literary and art establishment, even as we have spawned many imitators (especially in New York), whose rapaciousness and vacuity know no bounds. It has to be said that, in the current conflict, if PFS is to succeed against the establishment, it is because, as was not generally known, a sector of the United States population has been waiting patiently for serious art, high art, “the heavy stuff,” to break through the muck of scripted inanity, faux-rigor in the conceptual, and obvious insipidity to break through in a dramatic, permanent crescendo. That crescendo is in the middle of happening. And so, as I ease the Renaissance Man burden onto my


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back, it is with the sense that there is a reason and a purpose, a contextual one, for doing so, and that my and our work cannot be overlooked by the gate-keepers of the media and the entrenched American institutions forever. What I am initiating is all-encompassing in its ambition; and you, as a reader, can determine yourself from this pdf whether my ambition has a sturdy foundation in literary truth or if it does not. Adam Fieled 3-19-15


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Phenomenology : Cheltenham Elegies Adam Fieled


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The process of critical comparison in literature reveals and adumbrates, over a long expanse of time, that in the interstices between works of literary art, of perhaps equal value, a system of compensations binds and fastens comparison and chiasmus. When positing the Cheltenham Elegies in relation to Keats‟ Odal Cycle, and bearing in mind the preponderant strength and subtlety of Keats‟ prosody, I would like to suggest this compensatory chiasmus for the Elegies— just as Keats‟ prosody not only vivifies the Odes but justifies the entire Odal endeavor, the Cheltenham Elegies are vivified and justified by the exquisite tensions and dramatic intimacies between the specific characters who populate them. Keats‟ Odes, it must be iterated, are populated by no specific person other than the Odal protagonist— the intimacy between this protagonist and Art and Nature must suffice. The intimacies thus explored are Platonic intimacies. As human drama must compensate for metrical sublimity in the Elegies, what should be sublime in them are the intricate complexities (scaffolding again) between the characters, and the sense of crescendo/decrescendo inhering in the miniaturized dramas which unfold and coalesce from line to line, and from (as certain characters are carried over) from Elegy to Elegy. The precise substitution is humanism for formalism— and heightened psychological acuity for heightened diction. Poets and critics are free to decide, in their own systems of compensation, which counts for more, within the context of poetry, rather than in drama, philosophy, or literary criticism itself. The phenomenological aspect of the Odes— what, as textually represented, is outside of Keats‟ mind and what remains locked inside— is matched, in the Elegies, by a sense or panoply of multiplications around the myriad characters who inhabit them— that phenomenological inquiry, when applied to more than one represented psyche, especially applied in a simultaneous fashion, manifests its own bewildering complexity, and must be approached (on a critical level) with a certain amount of caution and restraint. Thus, I will not yet venture towards the sorts of appraisals I have already visited upon the Odal Cycle— I will only assert that the Elegiac protagonist (so to speak), in making (in each Elegy) a series of textual, narrative-thematic bifurcations (as in, with every introduced character we see manifested another cognitive interior and exterior), creates and orchestrates a circumscribed textual universe or cosmic egg, in which phenomenological matter changes form, ascends or descends, without


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ever altering the basic imperative drives of an individual, individuated human psyche, as a smaller egg contained and encompassed within the larger cosmic one. If prosody, commensurate with Keats‟, is not there to lend grace and beauty to the production, what is? To paraphrase Grecian Urn, the beauty of the Elegies is all in their truthfulness— that by channeling the deepest possible levels of human intimacy, we see, on this humanistic level, the human race revealed in totem, in a way or manner impossible in the Odes, whose prosody still signifies everything but human intimacy and interrelation. As the work on various Elegies begins, the delicate, tentative work of unraveling the phenomenological systems in the texts will gradually emerge from this early amorphousness. ………………………………………………………………………………. To introduce the inquiry into phenomenology and phenomenological interest in the Cheltenham Elegies, I would like to include, in its totality, Apparition Poem #414, which is placed early in the 2012 Blazevox print book Cheltenham: And out of this nexus, O sacred scribe, came absolutely no one. I don‟t know what you expected to find here. This warm, safe, comforting suburb has a smother button by which souls are unraveled. Who would know better than you? Even if you‟re only in the back of your mind asphyxiating. He looked out the window— cars dashed by on Limekiln Pike. What is it, he said, are you dead or do you think you‟re Shakespeare? The chiasmus and comparison with Keats‟ Odes: the preponderant weight, in the Elegies, of humanism over formalism and drama over prosody establishes that the Elegiac Protagonist consolidate an identity over and against the identity of the Odal Protagonist. The “I” here is social, and brings his phenomenological biases and concerns into a social context. In 414, the Elegiac Protagonist is confronted with an Antagonist who sets into motion his own phenomenological interest or gambit. As per this phenomenological movement— the Antagonist in


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414 maintains the conceit that he has made cognitive boundaries dissolve and has entered, and is speaking from within, the Elegiac Protagonist‟s mind (“Who would know better than you?/ Even if you‟re only in the back of/ your mind asphyxiating”). His conceits are thus multiple— first, that such a cognitive break-in is possible— that, by a phenomenological movement, one human mind can break into and inhabit another with authority— second, that the Antagonist has successfully jumped into and inhabited the mind of the Elegiac Protagonist— third, that he has not only broken into but (Zen) mastered this mind. He is magically in possession not only of his mind, but of someone else‟s. In 414, tensions and ambiguities around this phenomenological confrontation are left open and unresolved— to what extent the Antagonist has (Zen) mastered the Protagonist‟s mind is not addressed. The truth, were it aired, might be quantifiable— as in, his mind is 50% mastered, or 60 or 70— but we are left to surmise these calculations for ourselves. It is also important to remember that this attempted cognitive break-in works as a metaphor for Cheltenham itself, both as an external, physical reality and as, on a phenomenological level, a mindscape for the Protagonist. The phenomenological reality of Cheltenham, for individuals, is that it is a dystopia of hostile aggression and violence, but also (conversely) of the mind‟s enchantment with darkness, deterioration, and decay. The included concrete detail, of cars dashing by on Limekiln Pike, fulfills a specific function in the Elegy— it breaks the phenomenological tension (whether the Antagonist speaks from within the Protagonist‟s mind or not), and enumerates how an enclosed circuit (mind to mind) has been broken by an impersonal, outside the mind reality (cars, Limekiln Pike), demonstrating as well the obdurate hardness of outside the mind realities (the drabness of cars and of Limekiln Pike), and that the Antagonist now (rightly or wrongly) feels himself moved back into his own mind. Important with Keats: his outside the mind realities are almost always beautiful, conventionally enchanting ones (forests, mountains, birds, trees, etc). Outside the mind realities in the Cheltenham Elegies tend to be cold, hard, eerie, or even repulsive ones; but redeemed by superior truthfulness as regards humanity and the human condition. Back to 414: once the attempted cognitive break-in ends, and the phenomenological tension (mind against mind) disperses, a sense of discretion is restored to the vignette. That the final interrogative iteration more or less concedes non-mastery is significant— and once again, because the answer to the question is


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left unspoken, the ambiguities and tensions of phenomenological combat (who is more inside the other‟s head) are left intact. ……………………………………………………………………………….. In Elegy 261, there is a preponderant weight affixed to outside the mind realities (initially), and the imposition of outside the mind realities on the interior terrain of innocent kids: Never one to cut corners about cutting corners, you spun the Subaru into a rough U-turn right in the middle of Old York Road at midnight, scaring the shit out of this selfdeclared “artist.” The issue, as ever, was nothing particular to celebrate. We could only connect nothing with nothing in our private suburban waste land. Here‟s where the fun starts— I got out, motherfucker. I made it. I say “I,” and it works. But Old York Road at midnight is still what it is. I still have to live there the same way you do. In an American suburb like Cheltenham, the landscape is mostly occupied by nothingness places— homogenized, generic strip malls and thoroughfares, along with neighborhood after neighborhood of undistinguished, unattractive homes, parks, and schools. It is an outside the mind reality of entrenched nothing and nothingness— places which not only mean nothing to anyone, but which were specifically designed and manufactured to mean nothing to anyone— hostile places for kids with brains and imagination. Old York Road is the archetypal suburban pivot point— supporting commerce, facilitating different forms of traffic, but generic enough to guarantee that cognitive-affective attachment to Old York Road is extremely unlikely for those who use it. Connecting nothing with nothing, in 261, manifests the process by which the human mind, surrounded by nothing and nothingness outside the mind realities (soulless realities), internalizes nothingness also as an interior reality; having, under the weight of perpetual imposition, no choice but to do so. Once the nothingness of the suburban landscape is internalized, the mind‟s affective and imaginative capacities grow numb, and subsist in a state of dormant torpor. When the hero/anti-hero of 261 pulls his rough


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u-turn in Old York Road, it is both to demonstrate rebellion against internalized nothingness and to (by risking death) express complicity with it. It is an ambiguous gesture, which also encompasses expression of an internal landscape incompletely homogenized with Cheltenham‟s outside the mind tactility. This is why, ultimately, 261 is a poem about, and Elegy for, brotherhood— neither character is so absorbed and assimilated into nothingness (Cheltenham) that a sense of humanity is lost, and the drama of the poem inheres of watching the Elegiac Protagonist connect (as an inversion) the “something” of bold-if-foolhardy rebellion against nothingness with the something of his own artistic triumph. Whether the hero/anti-hero has established an “I” which “works” we cannot determine. What we see, by the end of the twelfth line, is both triumphant and tragic— it is inferred that nothingness, when internalized at a young age, is impossible to completely eradicate in human consciousness— thus, the Elegiac Protagonist still lives, on an internal cognitive-affective level, in a space vulnerable to nothingness. Over the course of the Elegy, we watch as Old York Road begins outside the mind and makes a phenomenological transition inside, moves from physical to metaphysical textual subsistence— and signifies identical nothingness realities in both realms. Likewise, between the two friends, the drama is initiated in physical reality and dissolves into a metaphysical or phenomenological drama between two interiors— who has managed to expel, and thus transcend, the most nothingness, and who has manifested more presence in the world. The Fancy-equivalent in this Elegy (to lasso in Keats‟ terminology) is this phenomenological dissolution from outside the mind into the mind‟s interior (a confrontation, rather than a break-in as in 414), from the physical into the metaphysical (especially as regards Old York Road, what it is), and the felt truthfulness of this dissolution, even if (as in 414), we complete the Elegy surrounded by unresolved tensions and ambiguities (never learning the current “location,” inside or outside, of the hero/anti-hero), and the omnipresence of the banal. ……………………………………………………………………………. In Cheltenham Elegy 412, what surfaces is the phenomenological reality of ghosts (apparitions or phantom presences), and the unsettling sense that they can reside either inside or outside the mind, be attached to persons or places, and (possibly) inhabit multiple entities at once:


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Each thinks the other a lonesome reprobate. That‟s what I guess when I see the picture. It‟s Elkins Park Square on a cold spring night; they‟re almost sitting on their hands. One went up, as they say, one went down, but you‟ll never hear a word of this is Cheltenham. They can‟t gloat anymore, so they make an art of obfuscation. That‟s why I seldom go back. Elkins Park Square is scary at night. There are ghosts by the ice skating rink. The first hinge to our discourse, and chiasmus to/with Keats‟ Odes, is 412‟s partial resemblance to Grecian Urn— that, in the Elegy, the Elegiac Protagonist is presented with an inanimate object (a photograph) which contains a representation of human life. A photograph, like Keats‟ Grecian Urn, is an objective, outside the mind reality— and what we get, in contrast to Keats‟ enchanted forest, is the dinginess and haunted decay of Elkins Park Square, further made lurid by the assumed coldness of the temperature when the photograph was taken. The phenomenological leap is made by the Elegiac Protagonist into the photograph— he attempts to inhabit the minds of both represented figures (who are ghostly in their physical absence from the Elegy itself), and conjectures, from the phenomenological “break-in,” that both accuse the other of both isolation and lawlessness. Meanwhile, Keats‟ leap into the mind of the “fair youth” reveals only ease, comfort, and engaged sensuality— a sense of timelessness within sensuality as well. If the “fair youth” is a phantom ghost/phantom presence, he is redeemed by the vainglorious conceit of inclusion within the parameters of art and major high art consonance; first, by those who built the urn; second, by Keats‟ memorializing of the urn in a later era. The two antagonists in the Elkins Park Square photograph are redeemed by nothing; we learn that one has managed to find a place in the world against the other, but the details of the situation are caught and clipped by “coldness” and amorphousness. The Elegiac Protagonist demonstrably has back-knowledge of the situation between the antagonists, and is on intimate terms with their strife (while Keats‟ intimacy with his “fair youth” is suspect); but the photograph freezes for eternity the essential mystery of a beleaguered situation (why the Protagonist must “guess”), and the situation and the mystery themselves


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become ghosts, as does Elkins Park Square and Cheltenham itself, as a phenomenological, as well as a physical, reality. As we continue to interrogate 412, the mysteries, and the ghosts hewn into the mysteries, multiply— who is it that the Elegiac Protagonist is talking to, who is showing him this picture and demanding a reaction? Is it an Antagonist, as in 414, a competitive brother, as in 261, or some other combination of sensibilities and motives? The sense that the Protagonist is surrounded on all sides by phantom presences is difficult not to discern— whether in the photograph, showing him the photograph, or “ghosting” the entire scenario by having created the context out of which all these relationships and situations could have unfolded. Because the Elegiac Protagonist is beleaguered by ghosts on all sides, and the phenomenological tension of their presence, of whether they exist objectively or only within his own consciousness, it is easy to imagine why the Elegy ends with an apostrophe to the kind of nothingness Cheltenham place which generates phantom presences and apparitions— again, the fulsome, lurid banality of Elkins Park Square, and the ice skating rink which does, in fact, sit on one of its borders. What makes 412 a well-rounded experience, within all this empty space, is that all the situations and interrelationships are rendered with intensity, and with a certain intimate insight into the consciousness of the Elegiac Protagonist. Oddly enough, unlike 261 and 414, 412 ends with an outside the mind, tactile derivative image— the ice skating rink near Elkins Park Square— which can serve as a metaphor towards understanding the coldness (iciness) of apparitional life, the way it stays on the surface of things, forces interiority to objectify itself, gives concrete form to cognitive-affective desolation and abandonment. That ghosts are a phenomenological reality, objectively existing both encased in and free from human consciousness, seems to be not only a subtext but an overt theme; and the elegiac nature of the poem incises that a haunted realm like Cheltenham not only generates ghosts out of its fraudulence, pettiness, and cruelty, but makes it so that once Cheltenham is an inside the mind reality, ghosts and apparitional presences must accompany and animate it. Adam Fieled, 2015 …………………………………………………………………………


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Apparition Poems : Before The Sun Rises Adam Fieled


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In positing critical boundaries between Apparition Poems and Cheltenham: Apparition Poems has in place something Mannerist, or “Manneristic,” which differentiates it from Cheltenham and the Cheltenham Elegies. It has to do with sex, and sexuality; the sense that one Apparition Poems Protagonist is exaggeratedly sexual, a kind of James Bond figure, who traipses from sexual encounter to sexual encounter, always with women (a hetero stud, again like Bond or Brando), always with a kind of grandiose Byronic angst about the strife, confusion, agony and ecstasy he encounters in the process. The pitfalls of this textual Mannerism are much the same as the pitfalls of pictorial Mannerism: by focusing on exaggeration, the distending of literal and metaphoric limbs, the reality or Realism component of the text is diminished, and with it the sense of humanistic interest. That is why, for all their iciness, dinginess, and phenomenological turmoil, the Elegies have a hinge (for me) of being rated superior to the original Apparition Poems. It also needs to be said that Apparition Poems is a book with many facets: the meta-poems, dramatic monologues, and character sketches (including a few persona poems), all present a far less Mannerist, or “mannered” textual picture, so that the epic in fragments can continue to enumerate its turf as just that. I also want to iterate that the chiasmus between the Mannerist, sexualized poems and the metapoems, dramatic monologues, and character sketches objectifies this James Bond protagonist as he intermittently appears in the text, highlighting both his raw-nerved sensuality, its phenomenological import, and its limitations, as different audiences will construe these limitations to be drastic or not, depending on attitudes towards the Mannerist. Some sensibilities dote on exaggeration, some do not. Another chiasmus: between the James Bond version of Apparition Poems protagonist and Byron‟s two alter egos, Childe Harold and Don Juan: reveals how and where we have seen these phallocentric energies in English language poetry before. In fact, the Bond Apps protagonist is a sort of composite sketch of Childe Harold and Don Juan conflated. Childe Harold‟s exaggerated world-weariness is mixed with Don Juan‟s exaggerated libidinous innocence, and set into motion in twenty-first century Philadelphia. If we could call Byron a Mannerist, it is because he plays on his audience‟s expectations that he is willing to exaggerate circumstances and contexts in his poetry towards outrageous ends; and if Don Juan and Childe Harold do not seem particularly outrageous in 2015, it may be because even Byron‟s outrageousness was carefully


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crafted not to antagonize the substantial public which had already gravitated to his work. It is also interesting to wonder if an Apparition Poem like this, 535: I was fucking this girl in the ass, late at night, and I looked out into the parking lot across the street and moonlight glistened on the cars, I thought, that‟s it, I don‟t give a shit anymore, you can take your America, shove it up your ass just like I‟m doing here, that‟s when I came, and it was a good long one. will seem outrageous in 2215, or even if it seems outrageous now; living, as we do, in porn-besotted times, where (in porn) couples fornicate in Mannerist modes and formations, exaggerating what physical intercourse is and means against the normative. Byron wrote against the Regency England backdrop of coyness and artful evasion; yet, he manages to convey a sort of randy insouciance in his treatment of the Don Juan protagonist. In a way, it doesn‟t matter; even those who don‟t enjoy the James Bond level of Apparition Poems will see how “Bond” fits in like a puzzle piece towards a representation of both a Zeitgeist and a national psyche; even if, as I have suggested, the Cheltenham Elegies perform roughly the same job with more authority and with superior, laser-like focus. ………………………………………………………………………… Much of the book Apparition Poems was written in the middle of the night, between November 2009 and February 2010. That winter wasn‟t particularly an extreme one; and I established a regimen, in November, of going to bed early and waking up to write at around 3 am. I could do this because it was a Fellowship year for me at Temple, meaning I didn‟t have to teach. I had already passed the dread comp exams and was working on the prospectus for my dissertation. I was only on the Temple


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campus once every few weeks. So much of Apparition Poems was formed from this congeries of circumstances— waking at 3am in the dead of winter in a studio apartment at 23rd and Arch Street in Center City Philadelphia— that it seems apropos that darkness, and the middle of the night itself, be motifs in the book. Center City Philly in the middle of the night is not a conventionally attractive locale; more like a menacing one. Yet, I found in the urban darkness the cognitive enchantment of a kind of inverse grace, a force that transmuted the brutish into the beautiful, and made (in phenomenological terms) the outside the mind realities which informed the book‟s narrative-thematic levels compelling, magnetic to me. The darkness in Apparition Poems manifests both in the sex (James Bond) and in the meta-poems; it even engenders its own graceful strain in a poem like this, 1326: Before the sun rises, streets in Philly have this sheen, different than at midnight, as the nascent day holds back its presence, but makes itself felt in air like breathable crystal— no one can tell me I‟m not living my life to the full. This was written in early December 2009, and soon published in The Argotist Online. It is also worth noting that this is not the kind of poem I could have written, even in recollection mode, about Cheltenham, or in the Cheltenham Elegies. There is a dynamism in the Philly streets, even for the duration of wolf hour, which, however menacing, is inverted by sleeping Cheltenham into absolute, moribund stasis. In fact, I use the urban in Apparition Poems, specifically Philadelphia, as a metaphor for different forms and manners of dynamism, and even if the dynamism has a hinge to confrontations with mortality and conflict in general, it still generates the kinds of sparks (sexualized or not) which make it more attractive and more graceful than the desolate banality of the suburbs. That Philadelphia is an exciting landscape for me, and for different Apparition Poems protagonists, also differentiates it from Baudelaire‟s Paris, where damnation is the price to be paid for enjoyment, and the fact of the urban landscape as a “game” cannot diminish the ennui of



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