1

Duckwalking but no guitar.

______________________________________________________________________________________
(The powerpoint thing won't be in-synch with me. It's there as a diversion and to give you
a glimpse of the book & parts of this poem while I make my wildly digressive great
extrapolations)
This is a response to a poem not an anlysis of it ...
___________________________________________________________________________________


This is Kevin Davies on the politics of avant-garde poetry -

"I'm totally agnostic about the ability of unpopular verse to affect change in
the political world. I just don't believe it. I don't think for a second, oh, here I
am striking a blow against capital. Political change is not made by the
choices that we're making in verse. We're doing this so that certain
possibilities can exist in the world. So that works of art can exist,
temporarily, and they'll certainly bear traces of our political vision because if
they don't they're no good." (a)

*start slide show here

I really like the other parts of The Golden Age of Paraphernalia more than
'Duckwalking a Perimeter' because I find them easier to receive. But I
decided to look at 'Duckwalking a Perimeter' because I couldn't immediately
or easily figure it out. I followed the poem, kind of greedily, as it rapidly and
unexpectedly shifted scenes and moods. But it seemed, at times, perplexing
in its nano-moments of machismo or hubris - even though they can be read
as subversive, undermining or perhaps ironic. 'Ironic or not?' is one of the
questions the poem provokes. 'Yes or No' is one answer.


2
Does it make sense? :


*

The typeface on the book's front cover is gravestone type. Open face capital
letters are filled in with a kind of golden amber colour like inlaid brass. A
couple of headstones peep over the hillock at the bend in the road, plastic
flowers are sitting untidily plonked on a grave on the right.

*

Like 'Congested Space' the picture of an overloaded house in the beginning
of the book, the myriad scenes and images here roll past, are registered, and
pile up, mostly unexamined. I'm accommodating the style and the turns and
trails and by the time I get to this penultimate poem my cognitive cells are
probably too buffeted, exhausted or overstimulated to make intelligible
connections beyond my particular bias and poetic influences. What is
comprehended? Like the stack of disused articles leaning against the front
wall of the house, and the sign 'Private Road. Keep Out!', the poem seems to
read 'Rational Meaning Keep Out!'?

*

The 'Contents' page is confounding. The first section's title, 'Floater', is
within single quotation marks within double quotation marks. For the first
three sections of the book there are symbols - a vertical line, a bullet dot and
3
a plural hash symbol in the place of conventional page numbers. Bullet-dots
are inevitably associated with Power Point, the vertical line is used in maths
to denote absolute value and in the UNIX computer system it's called a 'pipe'
and is an organisational command marker or cursor.(b) The semiotics of these
ciphers take some time to figure out as you approach reading the book.
Kevin Davies has set up, before you've read a word of a poem, a kind of
anti-book book.

The ciphers appear throughout the book as visual cues, separators and
markers and, possibly, connectors. The sections aren't titled - so you just go
by the ciphers and page numbers. There are five poems in the book. The
page-numbered sections halt the course of the third poem, and go off into
long digressions until, in each digressive instance, the poem resumes straight
afterwards. (if you follow me).

The duckwalker speaks:
'I began to cut away my unneeded giblets and to tear up my copy of the
contract.'

*

Although luck might operate (and, in poetry, it usually does) I think there's
nothing really random in this poem. The poem is classically absurd. A
parameter of the poem is that although it appears to set them up, it follows
no rules of narrative. In fact it flagrantly disregards narrative, and any
traditions, new or old, as it critiques them. It leaps out of context,
recombines grand tales into a long montage from news articles, from a
4
wodge of utterance, from the mesmerising telereality of a triumphant
contemporary telecracy (c) and all the time deploys edgy poetic language in a
universal struggle with or against power and its favourite son, war. The
syntax, however, is perfect. It reads sensibly, it 'makes sense', even as cutups
and wreckage -

'it looked like random litter but it spelled out a message'

Overall, this poem is, in a word, 'disobedient'.

*

That brings Alice Notley to mind - another anarchic, coded writer, though
utterly different in style and, most likely, method, from Kevin Davies. She
has written the book-length long poem 'Disobedience' . In her essay 'The
Poetics of Disobedience'(d) she says -
"For a long time I've seen my job as bound up with the necessity of
noncompliance with pressures, dictates, atmospheres of, variously, poetic
factions, society at large, my own past practices as well." (e)

*

Does 'Duckwalking a Perimeter' 'catch the interrogative'? :
Kevin Davies says -
You won't often catch me in the interrogative.
Enjoy this moment,
Sunny Jim. For I am as
5
the cranberries in one's oatmeal, ...
& then, in a flash the poem's off to the next proposition or question.

Canadian-ness might apply. Kevin Davies is originally from Vancouver and
has lived in the USA for some years. So I'd say that he reads the USA, a
super power, even if, economically, a weakened one, from a partially out-of-
whack curiosity and experience. For instance, Canada, like Australia, New
Zealand and the UK, is still hanging in there as a welfare state. The USA
seems not to be. And although the neo-con influence is universal, Canada is
yet different enough from the United States to influence a poet's insight.
There are many brief notations of US history, bureaucracies and policies
appearing like fast, illuminated signs or jolts throughout the poem. Because
this is a quick response, not a lengthy appraisal, I'll offer only a couple of
samples -

from the poem:
'You have taken all of the fun from statistical
analysis with your constant harping upon the feral
children of Oregon'

Founded in 1991, 'Children First' is Oregon’s child advocacy organization
committed to improving the lives of vulnerable children and families.
Quote: '..it is an entrepreneurial catalyst that brings critical community
partners together to get better outcomes for children and families. It is the
Commission's vision that all Oregon's children and youth will be safe,
healthy, well-educated, employable, and valued contributors to their
communities... '
6
Australians will hear an echo - Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1987 said "By
1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty". He has publicly regretted
saying it.
In Oregon, Kevin Davies knows there'll be ferals.

*

The poem's rapidity of cascading alterations might suggest a rhetorician on
speed, a jittery anxiety arising from the familiar everyday globalised fuck-
ups of dominant ideologies, but its impression or effect is never fleeting.
Reading it I can assemble my own kind of semantic coherence.


*

In a segment recounting a context of oppression, of having been trapped,
where

A riot of dull hues enhances the game room of our faction.
These rare bits of happiness must go unregistered...

& further - Kulaks present an instance that's expressly sardonic.

'Yet,

if one's not mistaken, the kulaks were insufficiently suppressed.'
7

The Kulaks were independent farmers in the Russian Empire emerging from
the peasantry to become wealthy following land ownership reform in 1906.
The Kulaks were class enemies of the poorer peasants. Vladimir Lenin
described them as "bloodsuckers, vampires, plunderers of the people and
profiteers, who fatten on famine."

When Stalin took power in the Soviet Union, he had a policy of
collectivisation. But communist policies repeatedly failed, and supply
problems became endemic. A scapegoat had to be found. The Kulaks were
blamed for recalcitrance and officials violently seized Kulak farms and
murdered resistors.

A campaign of deportation was begun. Kulaks were
transported to Siberia, which was bad enough. However, many were simply
dumped in the middle of nowhere, without food, supplies, or resources of
any kind. Millions of Kulaks died.
My sneaky, overt political facts :
In July 2012 the U.S. government wanted to introduce various agricultural
reforms -small ones like requiring commercial drivers licenses for all farm
equipment operators, like tractor drivers. They were opposed with the
rallying cry 'We're all Kulaks now'. In September Barack Obama was
compared to Josef Stalin by the head of Americans-for-Tax-Reform who
suggested Obama planned mass political repression in his government's
efforts to tax the rich. He tweeted - “Obamas ‘new’ strategy to divide
America: Get the Kulaks."
'Yet,
8

if one's not mistaken, the kulaks were insufficiently suppressed.'
*

A perimeter - a boundary edge to be guarded, stealthily tiptoed around or
simply a rim like a horizon - a path or line around what? Whatever, Kevin
Davies' poem duckwalks it. Duckwalking deflates and displaces heroism and
is also a very funny way for a human being to ambulate and especially funny
if you're a warden or sentinel on the perimeter.

Here, then, in the hubristic enclosure :
'When it comes time to measure cocks however they are yes missing!
A general hunt’s ordered, dogs and horses, great leaps over hedges.
Disaffected German mercenaries form the bulk of the forward troops.'

The perimeter of capitalism, militarism, communism, boys-own machismo,
blokey masculinity, totalitarianism - all subverted by duckwalking.

I don't think though that the poem is overtly or intentionally "political" in the
sense of a jejune, straightforward ideal of seeking, via poetry, to effect
change or to protest against political power. I've quoted Kevin Davies saying
that that's not what he does.


*

9
Slim Pickens, the actor who rode the nuclear bomb in Dr Strangelove , was
rumoured to not know that the film was satirical. In this poem he is a symbol
of individualism -

'Be, an army of one
big onion soup mix suddenly
available through the agency of World Bank-sponsored microloans. Slim
Pickens’ ruthless
climb to the middle of the character-
actor heap – the bizarre codicils of his will.'

I willingly follow this digression :

After Slim Pickens died in 1990, a document was found in a small diamond-
studded box bearing the signature 'SP' in his handwriting. It reads in part:

"Gosh darnit, this here's a great day! It ain't every day that I get a hankerin'
to fetch a crayon and write me a story. But when I does, I does. I set a spell
with Old Henry last week and spun a few yarns. Old Henry is my bosom
buddy from long years ago. Now me and Old Henry get to talkin 'bout
politics and we argue almost clean thru till the moon shines about them
Demmycrats. When I die I'm fixin to leave all my bank accounts to the
liberal Republicans so's they can get a feller elected president who is at least
a little smarter than me and Henry.

' – the bizarre codicils of his will.'

10
*

The poem's digressions prompt a simultaneity of digressions as I read it. Or,
in other words, this is what I think about as I make my own digressions -

2007 - this poem is pre-Obama. There had already been six years of drones
but also plenty of on-the-ground weapon, humvee and tank combat. Fifteen-
plus technology war years - laser guided bombs and cruiser missiles - smart
bombs - obedient bombs. In the Gulf War and in Iraq.

Drones - Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American inventor and electrical
engineer, described a fleet of unmanned aerial combat vehicles as early as
1915. Incredible - like science fiction.
Now, a man in an everyday khaki army uniform, not camouflage combat
fatigues, drives from home to work to direct unmanned aerial vehicles -
drones - to undertake surveillance and, possibly, to kill before his lunch
break. Interviewed on tv, he says "I can go home at night to my wife and
kids, where I play the role of happy loving father". He's a playstation fighter
pilot. Training in drone strike at a desktop is for a mere nine hours.
"...the use of predator drones were much lauded coups for Obama. ... a
President who received the Nobel Peace Prize during the first year of his
presidency." (g)
For eight years, the USA refused to discuss drone strikes on Pakistan. Now,
the secret that we knew about anyway, is officially out of the bag. For
instance, US drones targeted Pakistani rescuers responding to strike sites and
then, the mourners at subsequent funerals.
11

When the great heroic mythological warrior Hector appears in the poem the
duckwalker is not threatened :
'Get your hands up Hector, I ain’t foolin!'

*


Are there enough jokes in 'Duckwalking a Perimeter'? :

Yes, the entire poem is 'grimly hilarious' and has many dark, bleak jokes -

'Fill in this space with whatever occurs to you under torture'


'They call this art?
I came here to see faltering players killed in the midst
of their indecision, not hear random explanations
by retired fat guys drunk on power and vodka.'

'A stylized, hypnotic performance of the data is all we ever
were, right?'


*

12

To stretch an application, Kevin Davies' poetry can be read as a situationist
détournement. Détournement creates anti-statements. It is the fluid language
of anti-ideology. Détournement upends the game, turns the tables. It's a
device that restores subversive qualities to past critical judgements that have
congealed into repectable truths. Needless to say, many of the lines in Kevin
Davies' poems are plagiarised. Or, rather, they are détourned.

And in my deviations or digressions - Dr Strangelove, drones, Barack
Obama, the Australia-US Joint Defence Facility, Pine Gap's, role in US
drone strikes - I am, in a way, 'détourning' Kevin Davies' poem.

*
'The Golden Age of Paraphernalia' is a cogent, critical report on the cultural
dystopia of this technologically modified and reappropriated world. The
book has no blurb, no platitudinous praising endorsements. Everything is
open to the reader to determine. 'Duckwalking a perimeter' is a
consolidation of the delinquent disposition of the entire poem.
*
"I'm totally agnostic about the ability of unpopular verse to affect change in
the political world. I just don't believe it. I don't think for a second, oh, here I
am striking a blow against capital. Political change is not made by the
choices that we're making in verse. We're doing this so that certain
possibilities can exist in the world. So that works of art can exist,
temporarily, and they'll certainly bear traces of our political vision because if
they don't they're no good."
13
Notes:
a. Kevin Davies quoted by US critic and academic, the real Steve Evans in The
Disobedient Poetics of Determinate Negation, Poetry Project Newsletter, 2004

b. a vertical line is a 'pipe' in Unix sytems -
Joshua Clover - Autumn of the System: Poetry and Finance Capital - paper for
Modern Languages Association, San Francisco, 28 Dec. 2008
Tim Wright - a conversation in Alexandria, Sydney, 16th February 2012

c. telecracy - 'the unprecedented victory of the champion of telecracy over
representative democracy's man, the triumph of audience ratings over universal suffrage.'
Paul Virilio - Ground Zero, London New York;Verso, 2002 (page 30)

d. Alice Notley - paper written for a conference on Contemporary American and
English Poetics, held at King's College London, Centre for American Studies, on
February 28, 1998

e. The real Steve Evans has also identified disobedience in Kevin Davies' poetry in
The Disobedient Poetics of Determinate Negation, Poetry Project Newsletter, 2004

f. At the time of his death in 1991, Slim Pickens owned the following property:
Two ranches in East Texas
Two savings accounts containing $20,000 each
A plow and a mule
1600 shares of Texaco Stock

a further codicil :
"My no good son Charles is a sap suckin son of a swine and I ain't leavin' him a dadgum
thing. My daughter, the one at Harvard (wherever the hell that is), is to get the rest of my
real estate including the ranch in East Texas. My other daughter is to get $600 to buy
herself some fair to midlin whiskey so she will learn not to be so uptight at social
occasions. Loosen up, Ethel, baby and tie one on!"

g. MUFTAH web site, www.muftah.org

h. P.W. Singer, Wired for War, New York; Penguin Books, 2010

n.b. Détournement by Debord & Wolman: http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/detourn.htm
(thanks, in part, to McKenzie Wark's book The Beach Beneath the Street and to Guy Debord, bien sur.)







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