Faded Script

Erica Hunt - Ecstasy (1'46"), from Arcade, mp3. As I suspect will happen often as this experiment unfolds, I have no print version of Erica Hunt's "Ecstasy" to refer to and check my impressions against. But after repeated listens and some untrained gazing at a spectrogram of Hunt's voicing of it (for which I used a free download called Audacity), I hear the poem as consisting of twenty-one lines clustered into five stanzas.

The most sustained and rhetorically-intricate stanza is the first, which envisions the departure from self, the ecstasy, specific to aging: the somatic palimpsest grows ever more illegible, the origins of the damage done us become increasingly obscure, our scars mutely refer to "no accident we can recall." This seven-line, twenty-five second riff includes an alliterative run (on stressed "f"-initial syllables) in the second line, a clever, half-audible eye-rhyme on "age" and "package" between lines one and two, a Creeley-esque internal rhyme matching "the scar of it" to the middle syllable of "accident" in line four, all delivered in a brisk vibrant voice. The passage culminates (after a brief pause following line six) on a note of heightened lyricism: "in the dark theater we embrace a faded script." Not until the final line of the poem will anything so detached and dramatic—so "poetic"—be heard again.

What happens next dismantles the elevated tone brilliantly: an unsteady, slightly panicked voice tremulously blurts out the words "I can't explain it." The mode of address shifts so drastically that upon first hearing the phrase, it can seem as though Hunt has looked up from her text and directed a puzzled remark about it to her listener. But the themes are continuous with the first stanza: aging returns as the speaker finds herself, inexplicably, "fully grown." The "faded script" embraced in stanza one is a page looked up from in stanza two. After nine seconds of the bewilderment induced by rapid changes in temporal scale (adulthood endures but an hour), an assertive tone reappears in the third stanza, as the speaker boasts of her semiotic acumen in tracing meaning "even as it stands zigzag at the sheer edges of sight." The final line of the stanza defies transcription (by my ear at least), but even in its slightly blurred state I hear an echo of Hart Crane's "rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene."

The fourth stanza rhymes with the second in its brevity and in the expressive voicing Hunt adopts for the last three words of the line: "instead of planning beauty, I, as they say, let it happen." The decision to postpone the verb phrase by inserting "as they say" is an interesting one in itself; hearing the throaty whisper it keeps momentarily at bay makes it even more so.

The three lines of the closing stanza return to and revise key elements from the statement "I...let it happen": the verb "let" recurs in imperative form, the personal pronoun returns as "eyes" that "connect the dots," the vocalic kernel of the I/eyes homophone repeats when the "air" is said to "connive with the invisible." The last line brings us back to the titular emotion, now personified as a sightless, tattered figure, a kind of Cupid in decline: "Ecstasy is blind and moves on wings, torn feathers."

WPSI Reading and Conversation with Charles Bernstein; recorded 20 June 2005 . More Hunt at PENNSound. • XML feed here. • Elsewhere on Third Factory: index, ensemble, nb.

[Originally posted 1 August 2005]

Monday -- 18 December 2006 -- permalink

The Lipstick of Noise is a product of the Third Factory • Inspired by the music blogs • And by Paul Blackburn's reel-to-reel deck. Intending to make good use of PENNSound and other sources of digital audio files of poetry • Comments welcomeXML.