The New Bull of Meaning:
a Review of M Sarki's

Zimble Zamble Zumble

Catherine Moran

Reading M Sarki, one has the impression that the literal meaning of the poetry is somewhat hidden, below the surface, off to the side, outside the words themselves... perhaps it is within the reader's experience of reading the poem itself. It is acceptable to say of Sarki, that sometimes one understands his work "hardly at all": as Gordon Lish writes in his introduction to Zimble Zamble Zumble; "I read, when I am reading poetry, Stevens and Sarki, and understand neither one more than the other, nor either hardly at all." But perhaps not "understanding" is the key. We have already had to understand too much. The real joy is in riding the pleasant buzz between what is an essential arch and what is play in Sarki's poems.
There is a playful ambiguity in Sarki's work, a fluid middle ground in which meaning appears fabric and we can't help but feel lucky to be invited along for the ride. It's a land of choices, choices which will always yield something great if the reader is ready, aware and open. In the poem "A Winsome Jest and Behold the Giver" Sarki asks, sadly: "Others have kept themselves choiceless, haven't they?" (p.70). It is an earnest lament. Feeling that you are in a place of endless possibilities is essential. Great writing requires this, and great poetry requires this essentially. Allusions, remembrances, personal connections. . . one must be able to see the starting point and get taken from there somewhere. Great writing must take us from a place of being open to being more open, almost leaving one in a state of yearning. This is the joy of the reader's individual experience.
His writing is so effective because he cares about carefully chosen words, the bare soul of each word laid open (words picked like diamonds) and he cares about the spaces between the words (sometimes, one might guess, as much as the words themselves, as any great poet would). The minimalism, the "better filter" is omnipresent. In the poem "On the Destruction of Sentiment," Sarki asks for "a better filter." Throughout the book I found it hard to imagine what that would be. His filter, it appears, is in excellent condition. But is it not like the poet to ask anyway? To never believe your words are working well enough. The previous line in the same poem also has a universal appeal for writers "And nothing / else happens. / But this page / still churns for / the more / important / occasion." In Sarki's poems about writing one can relate to the struggle and experience the pathos. The self-imposed exile of the page is a terrain poets know well. You have to really care to find yourself marooned there.
Sarki writes beautifully about language: (p.77) In the poem "Gregori's Theater of Belief:" "finding words that ovulate" (p.77) and (p.88) in "Within the Distinction of Being" he writes: "I carry phrases. / I show them how to dance / and shake down these rigid / steppes. Many fall in the face / of my impulses. Broken. They point out the distances" and p.83 in the poem "Sitting on the Arm of Robert's Mouth": "Each word makes for another. / Giving birth. Producing new names"; or p.58 "sounds of words working together." The landscape of the writer is important throughout Sarki's poems. I can't help but think of Sarki as a "writer's writer." His work often addresses the struggles of the craft; the distances it creates between the writer and the world; trying to erase those, and the distances it creates between the writer and the people he tries to write about, the isolation and the need.
As a writer, I have to state that one of my first impressions, reading Sarki, was a great, mighty tumult of inspiration. I felt my fingers quivering for a pen, I felt hungry waves of need and want, as if a perfect poem lay hiding somewhere nearby, as if reading him could make me a better writer. As if the nearness of such great poems could force one out of me too, perhaps, just luckily by proxy.
For Sarki writing is painting, playing, throwing a ball. And with that reading, we should not be bothered by the fact that some poems we may not understand. When a poet is so capable, and writes with fun, we need not require a didactic backdrop. Sarki does not require footnotes. Although, in an attempt to understand his work more thoroughly, I have tried to look up every word I didn't know -- for example: Abysm, fovea, furdle, gotterdammerung, haytits, nasturtium, ostioles, pinions, pipits, pelicles, saxifrage, spicule, wongah) -- but I found that takes a lot of the fun out of it. Something tells me its okay to enjoy Sarki's poems read aloud -- as instances of speech, sounds that mean, even if sometimes we aren't sure exactly what they mean.
Wallace Stevens was criticized too, for obfuscating meaning in his poetry. Sarki is surely as relevant as Stevens was then and now, both modernists unhindered by didactic accompaniments to each poem. As Stevens said of his own poetry:

"My intention in poetry is to write poetry: to reach and express that which, without any particular definition, everyone recognizes to be poetry, and to do this because I feel the need of doing it.
"There is such a complete freedom now-a-days in respect to technique that I am rather inclined to disregard form so long as I am free and can express myself freely. I don't know of anything, respecting form, that makes much difference. The essential thing in form is to be free in whatever form is used. A free form does not assure freedom. As a form, it is just one more form. So that it comes to this, I suppose, that I believe in freedom regardless of form."
-- (See: Wallace Stevens: The Borzoi Reader)

That is the great joy we get with both Stevens and Sarki, "freedom regardless of form" and the freedom will always yield limitless choices -- something Sarki knows is delightful and essential in poetry. This freedom leaves us with much to interpret and a gallery of beautiful words to wander among.
For some this freedom of form can be frustrating because it leads to ambiguity -- or to too much ambiguity. But not to overstate the ambiguity claim, many of Sarki's poems I think I do understand. For example, the poem "Ofili" has a perfect arch and would be clear to any young reader. Catherine makes a mess of his kitchen, "But, listen, it is still worth / being everything at once, given your / lips. And the sap we so happily / lapsed into." (p.98). It is a love poem through and through.
If one wants to pull themes together to navigate the ambiguity there are many themes that run throughout the book. If that is the way one chooses to read Sarki. Prevalent themes are the earth and struggle. There is the man digging in the earth while the woman prunes "as a documentation of her love" from "Flaming on the Banks of the Ohio" (p.74), and from "In My Difficulties with Direction" (p.63) she is cultivating the ferns while he is left to weed. And in "Plumbing" we read: "An earthworm tunnels / toward some deepening, / down into the deepest muck, / down in the dark / below St. Augustine." Also, there is the theme of the bird throughout the book, a bird "Up in our heads / is a losing battle. . . / We follow / directives. Land even stranger vibrances." (p.92). And in "Nest" we read: "What pheasant / thought to / lift me / up this tree / to breathe / his tiny / breath of wing?" Wingless birds appear in "Borrowed from Death Row:" ". . . this rack of ribs / the culinary feature that/ exacts a clever race of birds. / Exempt of wing. Presiding / over the table. . ."
Also, the seasons run throughout the poems, the lushness and the emptiness, the blossoms so acquainted with spring, come forth in quite a few places and in "In Her Garden Coat and Dungarees" (p.72): "Their lusters smelted / by the fragrant boot / of spring." The fall: "Autumn left holding her breast" (p.13), "Autumn's gland" (p.45). And the cold metal of winter: "Why is it she settles / for this metal / in the winter" from "Powder."
The experience of reading becomes paramount, the stark effect of words on paper, words written, poetry with or without discernible meanings evident or provable. This amazing fact strikes me when reading Sarki. . . and leads me to what seems obvious: What else is there? What more do I require of poetry? Nothing. Reading should give one that buzz. . . that glow. . . two words find each other, for whatever reason, and the reader is left struck dumb with delight.
Poetry when it works, works well because it is bare, it is object, relation, feeling, effect. For example in "Filament:" "Toothbrush. / And these dandelions. / Her face laid out / on granite./ Under Umbrellas. / And this fig. / And a taller shade of stone" (p.32). This is as close to a perfect poem as I can imagine. Also witness the beautiful, romantic sensuality: ". . . and the sap we have so happily lapsed into" (from "Ofili") or sometimes crass words put right on paper as in "Hilda" (p.33): ". . . her brackish heart / equipped with gears! / -- And all this time / she stood there / dripping. / Fingered herself. . . " Here sexuality breathes anew. We are disturbed in the opening of the poem then left amused. Just as in "In Her Tuttled Marsh:" "The white frog / agog beside / her grotto / safe from that / burker of frost / climbing / up past her knees." Sexuality in Sarki's poems is a surprising turn, a flip, we are faced with frost creeping up a woman's thighs and we are left like the frog, pleasantly agog. In "Facts, and the Plaster of Chicken" he writes: "I force my body / into her colony. / Exposing my gratitude / and devour the class." Each time Sarki pulls a sexual theme into a poem it is an awesome surprise and it is twisted ever so gently so that we see it in a completely new way.
Poetry is words crafted, stuck, made to stick together even if you don't want them to. Words forced through a filter, words repositioned a thousand times, spaces rehearsed and replaced. It is work, hard work for the writer and for the reader. Far too often, the reader's role is taken away from us, too much work is done for us, we are inundated with things "spelled out for us," so seldom is any subtlety left, so seldom can one find "a new bull of meaning" to ride. We are rafts adrift in a culture of bombardment. Sexuality is a punch in the face found on every billboard, in each commercial, around each bend. Sensuality is lost under a sea of perfumed detergents and chocolate-flavor pumped air. We look to poetry to escape this. Poets like Sarki are making up for it in a big way. There is an incredibly pleasing sensuality in many of Sarki's poems. I think of "Muted Orange:" "The yellow will taste / like sponge. / Or peach. / A swatch from last winter's / circumference. /pure apricot pulp. / Of her weighted cloth. / And tree." The colors and the vivid textures stay with me, infuse this reality with his, thankfully. The world lights up again under Sarki's pen. Omnipresent synthetics are easily forgotten and color, taste, texture, sound and smell reside.
Being a sensualist I like this place best when reading Sarki. Overall, I try to resist the urge to draw the exact "meaning" out of each poem. In the end, I like getting lost in my sensory experience. And I like being turned on my head in a poem. For example in "Flight:" "He wanted to take / one last look / into the vile orifice, / and there become / their looking-glass, / waving, / with his hat, / goodbye."
Best is to find one's own way to read Sarki. The choice is always there for us. One can get lost in the sounds of the words and how they "work together" or one can see the poems for their possible "meaning" and look up every word. One can see the poems as almost surrealist or dadaist works, word plays or koans. Or like me, one can breathe in the scents, see the blossoms, laugh when he's toppled you over and walk away smiling. Any way one chooses, at worst you'll be left flipped, a bit askew, and at best you'll be inspired, invigorated, surveying the view from a new perspective, wiser, more alive, and yearning for more.

First published in a limited edition by elimae books, Zimble Zamble Zumble can now be ordered from your local or online bookstore in an edition from Authors Choice Press.

(An earlier version of this review was published in Taint Magazine.)