Matter by Bin RamkeFew things are as delightfully overwhelming as the ceaseless, heartbreaking webs of possibility and verse that Bin Ramke whirls. In an interview in February of last year, Ramke foretold the strange magics employed in his most recent book, Matter. Preparing to write this review, I had to dig the thing up from its sloppy filing. For all the cerebral acrobatics the book suggests, Ramke makes no mystery of his game. (Unfortunately, the interview is not available online -- seek out the February 2004 issue of The Writers Chronicle.) What is so useful about the interview is that Ramke really promotes the theory of his work, over the work itself. Or rather: he suggests that his work is simply a continuation of a tradition (one that breaks from other traditions) that honors language in a most democratic and tender mode. Or rather: that is not something he says; I say that. Ramke is elegantly modest -- you can hear it even in his slight syntax. The point of all this is: I find myself using that old interview to articulate what I think Ramke is doing here. And by here, I mean, in this book, but I suppose I also mean, here, on earth, with the rest of us chumps. You see, Bin Ramke is quite concerned with those littlest meanings.
So, to begin: Ramke does something he half refers to as “sampling,” or “collaging.” He uses other bits of language in their various modes -- as pieces in and out of original context (to spice up his own diction), as starting points of earnest and odd information, as clarification, as mystification, as definition, as further reading material. Magic tricks, really. Ramke also believes the land between reading and writing to be nothingness, a slip of time/space without any territory. His “Big Bang” theory of reading is, in short: the only true way to read is to read all words ever written at the same moment, so as to garnish all the usages/meanings/contexts of all words in their true place -- amongst all other words. Impossible. “[W]riting... is a tiny version of the large impossibility, is a reading of a few words which are given their chance, their opportunity to reverberate in the implied presence of all previous usages.” That’s from the interview. From the book:
My right handed mother cuts
paper my mother in the night cutting
patterns my sister wearing paper
in the night the needles glitter
the pins hold the paper on my sister
herself in the night holding
in the night a writing
a darkening delivers us
a darkness then a dawn
And later on:
The Leo House a place I would stay in New York when I was young
and poor and could sleep under a Jesus nailed there was a man
next door in 4-J “My name is Forget -- for jay -- a room for a tryst.
What’s my name? Don’t forget.”
It is undeniably beautiful that mirror, miracle, and smile are derived from
word -- anyone can see that. There was no mirror in that room, few smiles.
Ramke also believes language to be a collaborator. When you pluck things here and there, and try them out in new, unfit spaces, you really have language to thank for the lovely results. Language carries with it all sorts of allusion, illusion, delusion. It is, by no means, a controlled variable. In fact, the only control in Bin Ramke’s grand experiment is the fact of reading. Poet as wordsmith. Tinkerer. Time-bender. This is really cool stuff. I guess a poetry book with an opening inscription from Philip K. Dick must be a little trippy.
When I mentioned Ramke’s webs, I meant: all words in the book are informed by all other words in the universe. Okay. Got it. But then: all words in the book are informed to the second or third power by their context in different moments in the book. The word doll, for example, occurs and then re-occurs with such strangeness that I begin to see dolls in every line. When Krishna’s mom asked him to open his mouth so that she might inspect it for mud she’d heard he’d eaten while playing, he obliged. As she peered in, she experienced a vertigo like no other. In the little god’s mouth was all of eternity -- all things past, present, and future. The whole/hole of all consciousness. This a bit of what happens when you try to wrap your mind around Ramke’s work. Wrap becomes warp. (A little play, as gesture.) It is not even such hard work. It’s much more psychedelic than that.
All memory in Matter is a sensation. And all sensation is a record. This book is about all the wonderful things that poetry books are about—sadnesses, hindsight, introspection, glories, imagination. But it is also about the flimsiness of reality, and lanaguage’s role in tearing at it. Ramke is arguing, through his finely wrought tinkers, that the stains that things (ha! thing, another loaded word) make (words, our lives) are documentation of all other stains. Like stories, but weirder. An utterance is a claim. Chemistry is history. Words are consciousnesses. Little dolls to be dragged around childhood and sadly fondled in the backs of taxis. It is all just so impossible. Bin Ramke’s game is played with all wild cards, shuffled and arranged to reflect all that sensual impossibility. “When I was a saint I did not have visions but I could see and did note the color of the world -- mainly gray, variations on dirt. It’s ok, you can live here.”
Matter by Bin Ramke
Kuhl House Poets