Catalogue of Burnt Text
Timothy David Orme
BlazeVOX Books, 2009
Reviewed by Jodi Chilson
“Self made an object as words on the page”
Catalogue of Burnt Text is a rumination of creation and absence, in which a young apprentice poet attempts to find a place for himself in the canon. In this the speaker calls on the muses—his master—to help in the writing of the work. However, in the act of writing the poet/speaker becomes poet and master both.
The poet/speaker inhabits the master’s cloak, attempts to be the poet’s own muse, and thus attempts to break the divide of the page: of the reader and writer, of the writer and speaker, and thus the master and poet: the writer and the written thing, the poet and the self.
I. Muse/Master—A Calling Forth
The master and self are called forth through the written thing. Orme writes:
ffffffffffff To Ipsentius
ffffffffffff How can I climb you down the clouds
ffffffffffff Rounding mind eye wide
ffffffffffff I call for your sight & strength
ffffffffffff No other eye through only mind do you have seams
ffffffffffff Down into & call up the one who colors the sea
ffffffffffff Sky how wide the world is
The speaker harks to Ipsentius, as master and as muse: “Oh Roman poet,” the speaker beckons, “I write to you because you are all that appeases my mind” (11).
The speaker writes to the master and through the act of writing beckons the master to exist; the act of writing engages the act of creation. The master exists because the “I” names him into existence: “I wrote you not enough—for now you only exist when I write your name.” (9).
The “you” easily could be the master, but is just as easily the self. The poet having not written the self/speaker enough on the page is in danger of losing the self, “for now you [I] only exist when I write your name” (9).
Part II: The Empty Cloak
Beginning before “Summer Song,” the work acts not only as a call to the muses but a creation song, bringing the muse, the master, into existence, so that the apprentice has a body to sing to, has a voice to reach from.
ffffffffffff “voice from throat / it begetth fathoms” (37)
ffffffffffff “space relateth into song” (37)
In this, the second part of the work becomes the vain attempt of the apprentice to sing to the master. The attempt is in vain simply because the master does not exist, and the apprentice knows clearly his creation of the master is nothing but that, an empty cloak.
The Latin phrases permeating the book act to enforce this engagement with the master; however, these phrases are, as the speaker admits:
ffffffffffff another re fffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff turn to the ancients
ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff (for solidity – or the
ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff impression thereof
“pointing out the apparent contradictions” (43). Thus, the Latin reveals the façade; the speaker/poet self-consciously reflects, including the ancients as a means of revealing the false-front of the attempt: the “impression” of “solidity.” Socrates chastises his apprentice, and thus chastises the apprentice/poet:
ffffffffffff you are trying to mislead us, […]
ffffffffffff ffffffffffffffffffff —and at the same time you have not
ffffffffffff ffffffffffffffffffff grasped the truth of the book
And through this act, perhaps it is also the reader that is being chastised; the speaker warns that we “have not / grasped the truth of the book” (43), and are in danger of missing the work completely. The speaker warns us in the words of the ancients:
ffffffffffff Nemo aliquid reco recognoscat, nos mentimur omnia. (60)
Which Orme translates for us:
ffffffffffff No one should take this seriously, for it is all a lie. (62)
We are made aware that the master does not exist. This is something the speaker obsesses over and worries about. What is the apprentice without a master? And thus, the speaker creates a master: a Roman poet, Ipsentius—the absent self (in Latin, ‘ipse’ = himself; ‘absentis’ = absent).
ffffffffffff ffffffffffff [what was not a turning point
ffffffffffff ffffffffffff was merely a point – a spire
ffffffffffff ffffffffffff I hung my shoe on]
ffffffffffff ffffffffffff (44)
The speaker points out the lack of the master and thus the existence of the apprentice as master. What began as a calling of the muses, a calling forth of the master to exist, instead is a calling forth of the poet into existence through the written work.
Part III: Motion—The Entrance of Speaker/Reader
The speaker contemplates motion as a means of existing, as a means of maintaining the setting of existence:
ffffffffffff If I stand here long enough even these mountains shall fall.
ffffffffffff Motion does not stop because you cannot see it.
ffffffffffff [(Surely) I am somewhere exaggerating.]
The “mountains” exist as a setting so long as they are written and sustained in the narrative/poem; but if the speaker pauses on a separate topic, or if the narrative wastes away into silence, the “mountains shall fall.” The motion becomes a mathematical thing denoting existence as x:
ffffffffffff One says there is no time for x, and immediately begins explaining time
ffffffffffff as existing on an immeasurable plane consisting in motion and the
ffffffffffff human self revolving around a particular location in the universe that
ffffffffffff will continue to exist only as long as both motion and the self exists—
ffffffffffff all of which one says is (of course) inexplicable with words and does
ffffffffffff not stop the arms from reaching. (10)
The speaker attempts to solidify the self through acts of gesture and setting: “these mountains” he notes as though pointing out the mountains in the distance to the reader. In other instances, the speaker indicates the act of walking—another sort of motion with which we can associate the self written to a bodied-self. In one of these instances, the speaker laments the words in which the self is forced to beg for attention though the silence of the page:
ffffffffffff Walking through the woods I hear the cry of the song sparrow which I
ffffffffffff associated with the written word and its loathsomeness, its long notes
ffffffffffff drawn out, its cry for attention. (59)
The speaker hears the cry—thus has body. The written thing is loathed—as all it can do is but beg for attention. On the page, the highest form of existence is for the self to become an object, and through objectification, perhaps the self can invoke breath. And, thus, through the invocation of breath, perhaps the self can achieve an existence beyond the “written word.”
ffffffffffff The journey does not stop because of the movement [of the individual]
ffffffffffff ffff stops.
ffffffffffff I cannot separate movement from light. Mine inspiration. Round me.
ffffffffffff What more or better to do but watch the light moving: differently over
ffffffffffff ffff the same stone?
Thus, motion/emotion breathe the self existent, spoken; the tears once solidified as textual on the page communicated the subject self: “interdum lacrimae pondera vocis habent”(15) [“tears sometimes have the strength of spoken words” (62)].
The reader calls forth the poet into existence through the reading of the leaves (words) on the page; the poet/speaker recognizes the impermanent existence of the words as they fade as leaves do in fall, changing color and descending to the ground, decaying into non-existence.
ffffffffffff what is the body fffffffffffff (but) fffffffffffff an extension of the mind
ffffffffffff imagine the body fffffffffffff(and) fffffffffffff watch it vanish
The speaker/poet becomes/is the “self made an object” (12).
Timothy David Orme dares us to exist, to become part of the motion, part of the plane his speaker inhabits; he dares us to take up the absence in the work and fill it with the speaker-self and our-self engaged in motion, through the act of reading becoming accomplice to the act of creation.
The reader/writer relationship is a mathematical equation; a thing of space and time bent by a spine, open-faced and splayed.We—the reader—exist, and in the act of reading allow the page existence; thus, redefining the “taking of two for one to exist” (50).
The Catalogue of Burnt Text is a contemplation of the written thing, which is simultaneously destroyed and made to exist through the complacency of the reader and writer both.
ffffffffffff I have watched a hand write words at its will. Its curve and movement
ffffffffffff ffff determines:
ffffffffffff creation or destruction in one firm line. Self made an object as words on
ffffffffffff ffff the page.
ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff A removable object.
Jodi Chilson graduated with an MFA from Boise State University in the Spring of 2006. Recent publication of poems includes those appearing in Left-Facing Bird (April 2008; editors: Lucas Farrell, Greg Hill Jr., and Brandon Shimoda). Jodi Chilson currently lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband and daughter, and teaches poetry at Boise State University.