Review: Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat: Essays, Prose Texts, Interviews and a Lecture 1991-2007

By Patrick James Dunagan

Will Alexander astounds. Prolific beyond any easily understandable degree, poems, plays, novels, philosophical tracts, and artwork endlessly pour forth from him—I even recently witnessed him play piano in a San Francisco performance with the Cloud Shepherd ensemble accompanied by jazz violinist India Cooke. At the piano, Alexander was by no means stellar, but he was competent. His apparently unbounded energy and enthusiasm for truly multi-galactic expression is spread throughout all of his writing. Infectious is one word to describe how it feels to read his work. This newly-published collection of wide ranging material showcases his critical reflections. From the local to the global, Alexander’s grasp of the socio-political landscape is on evident display, affirming the utter relevance of knowing the territory within which you move. Alexander also relates his concerns and enthusiasm for the work of other artists, both his predecessors and peers. It’s as ever a mind-numbing display of virtuoso ingenuity as any of his creative work. Instances of self-introspection and autobiographical glimmers help to further furnish a picture of where Alexander is coming from.

Poet Taylor Brady usefully edits the collection around four groupings. These are (roughly) writings focused on: geography, “The Magical Site Where the Future Must Convene”, other writers/artists, “A Human Intensity”, African diaspora, “The Wing of Imaginal African Anti-Gravity”, and poetics, “A Relentless Meteoritics”. This organization works out better than a chronological ordering, allowing relevance of topic to nestle writings next to one another, while Alexander’s development of an idea threads them all together. The interviews and lecture in the final section, “The Way One Speaks, The Way One Walks,” give fuller perspective to the whole, encapsulating diverse strands within Alexander’s thinking, while in addition providing several lucid statements by him concerning biographical details and writing habits.

Enigmatic yet exact with his descriptions, Alexander reveals little about himself when not directly responding to queries of an inoculator. His reflections on personhood from the lecture “Inalienable Recognitions,” for instance, demonstrate his cosmic conception of inner versus outer relations in regard to one’s consciousness, while affirming his innate allegiances to Surrealist anchor André Breton:

Let me say, the person remains his or her own concomitant experiment. In the cellular ground there exists galactic neural depth, as an a priori balance anterior to suns. And it is the nature of the anterior to inculcate the totalic, which includes suns, and planes, and mysteries. For if Descartes were capable of weighing the image in his neural hollows, he would be prone to a privacy where Breton enlivened a verbal proto-hieroglyphics, an ignited sand where savor flares up as bluish irregularity through quanta. The latter remaining a paradigm non-attributable to personality, to a palpability which fuses with the exhaustion of the provinces. Breton signals a zone where the ground no longer merges with ground, where an integral voltage consumes all prior thinking by means of incandescent slippage. (251)

Funneled through apparently inborn caverns of thought, poetry—which Alexander at one point describes as “a nettling piranha spurring the voice with condensed alchemical pain” (152)—spills from Alexander without much, if any, premeditation. He describes to Marcella Durand how writing exists and remains for him an ever-active moment of initialized concept alongside literal actualization of the text:

I’m joining the creation of the universe, but in my own particular way, which is opening and opening and opening, which is of a literal reality, but an experiential reality. It remains fresh and it remains fresh and it remains fresh and it remains fresh. When I’ve explored it, I’ve gone through it, I’m finished with it, it’s published and put into the world, and it remains in a state of motion. (204-05)

Writing is a visitation which he is constantly in a state of undergoing. Recognizing that there is a work to be written comes when words begin manifesting themselves to him in a particular grouping. He then recognizes that this grouping of words will lead to completion of an enterprise, one which he feels drawn to tell. Revision only fits into the picture as possibly a second initial visitation, which he refers to as distinctly aural in nature: “I rehear something maybe once or twice, mostly just once. I handwrite everything and then I get my typewriter or computer, and I hear other levels and that’s my finished product.” (205) Alexander goes on to describe how he found himself idiosyncratically compelled towards poetry:

I saw that it was the only thing I could really do in this life—like Bud Powell, playing the piano. What he wanted to do and what he could organically do were inextricably linked. I had lived an intense emotional life up to that point and the mediums out of which that emotion could express itself had been inadequate. Around that period, I found this little book on Rimbaud and I read it and felt it was me. I was able to begin to explore a medium that hitherto was unknown to me. At that point, I felt it more than I knew it. I felt poetry. I literally felt it. (205)

Compelled towards the freedom to allow the words to be his guide, Alexander trusts in his belief “the poet finds that the magnetic inscription of words on the page is only part of a continuum.” (141)

Being “part of a continuum,” there is a larger cause lying in back of Alexander’s work, an ongoing struggle with which Alexander, as an African American, identifies a common resistance, as when he refers to the blues as “a tradition brewed from an unsettled holocaust of ghosts. And these ghosts eternally linger in the voice as treacherous proof of the Middle Passage”  of slavery. (128) This world phenomenon has scattered a race of people against their will, “the diaspora remaining a perpetually angered field.” (129) He announces that “the blues at its essence protracts the core of African expression which is anathema to the diurnal consciousness whom its sounds harass.” (131-32) Alexander has no qualms declaring how “the diurnal penury of minds such as T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound, can have no existence with the blues.” (133) He humorously continues, “Why Eliot would be absolutely petrified if confronted with potency of Lightnin’ Hopkins, as a carouser, as a perpetual aficionado of drink.” (133) Alexander adamantly attests that “the dust, the despair, the dreadful organics, tend to repulse the empowered, much in the way D.H. Lawrence reacted with hysterical disgust to a recording of Bessie Smith.” (133)

Elsewhere, reflecting upon Reading Race by Aldon Nielsen, Alexander’s unflinching confrontation with “a rigid American festering” (115), he joins with Nielsen in locating within the works of “the poetic Anglophones, who, from the beginning of the Modernist era have not significantly evolved beyond language in the service of a mental colonialist’s hegemony” (115), continuing this long overdue righteous accounting of Modernism. He doesn’t mourn the impossibility of “Pound or Cummings welcoming Aimé Césaire into the world of letters circa 1941” (116), because the limits displayed by their use of language in their work make it a forgone conclusion. It was only Breton who “simply balancing reality” (116) declared Césaire a “Great Black Poet” whose work “extinguishes the Greco-Roman as sole unbroken authority.” (116) The obviousness that “someone like Eliot would never publicly acknowledge that it was the Moors, and not the scholars of the Renaissance, who saved Euripides and the Greeks from premature oblivion” (116) should haunt any discussion of poetic breakthroughs in the Modernist era. These overlooked, quite intentional slights have repercussions, which continue to echo into the present day. As Alexander, following Nielsen, warns, “it reaches through to Ginsberg and O’hara” (116), major precursors to ongoing work carried on by young poets.

Alexander’s work stands as a wholly overlooked yet necessary additive to any conversation concerning contemporary poetics. Cast as Surrealist, or neo-Surreal, he eclipses categorization. The brilliance of language Alexander displays begins charting the necessary course to surmounting the impossible-seeming obstacle of decadence. The prevailing dominant mentality has placed before the Western individual’s ability to see things at firsthand freshness, to engage in experience without hindrance. Alexander’s repeated use of overt flame imagery, volcanoes, and epic roaring hell-fires seek to quell the despotic, riotously-imposed rule over language from within. This is a call to revolution integral to his life work. The force of its demand rises up from inside him, but is not his alone: “I am not presenting myself as a singular case. There are many others like me.” (17) Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat joins the rest of Alexander’s extensive, continuously growing oeuvre as a testament to what is possible for numerous others whose imaginations as yet remain in an unrealized, underutilized state. That single spark which has in it the undying possibility of igniting innumerably greater numbers.

Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat: Essays, Prose Texts, Interviews and a Lecture 1991-2007
By Will Alexander
Essay Press 2013
ISBN: 978-0-9791189-7-5