Review: Tiff Dressen, Todd Melicker, and Joseph Noble

By Patrick James Dunagan 

Tiff Dressen, Todd Melicker, and Joseph Noble will read from their work on the following:

Wednesday, March 26, 7pm
Canessa Park Reading Series, Canessa Gallery
708 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, California
The Canessa Park building is in North Beach just downhill from City Lights Bookstore towards the Financial District. This intimate space provides a splendid opportunity to hear the work live! $6 donation.

Thursday, April 3, 7:30pm
Moe’s Books
2476 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, California

“He looks out over the ruins, takes cold air into his lungs and vomits a cloud into the missing palm of his hand. Tragedy is born from such moments, yet he only experiences an uncommon joy.”

—Brian Lucas, “Sketch of an Eclipse,” Circles Matter (Blazevox)

Poet-musician-visual-artist Brian Lucas is my axis for the radiating spokes of this review-wheel. It was his impulse that brought the work of these poets to my attention. His own book, Circles Matter, borrows its title from the ever consciously sound-as-well-as-visually-oriented poet Ronald Johnson. Johnson’s work is suitably found hanging round throughout these books. Mirrored by “I bore a word/bare back” (Dressen, “As Deer (in aurora borealis)”) is Johnson’s “bareback as Pegasus guess us” from his ever great (and greatly back in print!) Ark, which is mirrored again by “this ark & ask” (Melicker, “Rendezvous One”) as these poets query a lesson from “string insomnia’s / aural geometry” (Noble, “Criss-Cross (Thelonius Monk)”), searching for forms found in asking. Listen to them go. Just listen.

This all starts off from experience. “Looking for a language,” as Creeley rather snidely told Olson in his first, hastily rushed retort to the older man sending him some poems. Yet this is not criticism meant to chide or harass these poets. Seeking to write poems which speak from (and of) an inner chorus rimmed from off outer sensation(s), the poets under review take advantage of not knowing. As with any poetry based on discovering as it goes, they actively seek a language with which to give understanding.

This is embodied writing: “both tone and word / and neither // read the strings / the ear listens” (Noble, “Prefigurations”).

And as the tonal vowels arising in the opening lines of each section from Dressen’s “Delph Cycle (turns)” declare, catching us forward leaning into them, birthing us forth as it were into hearing them: “An earth long / vowel”; “Someone carry a vowel”; “Someone please carry / the caul…”; “Someone watch”; “Someone please bury / the caul”.

Poem as caul, covering from under which the language is sounded out: “breath prints / vibrate / on eardrums // sounds not / only sounds” (Noble, “Vibrations in Air (Anthony Braxton)”). We’re thus exposed to the elements of the poem itself: “a skin without clouds is empty. to form a word without actually. the circle drifts” (Melicker, “Nautilus”).

Drawing reference to the ideas of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Noble admits how he’s “fond of this idea of forms and flesh coming from sound and vibration,” recognizing as it does that “not just humans, but animals and plants too…are made of vibrations and sounds themselves” (“Afterword”). Such an understanding alters everything in the world of our interactions. Simple daily sights become re-envisioned as “street lamps are coming into their leaves” (Melicker, “Nautilus”). Nothing static remains. Jolted, we’re all attention.

A staple in the chest
 where the song
stuck it
 to the song

(Dressen, “Message: A Theory (Song)”)

This is but a near miss from a horror flick turned poetic. That very “uncommon joy” Lucas nails in the epigraph above. We’re struck (feel the thud of “stuck” embedded therein) within our reading. Compelled to negotiate a galaxy of interlocked perceptions concerning identity and cosmos, searchers “Seastars in our / hulls // water seeking / water” (Melicker, “Rendezvous Two”) like to like, a “blueshiftchorus / singing   under   water” (Dressen, “Message: telepathy”) calls us near.

An insistent address arrives from these books, “a song hiding in the air / forgetting its own name” (Noble, “La Transformata”). Looking ahead to “death & deathbreath // a crossing/crossed / ship // a star / a sea” (Melicker, “Rendezvous One”), but there’s nothing threatening in this, we’re all born into it after all.

Each of these books is meticulously assembled. The organization of parts is not only in itself sound but elegant. Dressen addresses our relationship to the stars. Noble gives us a musician-poet’s response to a range of composers while traversing the Sound’s Orphic shades. Melicker is an inner cosmonaut’s unveiling. These books are vessels for voyages underway, offering rewards of the traveler’s journeying. From the enthusiastic, “We sing starve-white-dwarf-crater songs!” (Dressen, “As Deer (in aurora borealis)”), to the steady performer’s grasp of what’s to come moment-to-moment:

air’s weight at horn’s ceiling
finger on
pad’s scale
measures breath”

(Noble, “Prelude, Correspondences II”)

Onwards into what remains, an open-ended welcome:

for all night
we intended
to our garden.

gather the daily
tasks & ask

to be mine/yours

(Melicker, “Rendezvous One”)

These poets are working out celestial arrangements for all.

Songs from the Astral Bestiary

By Tiff Dressen

Lyric& Press (2013)

By Todd Melicker
Rescue Press (2013)

Antiphonal Airs
By Joseph Noble
Skylight Press (2013)