Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Stacy Doris, _Cheerleader's Guide to the World: Council Book_

I PICKED THIS up because of intriguing excerpts in Swenson & St. John's American Hybrid. It was as intriguing as a whole as it was in part, but it's hard to describe.

In a prefatory note, Doris herself describes the book as "a sort of sandwich-translation read-through of four books: Popul Vuh, Paterson, Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the Secret Autobiographies of Jigme Lingpa." So... suppose you are reading something from an ancient civilization quite remote from your own, and recall that feeling one often has in reading such texts, that sense of missing something, that feeling that even though the words have been translated into your own language, some necessary contextual framing is unavailable to you, there are frequencies humming in the work that you can sense but not really hear. Imagine there are illustrations brought in from the original text, that seem to bear some relation to it, but again, what exactly are they illustrating, why in this way? Would the illustrations explain all if we knew what we were looking at?

So, imagine that sense of fascinated bafflement, understanding something of what you are reading, but being aware of likely missing more, and not being wholly confident that you really understood anything at all.

OK. Now imagine a text produced by our own culture that could conceivably create that same feeling in someone for whom our civilization is ancient and remote.

And now imagine a text that will give us here and now that feeling of bewilderment that our present cultural products will someday create in that reader for whom our culture is ancient and remote. Good? That text is Cheerleader's Guide to the World: Council Book.

The poems are uttered by (I think) the collective consciousness of the cheerleaders as they ponder the activities of the football players and the coaches. The poems are paratactic, disjunctive, elusive, but with an occasional startling lyricism ("Molten so praised bottle / bent to sand congratulations. / An improved carnage") -- quite a bit like reading a conscientiously literal translation of an unseizable ancient text.

Accompanying most of the poems are diagrams of American football plays (drawn by Bill Baker). Do these comment on the poems somehow, or vice versa? Are these the plays to which the cheerleaders are reacting? In any case, they are not at all self-explanatory, their relation to the text unguessable, swirling us again into that strangely satisfying limbo of confronting something decipherable which we lack the means to decipher.

Finally, allegory may be at work. The book reflects Doris's interest in "Money-Love-Writing," Doris says in her note, leading me to wonder if the cheerleaders represent writers -- Pindar was a cheerleader, she notes, his odes dedicated to celebrating the achievements of Olympic athletes -- while the football players represent those executing the fly patterns and end sweeps of capitalism, arcane to outsiders, overseen by the coaches of the Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, et alia? And then who loves whom in this allegory -- or is getting screwed by whom?

Yeah! Lose to win!
Scatter yourselves!
Bloodspill depicts
the reason for life.
Rain's made of it.
Go quench your thirst.

I wouldn't bet the farm on my allegorical interpretation, to tell you the truth, but it hovered in the back of my mind nonetheless as I read this utterly unique book.

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