Tuesday, July 17, 2012

'Fuck you' by John Adams

Your chest contracts and egressive
pulmonic air thrusts into your
mouth and funnels a fri-
cative between your fence
of upper teeth and lower
your mouth widens and with
a voiced vibration utters
a closed central vowel until
your soft palate rises to choke
the flow in a velar plosive
croak but,
almost without pause, your jaws
close a bit as if to bite the co-
articulation and you
voice a velar fricative;
your mouth opens and
closes as you push
the resonance forward,

          and knowing those teeth upon which my tongue has slid
          intensely and knowing those lips
          the portal it was impossible to say where you stopped
          and I started and knowing that vibration which has soothed
          and softened me and know that mouth

adrenalin shrieks, I throw
open the door, I open my mouth to fuck
you too when the stapler

[Exhibit A]

                                                                  Editor Mary McCallum 

Exhibit B
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, what you have before you is a poem (Exhibit A) found amongst legal documents in the Briefcase (Exhibit B) of a Judge John Adams  (Family Court & District Court), identified in Exhibit C.
Exhibit C

See if you will how this poem is written in the language of a speech language therapist which is the job of Verity Charlotte Button - hit by a stapler during a fight with her husband John Portsmouth Button (solicitor). Did he do it deliberately? That's for the courts to find out.

'Fuck you' is not the only poem in Judge John Adams' Briefcase, not by any means. Yes, there are legal documents - as one would expect, or what appear to be legal documents, court reports, police reports etc, until one looks more closely. The form is there, the language too, but they are all strangely askew (Exhibit D), defaced, cut adrift from their origins. There are also other documents not usually found in a Judge's briefcase: a sudoku puzzle, a menu, a dictionary entry.

Exhibit D - extract from  Risk, Going Forward

I need to stop right here and confess five things:

1. I am not a solicitor or a Judge nor do I have anything to do with the courts

2. I am, however, a poet

3. Judge John Adams was one of my first students in 139.123 extramural creative writing (Massey University).

4. Briefcase won this year's NZ Society of Authors Best First Book Award for Poetry.

5. Of this,  I am extraordinarily proud (woo hoo!)

Exhibit E - as signed by the poet
Language is the thing for John Adams the Judge and John Adams the Poet. Words to him are there to be cross-examined, broken down in the dock, made to confess their origins, their intentions, their innermost desires. The whole of this collection is about the promise language holds and its actual limitations in the workings of law and the society it apparently serves.

In the beginning was the
gnomic hope of it,
the staple desire, to fix
with some sort of meaning, a place where things
could clinch together  ....

What was staple is no longer
available; things connect incorrectly;
even the index escapes our fingers;
our aggregations scatter.

extract from Buttons

But it's more than just a game of words to this poet. As the judges of the NZSA award said, John Adams'  'experimentation with form depends upon the heart as much as it does the intellect.'

In 'Fuck you', you can see John Adams' vigorous delight in words and their possibilities. Hear how it gets right inside the workings of the mouth, inside the language of the workings of the mouth, and inside the workings of the mouth of man and wife, and see how it ends up in the air like the stapler before it fell to earth and everything went terribly wrong. The extract from 'Risk, Going Forward' does something else entirely -  legal apparently but poetic in fact.

Every poem in Briefcase does something else entirely in fact ... this is a provocative, passionate, highly rewarding read. Congratulations John!

'Fuck you' is published with permission from the poet and his publisher Auckland University Press. 'Justice' - another poem from the collection - can be read here.  Come back next week to read extracts from each of finalists in the Best Book of Poetry Award in the NZ Book Awards, selected by Andrew Bell.

This week's editor, Mary McCallum is co-curator of Tuesday Poem. A Wellington poet and novelist she recently published The Tenderness of Light (Makaro Press 2012), and before that, The Blue (Penguin 2007) which won two NZ Book Awards. Mary is also a creative writing tutor, freelance writer, reviewer and bookseller. She blogs at O Audacious Book

After reading the poem at the hub, try the 30 Tuesday Poets in the sidebar, and the poems they've written or selected - you won't be disappointed! 


Michelle Elvy said...

Love this poem and your discussion, Mary - the way poetry is all about words: the meaning, the sounds, the weight, the flight, the transportation thereof, the connection they create. And how poetry is about the heart and the intellect. He does this with such gusto, such enthusiasm and such precision -- I really like the combined creative element plus the analytical approach in this. I feel the same way about writing -- exceptional writing shines because it lives somewhere between something we call 'creative process' (emotional) and a deep understanding (intellectual)of how sounds form words form sentences form meaning.

Really marvellous!

Kathleen Jones said...

Really interesting Mary. The structure - the idea of the Briefcase, the poem as evidence - I loved all that. it's great the way the TP hub throws up so many different things - thought provoking.

AJ Ponder said...

Cute, the way the ideas/poems have been pieced together in the spurious legal document format. Most especially the intriguing experimentation in form to fit the subject.

Anonymous said...

Like others I admire the way the legal document is used to give an apparent structure to the poetry. I really like the way the poet uses the TECHNICAL language,of a speech therapist to build up to the final'emotional'outburst, showing us how meaning changes according to the way words are spoken...emphasising the age old legal conflict between fact and feeling. It's a great presentation of a surprisingly endearing and entertaining poem Mary. Thank you and John too.