Variable Magnitudes: The Wrack of Watts

Edmund Hardy

(Carol Watts, Wrack, Reality Street, 2007)

The sea is its own investigation into records of cargo and other wreckage; the result is not chance, Wrack insists, though this refusal is not a path towards a total system implied by fragments so much as a play of determinations received by freed substances which become originative in their relation to themselves. The ruins of a never-surfeiting sea conjure an aleatory Imperialism patterned outside of time; but the wrack on the shore happens upon itself as us, and as such is entrusted to its readers - "quartzite infinities / played out in empirical surf". The motif of etching-writing becomes part of a chain or splash of substitutions - from foam to trace, squall to full stop, starfish to hand.

Each section of this poem shifts its sand sideways; an aesthetic of cuts reappears here as in 'brass, running' (Equipage, 2006), though now the runnels wear into log-books, sea-swollen ironies, Twelfth Night, the cutting edge of sense. A part of Watts' poetics is a turn to a virtual mathematics - in Wrack the polyps of empiricism waver as sequences and groups wash through ("possibilities of combining / into imperceptible economies") and return as a troubled world the principle of which is outside itself, though always desired.

Section 10 apparently begins as a lyric translation of Deleuze's essay 'Desert Islands' (the one in which he says that any sane child reading Robinson Crusoe would long for Man Friday to eat Robinson for all his drearily complete Imperialist-Puritan spirit) - the two kinds of island, but then Watts writes of a third, one arising from the duel between exploration's dream and discovery's pain. The restless love of subtraction running back into things, an image of the poem: "the dark yolk of catastrophe".

The splash of substitutions ends in coinage and commodity - money is the ideal lyric subject: as metaphorical substitution par excellence, duration externalised and printed, and also by the allowance of a restless love to mimic its plurality of the limit, creating a transferable and negative beauty in the work of art which keeps on pouring out, and rising up.
and there    in bullion morning    you ask
will it come near    raiding    a league out
spanning    a tongue's length   a ship or
rock manoeuvring    the tide rising    small
insurgencies shift    the grains    the cries
inside the absences of air [. . . ]
A wreck, a woman in a cage, sense as freedom in a field of origination: flotsam receiving determination, becoming cause and reaction, a passage to the bare bones which are identical to the means of knowing them.

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