Andrew Duncan, "Circular"

Poem online at Salt website. From the collection Anxiety Before Entering A Room.


        A noise comes off the highway
        From the metal plates shaking
        Numbering the surface of waste energies;
        From the hot pipes of the steel throat
        In the pinned fabric of motion
        The sound rushes across the road shore & rims.

        Blast apron
        Hard sound over the inadequates
        In the pitted surface of the media slew
        In the middle of eight million faces.

        The motorized column covers its section of loop.
        The messages were effaced.
        A citadel of numb skin,
        Signs arrested
        Rooms in the throb of fuel chambers.
        The specific metallic signal,
        Shivering and blowing away words,
        The unwriter of thoughts & patterns.

        Along the rims
        A certain group moves in to low prices.
        They don't understand the signals too well anyway,
        It doesn't matter.
        You memorized the map that got you here.

        No escape by eating transit. A swarm glutted & limed
        On foodstuff, stampede of cars
        Going round and round between close walls,
        Lost migration on the Lost Highway.
        One way passage down the throat of insensate words
        Laminar sounds peaking to blank uproar
        Movements overlaying to a complete circle.
        This is the message you were built to hear.
        Look for a crack.


Circular: the ring-road, Pasolini's circles of shit and mania, the zero. The film Lost Highway has been described (by Lynch himself) as following a Möbius strip – it loops over & returns to the opening, all on one surface of celluloid (Bill Pullman's always out there, somewhere). Duncan's poem casts us lost on the lost highway, or in the category of "inadequates" under the "apron" of surface noise – as the Smiths sang, "when you’re tied to your mother’s apron no-one talks about castra-a-a-a-tion", though that may not be apropos. You know that feeling when you go on a long motorway journey in a small cheap hatchback, & the road noise gets inside your skull – like the waves do on a boat – only this isn't lyrical or even sick-making, it's just a drone that dampens down your mind? I get the impression that’s the ambience Duncan wants to conjure up here where cars are "Rooms in the throb of fuel chambers", or are those the rooms in the city which the road is circling? Is this the M25 on a Sinclair stylee, or is it a more universal ring road? What is the "citadel of numb skin" and is that where the "eight million faces" are?

The road has a "shore". The maps that "got you here" have been memorized (what, ALL of the AA Road Atlas?). "A swarm glutted and limed / On foodstuff", which reminds me of a Seamus Heaney poem about a "glut" of blackberries I had to study in school. A swarm of fumes; bee-cars; or that black dust which settles by the road? The final movement of the poem seems to turn circular road into symbolic proto-initiation; "Laminar sounds", on these constant streamlines, make the circle complete because of a passage "down the throat of insensate words"? Language or a null language, a semiotic system reduced to "blank uproar", "signs arrested"? We were "built" to hear it, which runs together technology and the human – for what machines of environment and sociality built us? We are worried, we're getting a headache, but Duncan says: "Look for a crack." An interstice? The circular was the "unwriter of thoughts & patterns". Is it a poem against zero, that abomination?

Duncan writes a poetry of pulses and polygons, turbulence and energy-flows, and he does it convincingly: it isn't over-excited in a Donna Haraway ironic faith, neither does it reject. He seems to be concerned with an ecology of energy, information, and structures of exchange; moving from dualism to dualism, cataloguing semiotic systems, so some true enemy might emerge? Do rituals and the symbolic both act as cybernetic switches? "The messages were effaced."

© Melissa Flores-Bórquez 2006

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