In You More Than You: D. S. Marriott's Incognegro


15-Jul-06 / Salt Publishing / 112pp / ISBN-10: 1844712613 / ISBN-13: 9781844712618

Reviewed by Abena Sutherland



D. S. Marriott's book begins with a poem, 'The Ghost of Averages', in which, on one line, a voice turns at the point of absolute immiseration, "I am Kunte Kinte on the hill". Yet Kunte Kinte, famously, is one enslaved African who has become civic architecture, with a public memorial at the city dock in Annapolis, Maryland. One name which was not lost, now, will name, in negative, an enormity.

The embraceable wounds of black history may threaten to admit no light between the subject and object of black speech – so much so, it sometimes seems, that any desired consciousness against race goes sliding back automatically to a raised unhappiness, wan and in remembrance of the old "calligraphy in blood" (Jayne Cortez's phrase) which I refuse to find beautiful.
                I want to let go—but cannot
there is no consolation, the opaque derision
anonymous, racially compelled

(from 'The 'Secret' of this Form Itself')

You will learn again the simplest things last,
of fauna and of herb, of the perfect whiteness bringing pain and death,
if you remember how to receive them on the first
rising, if you remember that each black image
is itself a grave.

(from 'For Invisible Black Vampyres')
To be black is to walk as if already dead to the discourse? Or is blackness, as image, the multiple grave from which selves rise, vigorously, politically? Later in the poem:
Be merciless on the high mountain paths
above the villages and cornfields, at the archway and threshold,
memorial as a bourne that binds us to the throat of freedoms past.
For you inherit the shadow totems of insolent nihilismus,
of the too much black leather beret and the too much black leather cape.
If this gothic blackness is tried on, too much black leather beret, then if so, an inheritance tried it on already; the throat that binds.


Variations on the hieratic/priestly rhetorical style in which many of these poems are written become variations on a bifurcation of violence, a speech in which attention to conceptual subversion and the properly historicized witnessing of ashes can oscillate. The modernism of T. S. Eliot's 'Marina' or Four Quartets, and the radical wing of prophetic poetry, exemplified biblically by the Job-poet, seem to provide a high sentence of plump linguistic means which Marriott turns to a political aesthetic, political because of its ability to open out an operative separation between a potentially inert emancipation of reflexive double-consciousness and an ongoing test of each "black image" read in and reflected out. It operates, ideally, to show a skew relation inscribed into any process of reification, and the showing is knowledge.
As an angel once led Tobias, when, on feet
of charity never swerving, he saw
the nearness of what is uttered and what is,
the different as commodity in the sight of things
and the pain that was; so also do we see
the long night of irreducible being
over an endless sea, in the loss that knows.

(from 'The Steerage')


Marking these poems are the ships of maroon experience; the sea; "the tide, the long imperial gain"; and, throughout: cold, ice, snow, the vast frozenness of injurious memory which tries to drag bodies into its perpetuating depth.
Black men unloaded and packed into prisons,
                colder, much, than the iron bars holding them,
the mind nothing but winter,
                given fresh ice to pack the emotions:
                                I see that life, my own life,
burning like blocks of ice in the approaching dusk.
Talk to any one of them and they will tell you,
                that iciness can last years before the thaw begins.

(from 'Ice-cold')
The idea of frozen capital, the human as a price, burning up; the mind turned winter, still winter.


Of the poems here which fail, and a number do, Charles Bernstein coyly writes, in a blog post on Incognegro, "Perhaps the failures are what keeps this book on the fair side of the real." What kind of failures are they? 'The Going Tides' begins
As we turn without doubting
through waters of the knowing world,
remembering the sum of your dying
and all my surer years; [. . .]
and the comedy risked in these assured Eliotic tones perhaps rises inapppropriately up; or if not here, then elsewhere. This is an incidental problem, I found, and certainly Marriott's poetics are various and canny enough to over-ride a wavering editorial sense which could have cut the number of poems down; and anyway he is not without deliberate bathos:
We want the rites of life
like roots of downward sap dark with nightsweats,
scorched, in turn, by snow by suns,
but the summer disfigures and marks us way too much,
and night, desired, deliverer, ain't nothing but the real thing.

(from 'Shot')


A preoccupation in the poems with names and naming is necessarily accompanied by thoughts on the ear and hearing. From 'Notebook of a Return', which contains sections which criss-cross columns of different historical voicings: "The moment a monument to itself, naming the names with no-one to ever hear them or know how to hear." What if the ears are damaged by what they hear? (Stephen Jonas' riff on Jack Spicer... and Jonas is a reference point in this collection.)

I particularly liked 'Du Bois in Berlin', Du Bois narrating his student days –
Whatever the world really is, I want time:
to wear the decade like a diadem until too heavy to lift
– where an angel of the word is located:
In Friedrichstraße, knocking on closed doors,
warmed by the pleasures of the arcades
                                wandering at night
after Trietschke’s lectures under the vaulted ceiling. And the hush
as old words are made new again. As if each Wort
                were signed in blood, and rising above it,
an angel pushing back white mounds of garbage.

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