Catherine Daly: That Locket Sound

by Michael Peverett

To say that Catherine Daly operates through sound is not much; to say it's central, not much more. We need to talk about specifics, about a particular character to the sound. In Locket (her Eclogues, which some will always prefer), the sound fills the poems to their borders and is nothing short of obvious, like the plain gold sleeve.

     Boudoir, New Orleans

     Wild walls before gauze-limned, slatted light accommodate
     watchers. The place where dreams work
     peoples the river: it tastes human, keeps beasts of trade
     and pleasure with saints' bones and fish.

     We are a conundrum for the gallery: someone is where we should be.
     The stage is bare. Flats echo the waves.

This and most of Locket is an invitation to make the sounds ourselves and to keep them as private possessions. DaDaDa (written later, though published earlier) is more about the tumult of involuntary sounds that we are exposed to. For example, both Locket and DaDaDa are awash with love poems. Here's the start of one from Locket:

     A slipper for champagne sipping,
     not a scuff; a marabou-trimmed slingback for marimbas,
     or a mule; a tuxedo slipper

     sported by a tenor martinet pinching the cool stem of a gin
     martini between thumb and forefinger, dangling his cigarette from his lips;
     yogi or djinn ashing on the magic carpet;

      (from "Driving a Dream Car Intoxicated with You")

Though there's no "I" in the poem as yet, we're already building a picture of a single sound-source, sound that beyond doubt betrays a person, like that moment on the phone when you know from two words and a cough that you've stopped listening to reassurance messages. But is it so beyond doubt as all that? In DaDaDa love begins to be precisely a matter of recorded messages:


     If my love is founded on fear of you, burn me.
     Will you remove my questions?
     I will set heaven on fire.

     Love is a battlefield.
                             Pat Benetar

     If my love furthers my desire for you, lock me out.
     How long will you knock at an open door?
     Steal from me what steals me from you.

           Door, knock, open: light. Girls bear trays of light. "We are
           looking for someone drowned, sleepless, to rub spices on
           her body." I was in a wide green garden. The fragrant
           spices clung to my body. O Captain of my Heart.

     Got a hole in my heart
     size of my heart.


      (from "Solo, Alone")

What disappears is, not passion, but the exoticism of "yogi or djinn", so placed, so amused. Without location you can't have exoticism. Paradoxically, "to rub spices on her body" is not fanciful, and the battlefield is as literal as the love. Heresy (the subtitle of this section) still means "I choose for myself", but if the I is also others, this heretic church becomes an army.

We spend a long time in the canyons of DaDaDa, wondering. This one is coloured with the vowel A.

     Teach inundated clarity
     ardor's broad road.

     Abyss penetrated,
     draw, illuminate
     anger's face.

     Heartthrob, what increase?

It's part of five variation-prayers beneath the Cross. Here is the equivalent passage done in I:

     instruct purity in
     affection's habit.

     Mirror, tissue, tie,
     limitless, innumerable multitude is thine integument.
     Darling, again?

I leave you to discover the sonorous forms of "cover your furor's front" or the fleet sequel of "love's easy street"... ("Oos", "Ice", "Ahs", "Ease", "Use").

How did we get on to this? Oh, I remember. Here's the opening of "Coco Chanel" (from Lives of the Designers, which is part of Legendary, which is part of DaDaDa, which is part of CONFITEOR, a projected one-thousand page poem...):

     Colette in cloth? "A small black bull." Picasso. Cubism.
     Cevennes. Chestnut groves. Claudine collar. Cocottes.

This playing with the letter C reminds in an obvious way of those prayers of the five vowels, but it also has some of the compact chemistry of the Locket sound, a melody of thought. The more so if one allows "covered casserole" within range as a meaning of cocotte. And, of course, Colette is a sound-anagram of Locket. You think Daly's ear is insensitive to such minutiae? Then recall how Lives of the Designers begins:

     A factory of Catherinettes? No, a garret.
     marionettes, castanets, alphabets, bracelets, -ettes.

(nb castanets - chestnut; bracelet - collar).

So why has that elusive Locket sound fetched up here, precisely? I can't detach it from a feeling that those first two lines idealize locality: they comprise a pot-pourri of lovely French things.

The legends of Legendary have the same informative pace as chatty mini-biographies on the Internet: learn what they nicknamed Rose Bertin! Learn what to think about Paul Poiret's hobble skirts! Learn how Colette described Coco Chanel! This right-heartedness is not undercut by, but it is mixed with, a series of intrusions: for example girls in white dresses ("Fannie Duvall") and blue satin sashes ("Mary Quant"). So, in "Coco Chanel", we also have an archaeological note ("Neanderthal replaced by Cro-Magnon"), a bit of Repo Man and "why buy the cow" (when you can get the milk for free) - with cynical reference, probably, to the Duke of Westminster. Perhaps there is also a cynicism in those lovely chestnut groves, in view of Chanel's origins in miserable poverty. The poem ends, still echoing the sound but scarcely in the Locket major key:

     Nazis. Bandoliers of pearls "Mexican" standoff with Dior.

Legendary is funny but it's too serious to have any saints. Oh, I have to quote this (from "Women's Work"):

     the burnt toast, the small piece, the fork with a bent tine.

     I prefer it this way. It's only a little brown. I pared away the
     moldy parts. I don't need as much, I'm smaller.

Perhaps that has nothing to do with this essay. But I might argue that it shows why, in DaDaDa, the Locket sound cannot be used straight, it comes under review as just one more way of huddling through a life of deception. Now there is a searching process of going beyond.

What's left of the Locket sound by the time we arrive at Secret Kitty? Nothing really. This has a new sound of its own, though its signature can't be sounded: =^..^=

(True fans of Secret Kitty should drive a Vauxhall Tigra Convertible, for obvious reasons.)

The Secret Kitty sound isn't so much a melody of thinking, more of a rumbling, incessant rhythm of cut-up speech. The factors are length (incessant sentence) and intralineal spaces. The pattern is of controlled unevenness - the pattern of nature, as when each shoot does its own thing and they are all basically the same thing, but one shoot is a little more vigorous than the others. Optimal balance between what is known to work and adaptability. Secret Kitty is one of the most natural of modern poems and accordingly one of the most difficult to work out how it was written.

Still, so natural an organism must contain its past, I hypothesize to myself; and then I think I see it. Though Secret Kitty dazzles and flashes different colours depending on how you inspect it and the hour of the day. This is the opening of "Babble" (one of the six sections):
     o. me imperfect music
     sound and virgin, default

     which note to use?
     o her tone love who enters
     the eye of flower drum song wheel
     "by me that's great!"

     her flower, elegant, in the bush
     refined to grow           wall candy
                                                      ear candy
     neck ... candy?
     how does she consume
     silver bells                bell the cat
                      peal           petals     in the city
     ring-a-ling Ringling
                                 "do not dawdle under the huge paintings"
                                      peel      eyes
     holiday style
     cockles      of my heart,

(In the original text, the line-spacing is a little deeper.) This does cast a Locket glow, up to the point in the ninth line when the intralineal space puts us back on full Secret Kitty trajectory again. While that Locket thing is going on, the coming together of "virgin" and "default" is a thing of beautiful complexity.

We've dawdled enough here, and anyway "bell the cat" whisks us off to "Gloss" in Papercraft, where a poem gets made out of the Prologue to Piers Plowman in Schmidt's great edition of the B-text.

     mild      sun                                   softe     sonne

     hear                                               here
     But       morning                           Ac     morwenynge
     marvel                                           ferly

     leaned (over)                               lenede

     dream (v. & n.)                            meten      swevene
     uninhabited place     knew        wildernesse     wiste
     east     high                                 eest     heigh
     knoll     choicely                          toft     trieliche
     valley     dungeon                       dale     dongeon
     dark                                              derke
     field     found                                feeld     fond
     kinds     humble                           manere     meene
     Working     requires                     Werchynge     asketh
     themselves     seldom                 hem     selde

Does a poem like this have a sound, or only a look: the look (a plain derivative of Secret Kitty) of a wide-tyred vehicle heading straight towards us?

This has a different look, but again that question about the sound:

                                                      green     leave
                                             Chinese    tea    blossom
                                   globe  cipher                 suffer  grow
                           motive                    believe                       self
                   bedevil                                                                      dual
             red         motif        plum                    prime     pronoun           no
tutor lodge  visit divide       depart     rise      divine     core ideal   flower  flow
             white      mind                                                     vague      known
                    call                                                                        cancel
                            ivy                                                            dwell                                                          
                                                heave           love
                           vine              raise             rose          hive
                              stomach                                           halve
                        unit         heart                               behave   blow
                               digit       site                               have   bluster
                      trefoil                      vein         bee                   blunder
                                 composite                                cluster
                   thorn    fill                                                       bloom   drop
                torn                                                                                deep

These five petals map the sounds of other poetry that Daly has written or has yet to write, and they develop quite different characters from each other. The Locket sound is somewhere in the rightmost petal on this view (the second of five rotations of "Liber Rose" - layout not well rendered).

At this point I was going to say something about Chanteuse / Cantatrice (Factory School, 2007), but since it seems I never ordered it when I supposed I had, that'll have to wait for another day. No matter: the Daly bibliography is still going nova so I downloaded Kittenhood, her latest eBook from Ahadada, instead. (I swear that when I made my joke I had no idea that her forthcoming book for Shearsman will be titled Vauxhall.)

Downloading Kittenhood was the easy bit. It is in part a collaboration with various other Pussipo poets (Cathy Eisenhower, Elisa Gabbert, Danielle Pafunda, Kathrine Varnes). It shares with Secret Kitty a fascination for the saccharine manner of Olsen Twins official merchandising: Daly spells it "Olson" because she's also thinking of Charles. In Kittenhood saccharine becomes oppressive - let's be honest, this is the first of Daly's books that I haven't liked from the moment I started to look at it; instead, I disliked it from the moment I etc.


     you call this perfect?

     she needs a stylist

     you be her stylist

     choose her fashion

                       she can't shop enough shopping for herself by herself

     you be a fashion



     shop, store, style


     what did I buy?

     I'll buy that.

     I love to shop at all my favourite stores.

Which does all the same bear a disenchanted relation to Locket (maybe, "Diving into the Dress"). Or consider the titles "Life is but a dream, sweetheart" (Locket) - "Hugs and Kisses Tic Tac Toe" (Kittenhood) - the latter begins:

         I get a check up at the hospital.

         Use the bandages as a grid.

If Locket is eclogues (which it isn't), then this is/n't a satyr play.

         my neighbourhood has fun parades on special days

         sing in the choir class
         everyone takes a turn

Have you had enough of Kittenhood yet? I'm beginning to feel interested in the combination of overload and spareness, in the confrontation, laughter used as an unfunny serum, if that's not taking it too seriously, which I'm fearful that it is (the reader does not get away unscathed). The manner is catching, so see if you can spot if there isn't something very cool about the end of "Dogtown". Simple lines can be the toughest of the lot. Answers in back.

    what are these birds not poetry just food in this neighbourhood
     the only ones are in the zoo

     the food so removed from the animal
     it must be ok for cats to eat

     sponsored by the sausage company
     running the fish meal on Fridays

                      wake me up before I Go

     To Rockport

Note: Chanteuse / Cantatrice got here too recently for me to want to say much about it, except (1) it seems like a brilliant book (2) it's mostly in an occupied Europe key, making substantial use of narrative material about Special Operations Executive agents, the music-boxes of Red Orchestra, Piaf and Monnot, Ploetzensee executions in 1935, etc. (3) it's very quoted - I don't think I've ever read a poem that makes you so sensitive to the quotedness of everything - you try and speak and it's always someone else's words... (4) it is about complicity, collaboration, hedonism, art, politics - but not in 1941, in 2007. (5) I am trying to pin down the right word in this phrase: - marshalling of technique, confining of technique, condensation of technique? (6) it sounds (not untypically) very different to Daly's other books. OK, you want to hear some -

It was a lovely hot day, a beautiful day. The Avenue Foch is beautiful,
and the house where we were was a beautiful house.

              raze, subvert the cities
                             religious architecture    symbolic landscape
reading religion / culture to reinforce a political stance / social status quo
               prejudice against other cultures  /  religions  /  genders
theory, its project, pronounces
            brings down the linguistic scale
the system degrades human beings
           terrorizing them to, in fear, perform
shameful, "are they human?" things
                                                 acts, not thoughts
                                                 not porn
they secretly wanted to do NO!
the system wants them to be ashamed, so
terror's irresistible

(from Nurse / Assassin - the initial quotation is Odette Sansom describing confinement by Gestapo before being transported to Germany with other SOE members)

(7) Where words are indented, check the word directly above or below.

Books discussed:

Locket, Tupelo Press 2005.
DaDaDa, Salt 2003.
Secret Kitty, Ahadada free eBook, 2006.
Papercraft, Moria Poetry, 2006 hard copy
or eBook.
Kittenhood, Ahadada free eBook, 2007.
Chanteuse / Cantatrice, Factory School 2007 (non-US readers can get it from SPD).

I posted a review of Catherine Daly's To Delite and Instruct last year.

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