I’ve been struggling—let me admit it—to find a way to write about Ed Baker’s Stone Girl E-Pic. It’s a 515-page poetic adventure, the reading of which is like watching sparks thrown off by a fire: the fire’s below the rim of the firepit, so you can’t see it directly, but the climbing sparks, the waves of light and heat under a skyful of stars—this is the sensation Stone Girl produces.
Let me try to massage my HTML to give a couple of glimpses of Baker’s approach in words-alone. The first passage is Williamsesque:
how far we
say it so
what is hurry up for worms
where mind is
it is not so
The second passage is quite different—more “blown,” it seems to me:
did mind write this
h i p s
lah – la – la – lah – lah – la
hao bo moon
butter fly heart
The gift of Baker’s method is that it releases the hidden energies of connotation, etymology, allusion, and syntax—as in Joyce, not haphazardly, but with a focus that is clear-eyed, i.e. “realistic”. Joyce famously said of the interior monologue method he used in Ulysses that “it hardly matters whether the technique is ‘veracious’ or not; it has served me as a bridge over which to march my eighteen episodes.” Is Baker’s “blown language” a technical advance that others can adopt, as so many fiction writers tried to adopt Joyce’s interior monologue? I tend to think not. Like Joyce’s dream-lingo in Finnegans Wake or the acrobatic typography of e. e. cummings (who, like Baker, was both a poet and a visual artist), it is inimitable. Baker himself may continue to explore it, but in anyone else’s hands it would seem derivative.
I should add that Stone Girl has a terrific preface by Conrad DiDiodato, which does a much better job than I can do of placing Baker’s poetics in a historical context. I won’t reprise his insights here. But I do want to return to my earlier point that Stone Girl is “anti-Poundian,” which has something to do with situation Baker’s poetics within the Modernist tradition. Whereas Pound cooked up a stew of which, in Canto 116, he wrote “I cannot make it cohere” (note the implicit reliance on will in that line), Baker yields to the outer/inner motion—narrative and contemplation—and allows it to shape his language; whereas Pound builds a static collage of images and allusions, Baker tracks a single, albeit wandering, motion—an approach that makes Stone Girl feel open and involving, as opposed to The Cantos, which (for me, at least) are closed and aloof. Small wonder that Basil Bunting compared The Cantos to the Alps: massive, complex, loftily beautiful—and frozen. Baker, by contrast, immerses us in the flow of thought/emotion/insight that arises from the Walking Mind/Stone Girl relationship. I’m sure the old boy from Idaho wouldn’t know what to make of it….
There are, of course, other writers whose influence seems to course through Stone Girl: William Carlos Williams, Cid Corman, John Martone, Carl Jung, Marija Gimbutas, and Lorine Niedecker to name a few; but I don’t want to go too far down that road. The question of influence can all too easily distract us from the work itself, which in this case deserves—and rewards—our singular attention.
Note Conrad DiDiodato’s pre-publication take on the first 20 pages of Stone Girl here.