Smash The Construct To Remember Its Ghost: Ben Mirov’s GHOST MACHINE

Sean Patrick Hill, in his review of Ghost Machine for Bookslut, keys in on the GM’s formal likeness to Berryman’s Dream Songs. If Berryman drew upon a stansaic frame and meter and rhyme as formal vehicles for his work’s constellated expression of ‘character,’ what then does Mirov draw upon? Parallel syntactic structures and repetition set in a field of recursion. With these devices Mirov reifies GM’s figures and tropes where they set in their sentences into symbolic objects that hold meaning (though that meaning is never wholly clear), echoing and refracting one another across GM’s.

From Eye, Ghost:

Eye wake up in a construct. Eye lay on my
bed and sweat. Eye replay final moments. Eye try to
picture her face. Eye program a future version of myself
to remember it, slick with seawater, ringed with wet hair.
Eye go to a little shop where they sell machines
that keep you up. Eye lay the crumpled body next
to a convenience store.

Mirov recursively gathers the key figural elements of Ghost Machine into “Eye, Ghost,” the long significant section at the center of the book, substituting the speaking subject’s prior I, with the psychically-charged eye. I plan to be another language in the body of deer in “Sleepless Night Ghost” permutates to Eye plan to be another shadow in the body of deer in “Eye, Ghost.” In such recursions and refigurations, GM’s symbolic objects take on the status of motif. Grave and persistent motifs, to borrow language from Valéry, which affect the ear, the open path set deeply and directly into the reader’s cognitive copse. In so doing, Mirov lays and overlays feedback loops of sound and syntactic shape on the reader’s short term memory.

Mirov’s genius lies in his ability to centripetally reel those loops towards the book’s gravitational core. This reeling-in has an obverse aspect: it amplifies the skips and twitches of the poems’ associative nimbleness and stop/start iterations and erasures, essentially heightening the centrifugal dynamics of the text while deeply compressing its figures. The result is overwhelming, a gut-wrenching torsion, a whirl of implosion and disbursement something like the psycho-emotional blastvaccum of love’s abrupt termination. As such the emotional terrain of GM is figured into the motif-rhythms of the poems themselves. The shape of the blastvaccum in its inertia of absence manifested in the medium of memory is taken up in the recursive form of GM, and it is in this figuration that Ghost Machine is noteworthy literature.

Mirov’s speaking subject is never seen. We perceive the character, the subject of so many of GM’s predications, by its reflection in the poems’ mise-en-scène. This array consists of the bars, public transportation, streets and bedrooms of the poems, and these settings’ correlating locational props, all which reflect the presence of the speaking subject in the text, but do not explicitly show him. Instead GM’s character emerges in a sort of gestalt from the collage; those other characters the speaking subject encounters are reflective detritus as much as are the coffee, drunk food, clothes, furniture and the rest of the array of twenty-something object-markers that populate, nearly wash out, the poems.

From “Wave Machine”:

… J calls me a shitface with tears in his eyes. We meet
at 8 and grab a bite to eat. Someone says my name is Booth. She
Gives me my third drink for free. Z laughs whenever a kid starts
a fight. There isn’t enough sex to go around.

That is, with the exception of her. The compliment of GM’s speaking subject, her, is in memory a subject previous to the speaking subject of the text, a prior agent which predicates the speaker in having caused the determining factors which constitute speaker, which bring the speaker into existence. In Eye, Ghost, by a similar degree as to which her lies prior to the speaker, the figure of the eye, the perceiving organ of the ego, projects the poem away from the speaker. In this the speaker exists in the space between the absent her and the present eye in the pronoun of pure consciousness, I (more Valéry), which has by displacement become absent itself.

…Eye remember
being in the ocean with her. Eye probably won’t see her
for years. Eye put on a clean t-shirt.

GM is the powerful poetic trace of its speaker’s slow, painful reorientation towards recovery in the vacant, psychic wake of failed love. But the speaking subject does not recover, and so Mirov avoids the most abhorrent pitfall available to him considering the essentially not-quite-adult preoccupations and material of the world of the poems. In fact the speaker does not even enter the state of recovery; GM closes with the ghost of recovery looming in the figure of “Ghost Couple”:

I’m granted a dream of an unglowing girl.

Recovery projected through the dream-ether onto the object of desire. An adjective, an authorial gesture, unglowing, traces the attempt to demote recovery, the speaker’s object of desire embodied in the absent her, from its ideal status. But the adjective is an inadequate lever for the mass of the dream, the gesture fails, and nothing in the dream is shifted to the plain of the real.

What is Machine? It is authorial resistance to collapse made manifest in poetic form. It is the material surface of Mirov’s poems brought about in the unfolding of time amid the collapse-zone of a failed relationship. It is the speaker’s gestural traces drawn into sentences, sentences constituent of predication, subject through the verb to the object, sentences which function as charged syntactic units patterned into Ghost Machine’s emergent form. What is Ghost? It is that which has brought the speaker into existence, but also that which the speaker cannot apprehend.

“Ghost Transmitter”:

The knowledge of my receivers grows dim.
I can only misquote what the voice tries to say.
I will probably never see it in the mirror.

* * *

Previously: Juxtaposition, the Modern Sublime, Poetry Responding to The Deepwater Horizon Disaster.

-Curtis Jensen works and studies in Brooklyn, but he’d rather be here. He maintains a blog.

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