Book Beginning What and Ending Away by Clark Coolidge

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A Book Beginning What and Ending Away
by Clark Coolidge
Fence Books, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-934200-60-5
Paperback, 599 pp.
$24.95 from Fence Books

Review by Ben Roylance

My friend Kyle Page composes long pieces of music. His 2012 trombone piece is three hours of itself. We were drinking coffee in a Barnes and Noble, he was talking about flipping through a long book, how that is like what he wants for his music, how he wants to read something by flipping through it, by chance, like Morton Feldman would say sometimes, chance in music. I’ll open his trombone piece in iTunes, check out what’s happening at 45:06 of track one. I’ll reach over to my desk, where my stack of Clark Coolidge books looks so goddamn good. Kyle’s trombone is droning like motorcycles too far away, and I’m on page 243 of A Book Beginning What and Ending Away.

Because Coolidge’s work is readable. It can be a trance read straight through, or an exercise in luck, flipping to a number, of course finding a gem there. Always gems all over every page. Geologies are hard in his dreamy, goofy and deathy words. When he read at Umass Amherst’s memorial hall (so I’ll remember it), he tapped his fingers like a jazz drummer (a jazz drummer!) and there was such a complicated rhythm to his words and digits and I almost cracked a smile until I realized I was listening to an angle of heaven. So I crossed my arms and zoned in.

“Close tubes of this book in a clutter, all the time knees shining knees.”

The trombone piece is called “2012.” Kyle might have easily called it the longprose. There is a problem here with naming these forever-stretching works. If I could live more seriously, if I were made of Adderall, I would listen to the three hours of “2012” and race through A BookBeginning What and Ending Away, testing how they match up, how far I can go, a spectrum of grey I’ve always obsessed over, like how Coolidge wrote Alien Tatters probably at the exact moment when I was a little kid and first realized aliens were absolutely taking people every night. Things match up. Dana Ward said something through Jack Spicer’s syntax to that effect. “Things don’t ______, they BLANK.”

So Coolidge’s long book of the 70s isn’t even complete I guess. But it is because, here, it’s here, I’m holding it, thanks Fence. A Book Beginning Huh? and Ending Okay. It’s funny because I kept checking the Amazon page during the summer of 2012, and the date kept getting pushed back, it’s not a 2012 publication anymore. There would be something apocalyptic about it if it were, but it says 2013 on the Fence website, so it’s like AD 1, right after the world should have ended, where it begins. Or, like Joanna Newsom says, ’81. Probably Coolidge was beginning to slow this longprose down around then. And now it’s here. The copyright says 2012. That’s B.C.

Ben Roylance is a poet from Allentown, PA. He currently studies in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. He is the residency archivist at Flying Object.