Thursday, January 22, 2015

Introduction for Robert Kocik, 1/21/2015, at the Poetry Project

When I despair of calling myself a poet, and of the state of contemporary poetry at large and within the communities with whom I feel the clearest sense of affinity, I often look to Robert Kocik’s work as a kind of balm, if not an antidote, for what ails me. To quote some of his own language—his work makes our cases “acute,” rather than “chronic,” intensifying the conditions of a dis-eased collective body, treating the patient with the help of a prosodic pharmacy. Where much poetry stops short at rhetorical pyrotechnics and immanent critique, his own seeks to transform the very character of our bodies and spirits through prosodic expression.

The artist Andrea Fraser once famously declared that something is art if she declares it such. In a similar spirit, Ben Kinmont and other contemporary artists have wondered what happens when the artist “becomes something else,” which is to say, assumes a different occupation or mode of living. Like Fraser and Kinmont, Robert seeks poetic practice in an expanded field that may make visible if not somewhat ridiculous the various thresholds of poetic discourse traditionally defined in terms of lyrical persona, page poetry, and inherited models of performance. More radically, he identifies the thresholds where poetry passes into science, architecture, medicine, and choreography, redefining the role of the poet through practical activity.

Given the ambitious if not impossible scope of Robert’s lifework, it is not surprising that he gives poetry readings so infrequently and has published so sparingly. This makes witnessing him perform his work solo all the more astonishing. Where the intentions of the prosody, which would attempt to influence our genetic expression and overturn the foundations of our legal and political conduct, become instantly felt through his use of phonemics, incantation, and amulets. Much like watching Daria Fain dance her own choreography, with Robert’s rare reading appearances it is as if hearing his prosody, a communalized property of myself and his many other collaborators, return to its point of origin—uncannily appropriate.

It is common knowledge that the human brain, except in cases of psychic phenomena and extreme experience, harnesses only a small portion of its total potential. Similarly, as Robert points out, the range of poetic expression is severely circumscribed by the vast majority of poetic practices that would not seek a more expansive exploration of prosody, the prosodic encompassing a totality of potential within and without embodiment, on and off the page, in silence and in articulation. I hope you will hear the sound of that potential tonight with me.