Jocelyn Saidenberg
Berkeley: Kelsey St. Press, 2001

The new book, Cusp, by Jocelyn Saidenberg, contains four long poems. I’m tempted to call them essays, but that term is inadequate. They have an intellectual rigor and consistency that characterizes the best essays, but they are deeply satisfying poetry. They perform the essay as poem:

without enthusiasm without a preoccupied manner without exchange
values but to register a vital pleasure

‘Cusp’, the poem which gives the book its title, was my favorite poem of the year. The dictionary gives the definition of cusp as a point produced by intersecting curves, in other words, the meeting point of difference and contradiction. This poem seems to me to both define and locate the cusp of an intersection of impossibilities, language and gender. It traces frustration with a shameless uncertainty and thoroughness:

she stood up and took hold of the bunch of long stemmed broccoli—with
her bare hands she tore them in half. the whole bunch and sat back down
squatting in her wine red taffeta gown, and put all of the torn ends into
her gaspingly huge and rounded opened mouth.
what is the rank of beings who can proclaim their own passing?

What are the limits of language, and how can they be expressed in language itself? To get to these questions, these extremely knowing poems willfully occur before knowledge arrives, while waiting for it. As readers, we interrogate the absence of the knowledge we desire, and in that way invent a relationship to our own condition.

the need to bury things alive. to absent the thing in order to mean
anything something some one.

The music of the poem is interesting. Her sentences are often torn or stopped before they are complete, but words are repeated across the fragments so that constructs of sound reverberate into the generated ideas. It invokes the relation of body to word, and the reader entering the poems is entering that relation: the thing and the word for it. A difference between words (as sound units) and music is that words contain the shadow of the signified. Poems are worldly, in a word way. Her repetitions strum abstraction until it becomes curiously visceral.
One word that recurs frequently is ‘pivot’. The poems don’t enact a search, but a dedication to encountering the question. We are always at the beginning, stepping forth.

I want to work on the paths and impasses of figurability
unabashedly here
uncontrollably there
unheimlichly there and here
and in this process, both agile and directionless,
...the troublesome helpmate, pivot.

Cusp is a map of an impasse, "that form from which we are in flight / and the unbearable moment." It is a sophisticated and passionate critique that is presented through the sensual opacity of its own materials, words. The poem evokes being here as a series of continual tiny adjustments. To see, not the first time, but again: "making a process its own possession". With each adjustment the writer sets out again on the journey, because there is no such thing in this investigation as progress.
The work is satisfying in part because it is so thoroughly concentrated: we look at the blind spot. Over and over. This repetition infests philosophy. The poem discovers it as language, oscillating between frustration and repeated bouts of opening up: nothing as expected. Nothing is, period. And yet we become experienced; filled with, and characterized by, experiences.

extreme burlesque evanescent ripples
the sheepish impact two bodies have upon each other

--- Camille Roy