Lost and Found, Michael Gottlieb
Roof Books, 2003
The three individual poems of Lost and Found -- Issue of Error, The Dust, and Careering Obloquy -- are honed, gradual, sequenced pieces which are structurally not unlike Oppen’s or Spicer’s serial work. The book takes on the feeling of a destroyed object whose constituent parts are slowly reassembling themselves before the reader's eyes like a backward film reel, except the reassembled object is not the same as the shattered one.
Although it shares the central quality of Objectivism in viewing the poem as an object, Gottlieb's poetry develops the concept further by also identifying identity, personal and group history, and thought as objects.
In circling and recircling his scrutiny around a series of remains and implying questions about various processes of degradation that have led to some lamentable current state, Gottlieb develops a compelling poetic system, one capable of including layers of autobiography, social commentary and thought. The mournful, dark vibe is not without humor, and projects a consistent sense of resignation and desire for clarity.
Gottlieb uses intentionally limited methods and tonalities in combination with two main ingredients in subtle, shifting proportions: parataxis and analogy. One of the many distinctive aspects of this work is its extensive and unabashed use of simile. He moves simile away from the straining decorative function it has assumed in the hands of confessional and workshop poetries and uses it as a means of actually drawing out the powers of analogic thought.
there you are
like nothing so much as an unclaimed lot
bought back by the house,
not having met your minimum
Gotlieb’s work often feels like an enumeration of conditions one has been reduced to by the forces of one’s own history. It often reads like a re-visioning of the elegiac tradition -- looking at what you’ve lost through the negative template of what remains in order to better locate and understand the present moment.
Poetry’s relation to wishful thinking can run across a wide spectrum, from a safe area for the imagination all the way to an all-out delusion enhancement system. If poets across a wide range of styles and literary groupings tend to lean towards the latter tendency, then Gottlieb’s work could be considered a sharp corrective maneuver in the direction of dealing with things that refuse to not be the case in life -- things which generally go unspoken.
Gottlieb's poetry fuses lyrical, meditative, skeptical and investigative poetic impulses. The drama this enacts is that of someone uncovering life informations which are continually sinking into an ambient social aphasia. These unearthed layers of psycho-social information are the raw material of the poetry in Lost and Found, material which is sequenced on a larger scale though a pointed process of accretion.
Gottlieb has a unique take on the understanding of the local in poetry. In this sense his work could be considered an extension of the tradition of emphasizing the local in the works of William Carlos Williams or Charles Olson. For Gottlieb the local is a matter of how one lives in groups -- especially the negative aspects of belonging to a particular in-group -- the underbelly of the social agency of creative manifestation.
The connotations and contexts are richly unstable, though. There are select harmonic groupings of possible contexts that this poetry simultaneously evokes: laments about the details of work-life, the toxic long-term effects of being a poet, and the mental and social environmental degradation of middle-class America.
The other local condition operating in the book is the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, invoked through the Alan Davies cover photo and the middle poem The Dust.
The Dust is a list of items, things destroyed in the attacks, mundane business supplies grouped into classes, and mixed with people’s names.
Myst II: Exile, for Windows 98, CD-ROM, Ubisoft Entertainment, Inc.
Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandage, 1/2" by 3’’
Picture Frame By Umbra, Fits Pictures 3 1/2 by 5
Daniel C. Lewin
This systematically based, carefully limited method of construction invites comparison to musical Minimalism, especially with someone like Tom Johnson or early Terry Riley or Steve Reich, where the processed-based construction is transparent, but the artistic effects are not totally dependent on the registration of the conceptual process.
As they build up these items seem to be asking questions. Is this what we have created as a group, as a country? Is this what we will leave behind? Are the other things we have created -- social formations and practices, art, a string of life decisions, the same as these objects? What is going to be left of us once capitalism is done with us? What do we wish to be in the face of our extraordinary temporariness?
The mundane quality of most of the objects ("distressed denim baseball cap") takes on a strange poignancy, not at all cynical, as if these things have been relieved of their duties as prosaic commodities and have almost taken over the role of the poet as a commentary-generating agency.
Gottlieb’s work dramatically enacts a forensic social poetics of object.
(the text of Gottlieb's previous book, Gorgeous Plunge, is available on-line in its entirety here)