Type of Culminating Activity
Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
Martin Corless-Smith, Ph.D., M.F.A.
The poems in How Many Headless Telamons initially seek the impossible: origin.
This attempt begins with an examination of the metaphor and, by extension, the image.
In Works on Paper, Eliot Weinberger writes, “Metaphor: to transfer from one place to another. In Greece, the moving vans are labeled METAPHORA” (9). While granting the utility of metaphors in poetic language and thought, How Many Headless Telamons attempts to explore the dilemma of movement itself; that something is to be moved not only pluralizes location, but means that that which needs to move is not where it needs or desires to be. In this, Metaphor houses the erotic tension that comes from separating words and names from what they point to, from separating I from You. This separation creates distance, between words and objects, self and other, meaning and origin. If the task of the poet is to transcend human experience, then it follows (in this book) that this distance should be collapsed; the trajectory of a metaphor, of an image, of language itself, drawn back to its starting point, its origin.
This, of course, is impossible. As failure becomes more apparent, as How Many Headless Telamons succumbs to the image, a choice presents itself: movement is inevitable, where then to go?
The answer begins and ends in the symbol of the cave, which brings to bear on the text many levels of movement, both that of the multi-faceted symbol itself, and of the directional implications of its “physical” structure. That cave as a symbol can be seen to be the location of the dawn of human consciousness, be a metaphor for the mouth (and thus the location of eros and speaking/poetry), be the location of and metaphor for knowledge (via Plato), and that simultaneously its “physical” properties allow its metaphors and notions of interiority/exteriority and direction to intersect, provides How Many Headless Telamons with an impossible task. To collapse that metaphor would be something special indeed. But it also allows the book to attempt the impossible, to begin to hollow out and collapse images and their metaphorical distance by placing them in a dark interior and pointing them at each other, even if that interior is not an interior at all.
Many of the symbols and images in How Many Headless Telamons are common throughout the history of poetry, but this book takes into consideration a number of influential books in particular: Paul Celan’s Breathturn, trans. Pierre Joris, and the notion of a poem or poet being denied his own interiority. How Many Headless Telamons was particularly interested in the final stanza of “Ashglory”: “Noone / bears witness for the / witness”; Octavio Paz’ The Monkey Grammarian, where the impossible-to-say meets what-is-said amidst a lush, imagistic landscape; Clayton Eshleman’s Juniper Fuse, where the poetic possibilities of locating the first instances of humans creating art in paleolithic caves provided much of the inspiration for this book; Xavier Villaurrutia’s Nostalgia for Death, trans. Eliot Weinberger, and its terrible vision of the self continually being denied interiority; Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette, and the protagonist’s journey as movement through its own metaphorization.
The word telamon, and its thematic import, was first glimpsed while reading Paz’ The Monkey Grammarian. A telamon, in architecture, is “a male figure used as a column to support an entablature or other structure.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary notes that telamon is “Latin, from Greek telamōn bearer, supporter; akin to Greek tlēnai to bear.” The image of a column in the form of a human, minus the head, places absence and construction in the same structural realm, a realm in which what exactly is being supported by the telamons, and how being headless affects the support, is as equivocal as what kind of burden this places on the poet. How Many Headless Telamons proposes answers to these dilemmas.
The title reads like a question, which can be said to be “the only complete grammatical structure that cannot exist by itself-it must always take us somewhere else, to another sentence or to an unspoken (unspeakable) unknown” (Weinberger, 66). But it also reads like a statement, a declaration. That it commits to neither direction lends some small success to a book about failure.
Images, metaphors, poetry, cave, mouth, I, you, palpitating black sails shiplessly adrift: the failure to reach their origin becomes How Many Headless Telamon’s origin. A poet’s consolation, in the end, is all he has.
Jensen, Torin, "How Many Headless Telamons" (2013). Boise State University Theses and Dissertations. 365.