Our / Vertical / Miseries / & / Joys: A Fantasia on Noelle Kocot’s ‘Phantom Pains of Madness’

Typically, I write on a legal size notebook, turned long-side horizontal, treating the page more like a blackboard. But in honor of today’s topic, Noelle Kocot’s new book of poems, Phantom Pains of Madness, I’ve gone vertical, since her entire book consists of poems with one-word lines, like this:

I
Am
Not
An
Ogre
And
Without
All
Of
This
Propelling
Me
To
Write
Poems
What
Is
Left  
Only
The  
Life
The
Singing
Language
Around
The
Life
(from “Life is Beautiful”)

All / Of / This / Propelling / Me: the writing does propel, in that it feels incomplete, straining after an impossible wholeness:

I
Am
Telling
You
The
Truth
That
The
Limitations
Were
All
Pure
Lies
(from “Limitations”)

You’d think, and I know you’re expecting me to say, that Kocot’s lineation emphasizes each word. But that’s not quite right. The stress—that is, the emphasis and the tension—is on the following word, a relentless sense of anticipation, of endless nextness. As the false endings accumulate, the reader is put on edge:

Edges
Over
Your
Visual
Cliff
(from “The Gone World”)

I
Don’t
Know
The
Future
But
Exile
And
Mitosis
Are
The
Commas
That
Lurch
Us
Into
A
Galaxy
Of
Forever
(from “The Future”)

This format is perfect for expressing anxiety as well as creating it in the reader. It’s unsettling: you could say that Kocot’s lines are paratactic, a jolt from word to word. Or you could say they’re enjambed. I’d argue that it’s always both, and that it’s up to you, dear reader, to decide at each turn how to read it. The word verse—etym. Latin, “to turn”— was never more appropriate: each word/line is a turn.

———–

Why do they call it longing, that aching sense of yearning/grief/desire? Kocot’s line scheme makes these poems long. In fact, you could say that Phantom Pains of Madness is a phenomenology of longing:

I
Expend
A
Ball
Of
Yarn
Out
In
The
Yard
Yearning
(from ”Yarn”)

I
Find
I
Want
Ceaselelessly

(from “Pills”)

A yearning for

A
Future
Full
Of
Holes
(from “(____)”)

Or an irrecoverable past:

Life
Of
The
Things
That
Pass
(from “Stains”)

In “Sunstorm,”  Kocot mentions “Salad / Days,” a phrase that finds its origin in Antony and Cleopatra. It’s Shakespeare’s most enjambed play—its lines, like its characters, always overspilling their bounds—and appropriately enough, it’s a play of longing: “Give me my robe, put on my crown, I have / Immortal longings in me.”

Or as Kocot puts it:

The
God-
Hunger
(from “Addict”)

A
Hereafter
Where
Infinite
Hope
The
Most
Profound
Kind
Lays
Itself
Out
(from “On Paul V’s Birthday”)

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