he-you-i: Who’s thinking, anyway?

Review of Every Day in the Morning (Slow) by Adam Seelig
Vancouver: New Star Books, 2010

          Adam Seelig’s Every Day in the Morning (Slow) is a savvy cross-genre poetic narrative that gets inside the head of Sam, a composer facing a crisis of creativity. Sam’s meandering morning thoughts reveal his frustration about his blocked creativity and his diminishing prospects for fame and money in an economy that he views as encouraging style, sentimentality, and the shallow repetition of the comfortable and familiar. These thoughts intertwine with Sam’s conflicted emotions about his mother, who died giving birth to him; his wealthy father, who has little understanding for Sam’s musical endeavours; and his wife, whose supportive words only send Sam into a spiral of guilt because of his lack of income.
          The book is a deceptively easy read: because of the liberal use of space on the page, it can be read in less than a couple of hours. But what makes it so extraordinary is Seelig’s seamless interweaving of the complex psychological, sexual, economic, and aesthetic themes within Sam’s reveries, the way that he guides the reader smoothly from one plane of thought to the next and demonstrates the interrelatedness of the themes flowing through Sam’s consciousness. For me the greatest pleasure is in re-reading the text, revisiting passages to experience at a slower pace the subtleties of their music. And there really is something musical—ironically enough, given Sam’s compositional block—in the thematic development and variations and in the rhythmic expressiveness aided by the use of space on the page, which reads something like a musical score: Sam’s elusive magnum opus, perhaps?
          Seelig’s striking use of space on the page places the text in a liminal genre between prose narrative and poem. The lineation and zigzagging left margin might seem daunting at first—quite a bit of eye hockey required—but an expressive rhythm emerges that, like a song by Janacek, aligns with speech patterns and with the emotional hesitations and associative streams of thought characteristic of the internal monologue. Here’s an excerpt from a page in which Sam contemplates the possible compromises a composer might make in an economy that rewards the commercialization of art:

The arrangement of the words emphasizes Sam’s bemoaning the correspondences between art, power, and money: like a capitalist bottom line, “sell” keeps hitting the left margin as a reminder of the hard economic realities of being an artist. Also, the repetition of words echoes the use of repetitive motifs and rhythms by composers of minimalist music, whom Sam views as a prime example of selling out in contemporary music. And the cheesy rhyming of “sham” and “ham” foreshadows his rant on the following page that “the cheesier the style the more it sells.”
          What might at first blush seem like an arbitrary scattering of words on the page is in reality a very smart use of space on the page—positions, margins, repetition—effectively scoring Sam’s thoughts. This use of space is a kind of stylistic signature of the book, but far from being what Sam sees as the vapid triumph of style, Seelig’s spacial manipulation meshes with and emphasizes the intricate interplay of ideas and emotions in Sam’s monologue. And the lineation produces a seamless quality, not only because of its cohesive effect on the whole, but also because the spatial patterns give the meandering thoughts the continuity that allows the reader to make connections among them, for example, between his troubled relationship with his wealthy father and his feelings of disgust toward the commercialization of art.
          But what is perhaps easier to take for granted in Every Day is the intricate and sophisticated shifting of perspective—thus the “he-you-i” in the title of this review. Although long passages of Sam’s internal monologue are written in the first person, the point of view shifts almost without the reader being aware of the change. The opening of the narrative shows just how Seelig glides from a third person narrator’s prologue:

*****
This is what happens in the morning of course many things happen to many people in the morning but this is what happens when Sam wakes up . . .
. . .
he puts on some shaving cream picks up his razor blade and starts shaving in the yellow light he’s flicked on a slightly yellow light that flickers at first above the mirror that reflects him
*****

to the second person:

*****
well what else can a mirror do but reflect and what else can you do in the mirror but face your face and reflect on how you used to believe you could write music to make a living simply make a living from writing your own God how naive you were to believe that back then . . .
. . .
while he does fine all the same because whatever Father wants Father gets with all the money he has for what for sitting for sitting on his rump all day as if his fat all shits bills all day long a trumpet call of bills from his ass as if from out of his fat ass pops one long trumpet that toots bills all day long just sitting since he sits on his ass all day
*****

and finally to the “i” of Sam’s internal monologue:

*****
like me i guess a little like me so what if i also sit when i work i really work i don’t just sit and get fat if anything i’m getting even thinner
*****

          The conversational “well” that opens the shift to the second person shows how subtly Seelig accomplishes the transition toward the internal monologue. Moreover, the “you,” which could be apprehended at first as an indefinite pronoun (a “you” out there, perhaps also the reader), presages Sam’s internal dialogue shaving before a mirror, addressing himself as “you” and responding as “i,” wondering whether he should latch onto a trademark, like the minimalists’ use of repetition, to become a famous composer. At the end of this passage, he agrees with his internal questioning voice, rejecting the prospect of becoming a “famous bore”:

*****
maybe one note is all it takes why not like Cage one note to be like John Cage or Riley repetitive like Terry Riley why is Terry Riley so repetitive a bore like Reich take a bore like Steve Reich is Philip Glass as repetitive you wonder as you shave in the mirror is one note all it takes for me to be the next Glass or Reich or Riley or Cage sure if what you want is to be a bore a famous bore mind you but a bore all the same why are they all the same and why is one more repetitive than the next is it to bore me to death
*****

          These subtle shifts in perspective enhance the seamless quality of the narrative, which is written so skilfully that a reader might marvel at the effect without at first being aware of how it was accomplished.
          Seelig’s shifting points of view remind me of Apollinaire’s “Zone,” a poem whose alternations among first, second, and third points of view have been associated with cubism. Some have interpreted these shifts as symptomatic of the modernist rupture of the self into expressions of self-alienation brought about by cultural forces of urbanization and technology. I’ve always felt that this argument is insufficient to explain the fracturing of the traditionally consistent point of view into modernist literature’s prismatic investigation of subjective experience. Call me an optimist, but I’m drawn more to Mary Ann Caws’ interpretation of the shifting points of view in “Zone”: “the pronominal zig-zags vibrate within the text, creating a warmth of contact between narrator and reader, drawn into the poem” (52).
          And to me, this is the effect of Seelig’s shifting points of view in Every Day, as the “he-you-i” flow at the opening demonstrates, for the reader is implicated in Sam’s dialogic “you.” Thus the boundaries between points of view are permeable, as are the resulting boundaries between narrator, character, and reader.
          In Every Day Seelig takes seamlessness, a quality associated with stream of consciousness writing, to another level through the musicality of the writing. And like hearing the music that Sam would probably like to compose, reading his thoughts is a hypnotic experience.

Work Cited
Caws, Mary Ann. “Strong-Line Poetry: Ashbery’s Dark Edging an the Lines of Self.” The Line in Postmodern Poetry. Eds. Robert Frank and Henry Sayre. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.



Camille Martin
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2 responses to “he-you-i: Who’s thinking, anyway?

  1. Pingback: Yet more poetry | A Body's In Trouble

  2. Pingback: Attention Span 2012 | Camille Martin « Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

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