Videos of Glory
By Colby Somerville
So too the bees in their busy summer’s dawn,
‘Neath a hot sun, out across a flower’d lawn,
Some few to lead the younger in their toils,
Or pack the honeycombs with nectar-spoils
Or to relieve returners of their loads,
Or unhive the lazy drones with their goads,
Frantic works buzz to apiary rhyme,
And the o’er-sweetened honey smiles with thyme.
(from The Aeneid, Book 1)
Though poet Colby Somerville cites Shakespeare, “so work the honeybees.” ‘Course, Shakespeare read Virgil. From bees to tracking bees and “reconnaissance,” to the HALO-II airborne observatory, also a reference to the game-world of Halo 2, to the real-world drones built by Lockheed Martin. Those who recall TV and monitor screens that weren’t flat hear that drone throughout too; even now, pop out your earbuds and hear the hum of CPU, and nearly everything else electric, or street noise, either the automobiles (Somerville cites John Cage “Now, the traffic is easy to recognize as beautiful, but those drones are more difficult…”) or any empty street—transformers above, traffic signal box, etc. By DeathTV 5, a connection between bees’ hive-minded droning is explicitly made to humans’ “droning through the hours” (a line borrowed by Somerville from William Johnson Cory). Either in offices or shopping malls or seated in front of our TVs and computer screens, all-focus on their light, our crummy apartments ignored for the illusion that we’re in the world, living.
Drones are not all human misery and disconnectedness. Prayer, especially meditation, creates a drone too—and prayer is ultimately hopeful: please holy universe put an end to war. Our TVs show us the cast-off radiation from the beginning. Then there’s the drone at the base of music, a bagpipe, a sitar, an organ; or listen to a drone on its own for its hypnotic power.
The music most obvious in DeathTV comes in parts 1 and 5 and a little in 6, where Somerville mimics archaic styles:
should i be red-cheeked ‘pon a grassy field
in nimble play among fond mates,
then pleasure’s empire is congealed,
not as when from sick, doleful traits
my soul went droning through the hours,
befriending as i feared them, powers.
These passages are not parody or pastiche but adoption; take a line from a 19th-century verse (the Cory) and that line’s style spreads. These passages hold the poem, unlike parts 3 and 4, where the poem breaks apart across the pages, reminiscent of Jessica Smith’s poetry (see Organic Furniture Cellar). In those parts that break, and to a lesser degree in part 2 and the second half of 6, the pleasure is visual and in the wit of individual lines such as “in / defense contracts / San Diego, glass, steel / like the other orchards, this / a subduction zone.”
The Gorgon, introduced in part 6, isn’t given enough space to develop into a potent image for DeathTV. The Gorgone fits in the poem—that’s not the problem. Somerville cites both The Odyssey and a Times article about a Navy drone called Gorgon, drawing a line back to The Aeneid and Lockheed Martin, but “Gorgon” is jammed at the end of the book, and Gorgon is too big for such treatment… which raises the question: is there / will there be more DeathTV? The “1 – 6” suggests yes, and DeathTV deserves a bigger canvas, a few sequences more.
In a way, readers of DeathTV do get a “few sequences more.” Somerville includes a four-page addendum that bares the roots of his poem. Somerville’s “i this infer, that healthful civil life, / on heav’n’s law, grow so orderly, my liege” is revealed as the end-result of a process that included, from Henry V, “Therefore doth heaven divide / The state of man in divers functions” and “The sad-eyed justice with his surly arm.” Elsewhere Somerville takes lines whole, but here he riffs: from “state” and “justice” come “civil” and “law,” used differently than by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The addendum tells a lot. Perhaps it’s restrictive, directing the reader to various points along Somerville’s thought process, but it also illuminates.
The chapbook’s production, presumably to be credited to the hands at Lightful Press, is a pleasure. Mollie Goldstrom’s “handmade cover” is a gray wallpaper of bees, honeycomb hexagons, missiles, and military drones, with title, author, and press logo in red type. A finishing touch: the book is stitched with the red thread that’s killing those English axe men.
Adam Golaski is the author of Color Plates and Worse Than Myself. He is currently at work editing a selection of Paul Hannigan’s writings, due from Flim Forum Press early next year. His poetry has appeared in a number of journals including 1913: A Journal of Forms (#6), Moonlit, Little Red Leaves, word for/word, and LVNG. Adam blogs at Little Stories.