(NB: there a small error of fact in Tom's text. He refers to my Otoliths book as "Parts and Other Poems." It should be Parts and Other Pieces.)
, only Tom Beckett, author of for Dipstick(Diptych), has enjoyed an extensive poetic reputation preceding his selection by the contest judge. Published in 2006 by Meritage Press, Unprotected Texts is a compilation of nearly three decades of work, much of which is previously published in chapbooks and such anthologies as Silliman’s celebrated In the American Tree, And since then, Otoliths has brought out two more important collections, This Poem/ What Speaks?/ A Day and Parts and Other Poems. But Mr. Beckett was also well known in the eighties as the editor of The Difficulties, a journal that did much to bring significant attention to Language Poetry and poetics. He has also been curator of two fine interview zines, E-X-C-H-A-N-G-E V-A-L-U-E-S and Ask/Tell. Indeed, Beckett is a maestro of that underappreciated form, the poetry interview.
I wish to deliver the poet’s full presence to you soon, so, at the risk of being mildly outrageous, I’ll discuss only the double-dipping title of Tom Beckett’s book and the poems’ self-questioning or self-consuming titles. Well, are there two poems in this doubly titled book? One might argue that a two-page poem, “My Robot,” is folded within the first of the two. Then again, is his book doubly titled if both are, in some way, put under erasure? Dipstick is crossed out; is the poet therefore bracketing or suspending possibilities of measurement? Does the wet line where the oil stops constitute only a shadowy trace of presence? (Diptych), is put in parentheses: does this make it a parergon, an insignificant aside, or do the parentheses call all the more attention to it?. “Overpainted Thresholds” suggests the placing of a boundary under erasure, not through an eraser’s dematerializing action that nevertheless leaves a residue, but through material (paint) that obscures the physical marker beneath it. Oil on a dipstick signifies an “overpainting” and a “threshold,” too. And the poem-title, “I forgot,” which turns out to be the first two words of most sentences in this catalogue-poem, bespeaks the tracing of a gap, a rupture in memory with consequences for narrative and for human action. Both sides of this poetic diptych speak to one another as measurement of displacement and displacement of measurement. As for the troubling third term, the title “My Robot” refers both to a steely measurement of human attributes and the question of whether technology really possesses “memory” or an ability to “forget.”
The poems in this volume beautifully dramatize the metathematics that I’ve been underscoring and that I wish Derrida, de Man, Lacan, et al were alive to recognize or misread. As Charles Bernstein did, you’ll discover all this for yourself on the page, but first in the living speech of the ever-questing, ever-questioning philosopher-trickster-tropester, the Earl—or rather, the Bard—of Kent (Ohio): Tom Beckett.