A Review of Cooper Wilhelm's 'Dumbheart Stupidface'
This review consists of three parts, the Nintendo attention span five hundred word version, my attempt at identifying imbrications with the work, and a TL;DR analysis of Cooper Wilhelm's work situated between the poles of materialist investigation and a pre-historical ghost forest.
Dumbheart Stupidface will be released on 11/13/2017 on the Coping Mechanisms imprint.
THE FIVE HUNDRED WORD REVIEW OF COOPER WILHELM’S DUMBHEART STUPIDFACE
Cooper’s trademark humor is present from the third stanza. Is that a bourgeois thing to say? It’s true. Within the humor, or between it rather, is also emotion expressed in gentle observations. Ephemeral objects of memory like a “light thrown across the table like a scarf...” a thing we’ve all seen and that could be from anytime, but Wilhelm’s lines are decidedly from this time.
The first trope we find in Dumbheart Stupidface is one of necromancy. That is the first thread - a death positive / negative / positivity. There are graves from the very beginning, but graves alongside that kind of life that I can’t write anymore, because I’m old and the patterns are already set. The exploring of the rows and secret Masonic patterns between gravestones are for new poets, like Cooper.
The first bit that I really liked though, was the poem Hummock Bark. I dig the lyrical not-palindrome title play when it happens right. DHSF (is that better? Are acronyms ever better or just cryptic) gets this bit right.
It isn’t until this poem that you see what’s new, what Wilhelm is bringing to the table, right. Hummock Bark begins the dance with enchantment and a haunting of the twenty-first century that is a continuation of the late nineteenth early twentieth century occult fictionalists. Hummock Bark brings the lyrical play together with the necromantic palor that mists the rest. It doesn’t wane, the momentum continues from this point, quickly, like a made for streaming binge series, no longer the Kubrick longshot of last century’s poetry.
What’s missing then, because the perfect Borgesian book of verse has not been written yet, or ever, to be sure. What is missing from DHSF (its growing on me but likely blasphemy, I mean there is a reason poets give their books titles). What’s missing is self, but we find the self in others through elegant abstraction; that tool is sharp in Cooper's bag. The bad joke that goes on too long in 4 AM is punctuated with striking, near (appropriated word use alert) shamanic imagery of holding a heated stone in the mouth of a man we don’t know yet. Something is missing, but it is the same thing that is missing from so much poetry, so it places the work among its peers, which isn’t bad. And like I said, the humor is a larger part of Wilhelm.
Dumbheart Stupidface is built like a talisman of warning.
It’s text tells us nothing we can use rationally, its metadata is the pulse of the jugendstil and an endearing unwillingness to paint the world in Pointillist sketches, which we find is decidedly to our benefit.
Right, so I’m a middle aged white guy that lives in a midwestern suburb. I’m not going to pretend that I’m tuned into the kind of fast lane glitzy Brooklyn radio host wizard scene that Cooper Wilhelm is privy to. I do have some analogs that I think fit his aesthetic, though, that I’ve seen and filed away (read: stole from other young persons like a ghoul after unbaptized babies).
The Imbrications for my review of Dumbheart Stupidface are almost a type of Stranger Things Upside Down version of the New York witchscene that birthed it, as they hail from across the country in the Emerald City of San Francisco.
My sister-in-law, the extra-talented founder of Handfast Hotel, posted some videos of her friends, the group Vanwave, awhile back. The ambience they create in these videos layer very closely over Wilhelm’s work, although their tones come through as blue and dead-lost-in-the-forest-green where DHSF gives me more of an sulfur Dante-undead-in-the-mist-orange feeling.
Check ‘em out and let me know if you think I hit the mark.
Dumbheart Stupidface is a statement, of sorts, but a statement that plants its feet in dogma / antidogma - in short, DHSF is an irreverent skeleton of a creed. Let's not get confused about this, however. I'm not suggesting the DHSF is the doctrine for a new amoebic religion. Let us listen to our poetic elders speak in 'This Craft of Verse' from Jorges Luis Borges:
“I think of all poetic theories as being mere tools for the writing of a poem. I suppose there should be as many [poetic] creeds, as many religions, as there are poets.”
So each poet is their own creed, and Cooper is no exception. If then, we are to operate under this assumption, what is the truth of Wilhelm's doctrine? We have mentioned the mask of humor and the impressionist sketches, but aren't these just the pointy hats and gilded golf carts of the work? As in most religions, we only gather glimpses of the truth among the trappings. We see the shape of this glimmering truth when Cooper writes:
“He tries to stand up from the bed
to shave or find a window, to call out
or find a corner to be alone
with thoughts of what he’s done or the marketplace or you.
Oh, but he is lost at sea.
The cloth of our white sails will fill your cups, set your tables, block
the light of your bright windows, all your days.”
The creed of DHSF is a man inside himself. A religion of solitude expressed through observation of the world he is not fully a part of. Wilhelm sketches himself as a human metaphor. Before beginning an analysis of the more ancient forms of poetry, Borges offers a method through which we can begin to understand Cooper, and indeed, the new witchy generation altogether. Again from 'This Craft of Verse'
“I would like to take some stock patterns of metaphor. I use the word ‘pattern’ because the metaphors I will quote will be to the imagination quite different, yet to the logical thinker they would be almost the same.”
Patterns of metaphor, layered over patterns of biology and sociology in a world where only the maleficicent have coping options. Without these tools, Wilhelm warns us, the meaning in the patters begin to break down:
"How much of the message of your DNA
will your kid remember as his face,
as how she walls her hands around a paper cup
of vending machine coffee in a hospital cafeteria slash gift shop?"
Pattern of biology and patterns of language...
Borges is certainly an outpost in our haunted forest. What does Cooper's work look like through the materialist lens? For this, we visit the mid-twentieth century linguist, Benjamin Whorf, and his seminal work, 'Language, Thought, and Reality'. In this work, Whorf talks about our duality of lenses, framing them instead as a 'form-plus-substance' dichotomy and a 'common sense' view:
“From the form-plus-substance dichotomy the philosophical views most traditionally characteristic of the ‘Western World’ have derived huge support. Here belong materialism, psychophysical parallelism, physics — at least in its traditional Newtonian form — and dualistic views of the universe in general. Indeed here belongs almost everything that is ‘hard, practical common sense.’ Monistic, holistic, and relativistic views of reality appeal to philosophers and some scientists, but they are bad handicapped in appealing to the ‘common sense’ of the Western average man — not because nature herself refutes them (if she did, philosophers could have discovered this much), but because they must be talked about in what amounts to a new language.”
We see this blend in my aforementioned favorite piece in the work, Hummock Bark. Look closely at the stanzas that follow, the punctuating consonant are an analog to Newtonian physics, but the quality and context of the words peel back the folkloric 'common sense' beneath. We see a spirit list of geological substances, of crystals and magically adjacent minerals. In Hummock Bark, Cooper approaches Whorf's new language, a holism of the real and unreal.
“I met Broomhilda milking spiders in the holy den,
making naked worship on low-hung branches,
peeling newts and bones.
Stones of quality, unlike the others in wood,
plagioclase, aplite, feldspar, litchfieldite,
obsidian, breccia, marl,
were our hungry bed.”
The desert of the real, where of course our materialist is located, is such a contrast to our ghost forest. The dangers of both are extreme, but what of the liminal space in between. That half-savanna, half-timber space where the denizens of both worlds meet? This is where myth is born, where man and monster dance. If we are to view Dumbheart Stupidface through our polar lenses, where is it situated, if not in this area of natural dissociation. We've heard from the worldpoet Borges and from the inveterate participant observer, Whorf. Who rules the in-between, except for the Chief Alchemist, the maker of mineral to myth as we see in Hummock Bark, Carl Jung.
I've pulled a quote from Jung's alchemical treastise, Aion, that might help us understand Wilhelm and his new books place in the borderlands:
"Myths and fairy tales give expression to unconscious processes, and their retelling causes these processes to come alive again and be recollected, thereby re-establishing the connection between conscious and unconscious. What the separation of the two psychic halves means, the psychiatrist knows only too well. He knows it as dissociation of the personality, the root of all neuroses: the conscious goes to the right and the unconscious to the left. As opposites never unite at their own level… a supra ordinate ‘third’ is always required, in which the two parts can come together.”
Work in this third place, this metaphysical coffee house, is required so that we can gain a better understanding of the extremes.
At the end of my video-game-attention-span version of this review, I make the claim that Cooper has built his book in the way one constructs a talisman. I'd like to clarify that point here. Peter J. Carroll, the first Chaos Magician (where does he sit in our cosmology of references?), has insight into this process in his work, Liber Null:
“Sorcery is the art of using material bases to effect magical transformations… Four main types of material base are used. Those which contain reserves of a particular type of power such as fetishes, talismans, spirit traps and amulets… Talismans, amulets and fetishes are charged by a process analogous to evocation. Talismans are usually the recipient of some simple charge that evokes strength, courage, health, virility, no-mind, sleep, or some other emotion… If the talisman is well enough made, it should continue to evoke its effect even when it is not being used for concentration…”
Once one reads through Dumbheart Stupidface, the talismanic effect is obvious. We see all of the magical powers Carroll mentions in these stanzas; strength, courage, health, virility, no-mind, sleep... They are all present. We are even given the materials of construction, as is proper in any grimoire worth its ink:
"A copper cross hung just so
as good luck to keep the babies out. Oppenheimer kept
a horseshoe nailed at its arms above his door
like lamb’s blood, said,
“They tell me it works
even if you don’t believe in it.”
He was maybe unaware
that the tradition is a Wiccan way
to bring the Horned Man into the house.
More than unaware, which is to say,
beyond caring, already become
so much more than death."
With these materials, it might even be possible to create an iteration of this book, a magical experiment bent to our own will. With Borges in our forest, and Whorf in our desert, Jung in our border lands, than must Carroll hover above our borderlands as a representative of the patternless cloudscape. To complete our cosmology, let us look beneath the mythical ground of this analysis, let us travel to the underworld in order to view the work from all sides.
As our guide, I've chosen another psychologist, James Hillman, and his work 'The Dream and the Underworld'. In this truly fantastic book, Hillman helps us define what he calls the 'dream-work' and those archetypes that help build this chthonic space:
“Let us imagine the dream-work to be an activity, less of a censor than of a bricoleur. Censors suggest morals, or they implicate us in spies, codes and detection. But the dream bricoleur is a handyman, who takes the bits of junk left over from the day and potters about with them, tacking residual things together in a collage… Death is the scrap dealer, stripping the world for spare parts, separating, destroying connections…”
Cooper is our bricoleur, piecing together the post-modern fragments of our geomantic spirit list, of the unknown but immediate goals of the young in the twenty-first century, of the Western Magical Diaspora. While this view of dreams and dream-work is 'practically' problematic, it is not poetically problematic and might even be poetically necessary.
I'll close this TL;DR with a final few stanzas from Dumbheart Stupidface that touch every being in our analytical cosmology: