Jan/Feb 2004 Book Reviews


Catherine Daly
Salt Publishing (2003) 224 pages

reviewed by Kevin McGowin

I'll bet Catherine Daly is intimidating to a large number of people. Her difficult work, such as the present, lengthy volume, and perhaps even she herself. Regardless, with DaDaDa, her work owes something to Dada, as the title suggests, though it goes well beyond that or any other "movement" to incorporate unique and disparate elements of its own, the "da" of the third syllable—a post-surrealistic word-play that pushes its own boundaries and produces a result greater (as it were) than the sum of its parts. These "parts" are the elementals of language itself, a sort of proto-dada in themselves that serve to further the relationships of the antithetical: humor undercutting humor, play layered onto play to create a tangential framework of historical precedents which consume themselves in their very articulation of fissure off in a fission of associations. The holy becomes holy by means of its heresy, and the humor becomes gravid in the undertow of its wit. To read Daly is to accomplice oneself in the accomplishment of a fervid reduction through addition, a quantum through which meanings are shifted in a morphic resonance of deliberate fluxions to erase the literal in a continuous displacement of itself, whereby the same literal manifests itself in an infinite number of equally tenable possibilities.

Don't ask me to give you a history or an explication of dada or surrealism or slam poetry or Christian mysticism. I'll give you 1500 words as it is.

—How does the Baltimore Catechism look to a Search Engine? What happens when poetry is composed for a PDF and reveals a further litany of anagrams? Enter an ever-expanding array of factors that have invisibly affected and directed not only poetry but language and meaning all along, and peek as it were at its Source Code. Sounds like bullshit to YOU? Well, it is and it is in such a way that any explication or dismissal of it or the underlying processes of induction here is bullshit too, fellas. The universe is squeezed into a ball, and histories happen simultaneously with each other, just as the language does as well. In this implosion is the implosion of faith itself, the beginning and end of itself at a single {stroke} and we see then that this poetry is metaphysical poetry as it feels to the slightest sub-atom of the physical, this is beyond you me Catherine Daly or any God whose name you can utter,

It's time for Grace, folks. The poems themselves veritably skip with their own grace, impervious to the connective implications that they are manifestations of emanations that are impervious to their own mortification.

How do you write about this? To read the work teaches its own anabasis, its home beyond the world.


I'll bet Catherine Daly is quite intimidating to a rather large number of people. By this I refer of course to her poetry, which is often more "difficult" than even most poets are accustomed to, but also to the self represented through that poetry. The speakers are elusive, their thoughts both brilliant and fragmented, real and illusory in a way only someone who is deft at and prehensive of the nature of illusion itself can express. The illusion of free-associative randomness and obsessive affinity for languages, like elements of language, constantly undercuts itself and reveals as hot the speaking self the reader initially perceived as cerebral and cold, and the very playfulness and mercurial fervor of the imagery collapses into a fever beget by its own emanations; the kinetic and the static are and are not one. This is the poetry of the fullest sense of negative capability, imbued with a joy in the likenesses and opposites of dark illuminations, a voice subsumed in its own frenetic pauses, absences, and the paradox of its own presence and possibility: this is the poetry that explains why the burning bush would let the human see its fire but never its face, the motions of the void between the command for light and the light itself. It leaves us without terms with which to define it or place it; it renders our wants to speak of its theme. And its themes are not of the "us" or "itself"—it offers neither its "meaning" nor a tropeic dance around it. And in the senses of what it is not, we can learn how to read it, for its is not things themselves, but the genius that makes them up.

You can blurb that, if you want.


In writing about (or attempting to write about) the poems that comprise DaDaDa, in my loss for words and frailty of expression I could persist without ceasing. I could just keep on writing, writing against the poetry, creating a contra-text to it, as a "reviewer" or "critic" is doing if approaching this text as if it were something from a familiar locale. Actually, its locale is more familiar than you would think, or at least think "aloud." There is no process or paradigm by or in which to locate or define this work. A single poem, alone, may strike one as evocative or as a fine example of skillful technique, and a poem such as [pick one, O, the "Os", or a section: "Heresy"] may strike one as clever. But what this really is moves in a different direction from this.

For me, it's a proverbial exercise in futility to try to locate Catherine Daly's poems in the writings of other contemporary poets, or schools of them, or in literary theories and philosophies. Language being what it is, I'm sure one could have a go at it and perhaps one has. Yet for the reasons these ideas are comprehensible is the reason they must necessarily fail to not "explain," but even interact with this poetry—its impulse is located in a similar place from which "speculative" mysticism (as Evelyn Underhill had it) intersects with the active participation of it. To connect with what this poetry is means that one must enter into an active association in and through it—and against it, for as Meister Eckhart so succinctly put it, "In Yes and No consist all things." From this premise (if it may be called a premise), we are able to associate with the poetry of Angelus Silesius, for example—ah, but Silesius is easy. We want Greek theological terms for this, Jacob Boehme explained by way of Bishop Martensen, we need Immutable Diacriticals.


I'm struck in each re-reading and consideration of Daly's work by its enormous vitality, which becomes most wrenching when this energy is surrendered. In, for example, "Wireless Aerialists," it appears over and again to name one "poem" in which it does, but DaDaDa is its own Constant. This isn't even Wallace Stephens, even Ezra Pound's most arcane cantos. I cannot help you understand by giving illustrious examples. Do a Google search and see it yourself and enter into it or you can never understand it, not that you can even then, or me, either—that of which we are a part is exceedingly difficult to comprehend. It is happening in an ever-present continuum, undercutting us at our most primal ability to communicate, the eternal birth, the Da.

Amusing, even fun, maybe especially fun... viz. Eckhart's sermon, "God Laughs and Plays." Add you own example here. And maybe not all that fun at all—quite unsettling, quite disconcerting, the powerlessness and lack of control we have over our own communications. The impotence of our own articulations. The empty meaninglessness of the monosyllabic cries and whispers. We can hate this poetry, to no avail, and call it vacant, vapid. It is, of course. As our contrived critical rasps lash out in ever-extending silences.

Silence is the only fair response to this book. All else is spurious, sustained silliness. This book too is silly. Daly has a Da in her name, of course. She is luscious, you will never touch her, she both is and is not there, like Yeats' Beloved in his mist of sleep.


Its locus is found in part in parts of the words from The Daily Missal of the Mystical Body. It being DaDaDa. Homily and confession, a profession: its second section, its Latin, Continuation of the Litany. Propitius esto. Know the rest? Good. The library at Alexandria burned, my Sagittarius in my mid-heaven, her (Cadaly), her Heresy is Hilarious.


I am glad to have read it, been inside it. I am fragile in the shade of it, thrilled, afraid. Consumed, I am its consummation. Thanks be to God.


So, the book, DaDaDa, by Catherine Daly, the one I'm supposed to review? Well, I suppose I thought it quite good. I think you should get it. Get into it, what do you think? Or better yet, what did it not. Catherine Daly is probably quite intimidating to more than a few people. Her poetry, and her, too. I know the feeling. The rest is between the lines.


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