The Crystal Text
Published by: City Lights Publishers
Imprint: City Lights Publishers
192 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- Published: November 2023
Clark Coolidge’s book-length meditation on a crystal—long considered a masterpiece of American avant-garde poetry—returns in a new edition.
“For [Coolidge], the crystal becomes a magic mirror that transforms the questioner’s own visage into an oracular mask, mouthing riddles and giving back the questions themselves as mirrorreversed answers.”—Andrew Joron, author of Trance Archive: New and Selected Poems
“No other poet ever has so exquisitely, and sometimes also turbulently, written sheer sonic wonder into poetry.”—Lyn Hejinian, author of My Life and My Life in the Nineties
In the summer of 1982, Clark Coolidge received an unexpected gift of a crystal; small, clear, entirely unexceptional, the crystal nonetheless provoked the poet into writing what has long been considered his masterpiece, The Crystal Text (1986). A durational poem composed over the course of 10 months, in daybook-like entries of varying length, The Crystal Text is multifaceted and elusive, constantly interrogating itself. Is it a meditation on its titular object like Keats’s “Urn” or a radical investigation of the limits of language as a signifying system? Is the poet channeling the crystal to access its message or is the crystal channeling the poet, drawing language from him to fill its colorless emptiness? What is the source of the spontaneously arising words the poet records? Is it dictation or improvision? Is the poem a record of its own crystalline growth or does it capture the process of consciousness itself?
The Crystal Text refuses to resolve the questions it raises but rather inhabits its various possibilities simultaneously, resulting in one of the major works of late 20th century American avant-garde poetry. This new edition includes a preface by poet and scholar Peter Gizzi and an afterword in which Coolidge discusses the text with poet Jason Morris and City Lights editor Garrett Caples.
Associated with the New York School and subsequently inspiring the Language Poets, Coolidge remains one of the most singular and original American poets of our time.
“Clark Coolidge is a one-man avant-garde.”—Peter Gizzi, author of Archeophonics
“A long-time master of the jazzy long work.”—Bernadette Mayer, author of Works and Days
"[I]f one merely lies open to it, Coolidge's arresting words will sink in and provide a seldom experienced refreshment. This is still true and the receding monumentality of his landscape enterprise is fuller today than ever before. We are lucky to live in the world he chooses to reflect back at us."—John Ashbery, author of Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
“In poem after poem he produces lines of abstract, bright, musical phrasing”—Michael Leddy, World Literature Today
“An inexhaustible writer capable of taking a subject, any subject, and improvising endless bebop glissandos around it.”—Eliot Weinberger, author of Karmic Traces: 1993-1999
“Clark Coolidge is unquestionably among the finest and most legendary American poets of our time.”—Caesura
“Nothing can prepare you for the experience of reading Clark Coolidge’s poetry. You can listen to Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, and the Rova Quartet; you can read the Beats, and examine every Philip Guston painting; you can go spelunking and spend days staring at rock structures. You can even memorize every word of Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett and recite it all as a soundtrack to a black-and-white cowboy movie. These may contextualize some of the elements in Coolidge’s work, but they will not adequately equip you for the heady mixture of intellectual pleasure, semantic frustration, and visceral musicality that Coolidge’s work is likely to provoke.”—Jake Marmer, Hyperallergic
“Coolidge subjects the comforting syntax of traditional lyric to a radical torque as a means of discovering new possibilities of song.”—Aldon L. Neilson, Pacific Coast Philology
- NEA Grant