Ron imagines Kevin Davies' dazzlingly funny and inventive 21-page unpublished poem "Lateral Argument" as what Ashbery's Flow Chart might be like "if Flow Chart had a social imagination, a politics." Whether or not this is fair to Ashbery, it's true that "Lateral Argument" is one of the most socially, politically, and just plain imaginatively imaginative poems I have read from a contemporary poet. The poem is hilarious, lyrical, chilling, and perceptually acute.
Davies shifts contexts and tones rapidly, within what are otherwise shapely and well-behaved grammatical periods:
Like coming to the end of a dirt road
in a fever dream, as you stare the vegetation thinning
to reveal a copper-bound book of secret photographs
within which, looking closer, the vulnerable napes
of doomed soldiers and luckless noncombatants
have written upon them the doggerel
the fractal coastline of postmodern Norway
three lovers begin again
the Wittgensteinian project
of not thinking, not thinking
of a walrus.
This manages to be absurdly abstract and vividly visual at the same time, evocative of both harsh reality and slapstick dreamlife. The "narrative" that runs throughout the poem, such as it is (Ron seems to think it has a distinct beginning, middle, and end, but as far as I can tell, the progression is purely associative and ... well, lateral rather than forwardly linear), reels wildly back and forth from sober reflection to manic non sequitur, as though filibustering for some oblique cause and drawing on whatever material presents itself as the hours drag on. Inevitably, this marathon process leads the poem to comment on its own constructive principles:
We call it stuffing but actually it's form,
that is, emptiness.
This double qualification is circular in one sense: going from the blank mass of "stuffing" to the shapely meaningfulness of "form," only to redefine that form as the blank stuffing of "emptiness." Back where we started almost, alternating between laterally equivalent points on a stuck shuttle. Still, there is a difference between stuffing and emptiness, and the equation of form with emptiness can be justified. Davies never lets us tie his argumentative knots tightly; he keeps skipping ahead of us, dangling shoelaces eluding our grasp. Occasionally he gratifies us by tripping over them comically. But there is more going on here than just trickster-like acrobatics. The poem ends up being a sincere meditation despite and in part because of its own deflations of the meditative act.