Same Diff by Donato Mancini (Released by Talonbooks in 2017)
Review by Greg Bem (@gregbem)
Causal peripheries: Magnetic Fields, Wolf Eyes, Caetano Veloso
we'll hafta be aware of nature and the environment
whales, candlelight, and stuff like that
acid rain, radioactive waste, oil spills
some real problems
(borrowed and original text from “whales, candlelight, and stuff like that”)
On the trail of the captivating and ultra-contemporary (if only semi-recent) titles Buffet World, Fact ‘n’ Value, and Loitersack arrives the slim-cum-girth, taut-cum-trodden Same Diff, 2017’s answer to the politico-conceptuati of poetry, brothers and sisters of the line and the sequences of literary space. Lines are only the beginning of those objects drawn together in this book of splices and merges, convergences and recourses, findings and collectings, smatterings and casual smotherings. Same Diff is beyond itself, and beyond its inverse, the diff as the same as we move toward the greater ends of late humanity in positivity and negativity, absolutely and humbly.
Author, poet, scholar, researcher, etc’er Donato Mancini has brought in this book (see: physical tome; bound paper with assorted thematic scrawling) equal proclivities of the marvelous, breathtaking, and calm. As with his previous works, Mancini is performing the creator here, a book of concepts put into place again blending the most profound echoes of form. Here we have form a la vispo, performance score, and collage, and beyond of course, together reaching, dipping, into, to new horizons tackling civic society, civil society, the plausible and despicable in quality, equality, and inequality. Here: the many uncanny dystopian revelations continuing to persist in the restful and unrested societies surrounding us. Here: a nod towards Time and the unerratic beauty of recorded history as Mancini the historian dives in, and pulls up, reigns toward us the uttered, the screamed, and, through exception or regulation, the normalized.
A book of 35 works that stands on top of itself, looking down upon itself, belly bulging, self-awareness, reconstructivism, both respectful of these realities and respectful of the reader. In fact, have I read such a polite and inviting work in all the other realms and moments of my life? In fact, this book is challenging in its formalities and crispness. A millennial, I silently, secretly secretly dreamed that my hand was better held to understand. My heart pumped: I wanted didactic in this book. I wanted retroactive poet lecture in this book. I wanted introduction and thorough, explicit discovery. I wanted the work done for me. But no, and no, and no.
In the age of 2017, pure content is demagogue. In the age of 2017, Mancini has called the dogs on “the epitome” and ruffles the feathers of the contemporary in contemporary poetry. Same Diff is all about probability. It is the regurgitation in postmodern complacency. It is mirroring, reflective, and dangerous. The poems here are, as mentioned, subtle. And yet they are jumbled. And yet they maintain agency. They demonstrate the craft of work that can reach heights without reliance upon spotlight, or even stage. As works to be performed, I found myself recording myself reading these poems by myself, alone in a room that can be called a home, watching the network expand, watching the portal emerge.
"More of less I was holding on, although I always felt hungry."
(found/borrowed text from “Bottom of the Pot”)
Following the book’s cordial opening, which lists the word “welcome” in numerous languages, mostly indigenous (North American First Nation) languages, the book becomes a scatter or weave of poetry in two general taxonomic sets: the brief concept and the extended concept. Mancini’s brief concepts often last 1-8 pages (exceptions exist), including short phrases of text in large font on a single page. Sometimes the text of these phrases is entirely bolded and it appears to be fried—as in, put into a microwave until thoroughly burnt; otherwise, significant words or morphemes are bolded and the text as a whole, giant and staring directly back at you, unassuming, appears to be bleeding—as in, an exaggerated wound over time, that has been thoroughly ignored and is most likely fatal. In “Trigger Warning,” for example, we readers encounter across the page in a beautiful, commanding presence: "TRIGGER / WARNING / SPOILER / ALERT” and so it sits.
These tricky (though consequential and dialectical) bursts of energy are like the seams of the book. They are fun (in that they are fresh), and spirited (in that they are raw—almost feeling such as to the point of incompleteness), but also solid (representing dependability), sturdy (able to take impact—engagement or negligence), and tightly definitive of Mancini’s style of voice defined and redefined and supported and resupported through each of his publications many times over.
Extended concepts are the meat and sinew of the book-as-body. These include poems and poetic works which have been quoted above, and are often as difficult in their core energies as they are in the lengths and endurances of the text within the works themselves. “Self-Sufficient” reminds me of an exhibit I encountered in Singapore’s National Library Board main building years ago, a documentation of a propaganda machine, but in Mancini’s collection of common phrases of explanation and rationale in societal behavior, the world feels dirtied, mutant-like, inescapable, and irrationally normalized. Horrific, the language used in this piece feels as boring as possible, and yet is cutthroat, common, and every day:
We have free speech in this country.
No one should be told how to think or what to think.
Telling people which words they can or cannot use is censorship.
The irony of this work, like other works Mancini and Same Diff portrays, is in the undistinguishable tones and subtexts. The words are bound, but by what cause? To know Mancini’s own feet (and where they have walked) allows such insight; yet we do not have his feet, we have his book’s explanatory notes, which serve as the open-door-brightness, epilogue-reassurance needed from the get-go. I find Mancini’s extended concepts to be significant in the context of disparity, telling in terms of fake realities and true news, and an elongation of what surrealism I believe we all encounter in our haze and daze of days, though perhaps not all of us encounter every image Mancini delves into.
For example, “Bottom of the Pot” is a long collection of found text from documented struggles of imprisonment during times of war, surrounding “soup narratives” (my term) prevalent and, apparently, a major experiential motif of those suffering in the interments and destitute intermittent circumstances of major conflict. To know what is at the bottom of the pot is an ache of privilege that many see but do not attain, many write of but do not overcome. To experience it through Mancini’s ability to collect is similar to one character described in this work as “greying” as they approach the very bottom. I was reminded of how I felt through reading Bolaño’s 2666 and the part about the women, and it was painful.
One of the chilling effects of reading Mancini is in how much exposure one gets to truth. While not all truth is found within extremes, like the acidic broth of a concentration camp’s darkest days, or the bland language common of an adolescent society, there is a truth that is persistent, empathetic, and engorged on the neutral disruptions that keep us feeling alive. Amidst the blanket of experimentation and lite academic transgressions in literary tradition, we have (again) blunt cascades of exactly who we are. We are everyone: we as people that have positive and negative and the means to describe such but not necessarily cure, solve, overcome.
For example: “Where do you feel?” is a concept reeling and exacting. The language is crowdsourced through contemporary communication platforms, and this work puts the words of where anxiety, grief, or depression is felt in the human body into a sequence nothing short of humanism. What begins in this work of progressive line-building, simple and straightforward though also vague and obscure locations of the body (e.g. “in my throat”), continues to descriptions of full surprise and analogy that is gouging and erupting in the minute and the unnerving in description:
in my throat and heart but it’s everywhere, perhaps my heart is broken, my whole chest feels like it’s being crushed, it’s hard to breathe
(from "Where do you feel?")
Getting to the end of Same Diff is not difficult, and making sense of it is not either. In these tasks, which I believe most authors hope for their readers to accomplish, Mancini should have little issue. And yet, how this book evolves out of itself is the better, more rewarding question. In what way, shape, form, concept can this collection of ways, shapes, forms, concepts blossom from both the author and the readers? How does the book inspire, provoke, unsettle, disturb, charm, delight, and otherwise manifest between the engagement of such engaging, prolific works? If we are to follow the brief and extended concepts within, perhaps we look toward the model of “the continuum.” A mobius strip, perhaps, or, a slightly inquisitive echo, or at least a logical shadow. Or perhaps a new concept is needed to help us make more sense and inspire further evolution altogether.