Rules for Walking Out by Crysta Casey (Cave Moon Press, 2017)
He shot himself
in the chest and stomach
on the night of last month’s full moon.
That was the day before he turned 50.
Now, he keeps writing the same letter
over again and sleeps a lot.
(from “Hell and Heaven”)
Does war ever satisfy? Does the military ever satisfy? Does the institution of recovery for veterans ever satisfy? Does mental health ever satisfy? I suppose what it takes is to define “satisfaction.” Crysta Casey’s poems, which tackle the aforementioned topics and much, much more, rarely feel satisfying, and yet they do feel emblematic and carry weight to cherish, pity, and endow energies of sympathy. Rules for Walking Out extends to the realms of painfully familiar and frighteningly relevant in this 2018. They are poems that are sad, often to the point of hilarity: one option is to laugh off the grim realities of those who were forsaken, abused, and derailed. These poems are poems of clarity and vision, and perhaps the clearest and most illuminating moments of sickeningly stark reality are indeed the clutch of satisfaction after all.
The book is not incessant. It is not long to the point of exhaustion. It is difficult from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end. But it is not a lengthy journey by ways of the stories as poems. It is the entire grand finale of explosive works of fire giving light to the shadowy night. It is grotesque. It is the writhing tendril and lit fuses. It is a collection of poems as real as poems can be. It highlights the buoyant statement of Graves, who claimed the difference between those poets and those insane is that poets write it all down. And in this case, doing so is to create a reality that is invisible, marginalized, and regularly forgotten. The victims. The servitude of those victims, who have somehow crawled into their own corners and stood, stupefied and unable to integrate into the fortress of the mainstream. No, not just being unable, but rather, quite defiantly, refusing to, even by asking questions, thinking spiritually, greeting and integrating the best intentions, the holiest friendships, and grandest circumstances.
“Are you a wanderer too?”
the doctor asks me. I don’t answer,
but run barefoot ten times
around the cement rectangular
sundeck, ducking umbrellas.
(from “Glass Houses”)
In Rules for Walking Out, it is almost as though Casey’s collected works work to track and advertise all the cruelties and distinctions that appeared before her own individuality, her life and attempts at living. The book, I should say, is autobiographical and reads like a notebook: uncut, uncensored, unafraid. Casey’s life moved from a mediocre early adulthood to serving in the Marine Corps, where she fell into inequity and became entrapped amongst the dominating, pimping masculinity of her superiors. A dualistic shift happened: responding to the abuse of the system and its sexualized pockets, and being encouraged to create, Casey declared herself a “Poet in Residence” and was promptly discharged. Her biography takes her to the mental health ward of a Californian hospital (where, symbolically and intensely, she learns of her mother’s failing physical health and corresponding in-patient reality in a hospital nearby) and, inevitably, up to a very anticlimactic Seattle.
The poverty-stricken Seattle wastes of the 20th Century, and Casey’s time within them, form descriptions of a continuation of the frightening and of the marginalization she experienced in her life’s prior chapters. Consequentially, the poems of her Seattle period also work, and they work through a poignant and balanced direction to confront the ugliest, meanest face of the state of the VA (as a system) and those humans who suffer (regularly) through it. These poems are flashes, to be sure, of a much larger and undescribed life, which is almost imaginably intolerable and/or awash by way of prescription medication, depression, and other ways of making sense and staying alive. And that there is so much existing beyond the poems make the poems themselves that much larger and conceptually fantastical, despite their harsh naturalism.
The sailboat on my wall
is forever sailing.
If we are its crew,
we have fallen overboard,
our drowned bodies floating
in life jackets on the surface.
(from “Hell and Heaven”)
Almost along the lines of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, much of Rules for Walking Out can be read like a collection of faces and identities as much as it can be read as Casey’s memoirs. It is, in a way, communal. This indicative quality of the writing demonstrates Casey’s commitment toward her role as a poet, which ultimately is the role of a community’s leader. Though action is often reserved, Casey floats about among her peers and, through documentation and acknowledgment, releases them from injustices. At least in her own, timeless, allegorical way. And I can’t help but think that perhaps this process, as brief and intense as it is having been collected and focused in Rules for Walking Out, may be of significant potential when it comes to analyzing War. War, like the wars we fight each day by way of those who bring us conflict, oppression, and harm, may be relieved (if not healed) by steps toward that acknowledgment. That is, following in Casey’s footsteps we may have the opportunity to revitalize our understanding of the forms War takes, and its systemic and unbelievably antagonistic persistence toward the individuals within and surrounding it.
And I couldn’t tell them—I would not be able to tell anyone until the news was officially released. I would go home with murder on my mind.
(from “Rude Awakening in the Public Affairs Office”)
Rules for Walking Out, in its prologue and four sections of poems, leads the reader on an examining that is worth the brief and enduring push—every second of it. The book additionally includes sections written by Casey’s peers and mentors, including Deborah Woodard, Trisha Ready, and Esther Altshul Helfgott. Not merely a memorial for Casey, who passed away in 2008, these additional writings are insightful critiques that demonstrate the powerful, empowering and inspiring qualities of a community of writers that truly learned from Casey and continue to learn through her published, available words. This counterpoint to the bulk of the work and its unsettling nature serves as its own expanse. There are boundaries here and they are clearly identified, and there is a positively-charged relief in the wake of such grave shadows, be they absurd or truly entrenched in terror. I imagine those who follow Casey’s line of writing will find many opportunities to embrace this holistic and inclusive structure in many more ways than one individual can imagine. Even that potential makes this book doubly so in its ability to satisfy and define satisfaction.
I gave my name
rank and serial number,
said I was a poet. Beyond
that I refused to speak.
(from “A Curse”)
Something for Everybody by Anselm Berrigan (Wave Books, 2018)
May I have a sip of your cigarette, asleep
in all my clothes, crying, uselessly, as your singularity
apologizes for & preserves our long way around
to an open muted slightly flittering love?
(from “The Parliament of Reality”)
The greatest act of truth in Anselm Berrigan’s eight book of poems, Something for Everybody, occurs in the book’s final piece. The poem, “& What Does ‘Need’ Mean?”, is a grotesque and grizzly ramble of a poem that shows Berrigan’s strongest and weakest qualities in its twelve pages. Those qualities, the poetic rampage and the incessant confessionalism, are seen intertwined and summate the otherwise messy and stale preceding contents of the book. In “& What Does ‘Need’ Mean?”, the reader encounters a dedication to and homage for St. Mark’s Church in New York, and it is here that the image of the center for the poet, the “downtown” brought into question through the poem’s concept (which was part of a generative, thematic exercise created by the Poetry Project, entitled “(Re)Defining Downtown” in 2016), is portrayed.
Partway through the poem, Berrigan writes: “I keep going and coming / back to this place for that & by / the way, you do get, right, how / truly fucking strange, if ordinary / it is, to be breathing, here, doing / this with a voice?” The truth of this set of lines, arguably prose boxed in and controlled in the narrow columnar style the poet has mastered, is a truth revealing crisis. Berrigan’s poems breathe in and out, accepting and pushing past crisis upon crisis. These moments of urgency and dramatic interjection are often buried beneath circumstance and pure image. That the poems of Berrigan often appear to be haphazard journal entries, scrawls upon a palm or a page in the middle of a park or a train terminal, reflect the speed and directive of their creation and the poet’s processing. This is pure New York, in all its tragic, unending anti-glory.
Then it was
as if I didn’t speak for another
year, & that’s a feeling, not
another fucking metaphor.
(from “& What Does ‘Need’ Mean?”)
When I started reading Something for Everybody, I felt the tame, erratic tones of Berrigan that his previous seven books contain. The forms were slightly estranged and kaleidoscopic (and ironically-cum-disappointment there most likely isn’t something for “everybody” in the book), but otherwise this is Berrigan’s hallmark style, his calling card representation of the world once again butting and jutting its way into focus through “the book” format. This book, however, feels slightly worse, though, and by worse, it is good. It is mildly exciting, a mediocrity and extravagance at once, that demonstrates the flattened reality of New York City. It is, thus, sickening and necessary at the same time; a book I can hardly recommend anyone read but can feel confident and describing should someone care to read it.
Earlier in the book, Berrigan has composed a list of “mini-essays” that are in the style of and taking the language from Joe Brainard. One essay struck me as an epitome of Berrigan’s structured gaze toward craft. “Turns” reads like this: “My work never turns out like I think it is going to. I start something. It turns into a big mess. And then I clear up the mess.” (From: “17 Mini-Essays on The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard.) Another piece of the puzzle in decoding, understanding, and learning to accept Anselm Berrigan and his barrage of bluster and agony is to understand his poems as rough patches that have been cleaned up.
The poems, which combine the hackneyed influences of various generations of the New York School, language poets, beats, and other “poetry movements,” are poems that do much with too little. The poems are often directly derived from or referencing writers whose souls should be at rest but whose corpses and works continue to be dug up and sifted through. In our era of technology and movements towards equity, the result of this vacuous reliance upon the past is blustering and is agonizing. Just as The Poetry Project attempted to define its role in 2016 following the emergence of a new face of tyranny, there is an attempt for the poet to define his role too, using whatever is at his disposal. And yet, the disposing act never quite makes it, as we spin, and spin, and spin through 20th Century Poetics.
That said, Berrigan is a family man who brings his family into the poems, just as he brings the outside world into his poems, and this interconnected, networked self contains some saving graces. The most brittle act of antiquated New York poetry is juxtaposed with (or, forgivingly, balanced by) interposed moments of the now, the new, and the emerging (“Tap for more tweets, munch / In the preserved meatlight” goes “Inward Branding Mechanism 2: Lonesome Sabotage”). Perhaps a comment on the antiquity of New York as a place and idea more than Berrigan as a poet following and honoring various lineages, every fresh image and idea related to contemporary communication and information exchange in the United States often gets dwarfed by pigeons and decaying train lines that have little to no relevance beyond themselves and the New Yorker devotees that may or may not identify with them to the degree we find Berrigan identifying. Those moments of tweets and social media, of the web, of current socio-political phenomenon are absurdly dim and overpowered by the vortex of New York and the faceless urban living that so many New York poets have described again, and again, and again. This obsession or trap or fate is not new for Berrigan, as any reader of his would expect, and its descriptions are important if only to serve as footnote. This is what’s going on over there in New York. The loop continues. Hurrah, hurrah.
for the nod out in collaboration with medical relocation I’m always a touch late
to ten baroque minutes away from a bad repair job in gravel kittywalks where
unnameable fluidity unlimited only by the flow of your distressed clarity of material
My criticism on the most important city in the world aside, the poems in this particular collection have plenty of shining moments that any poet actively studying and pursuing poetry would benefit from engaging. From “Speech,” a light concept piece containing four words (“SMASH THEM. / EAT THEM.”) to the typically morbid and self-/society-defeating “To a Copy” that scrolls down the page like a spiraled staircase, “Nothing / gets to be real / or realized / or reality-based / or filmed as if happening / or rendered realistically / or branded contemporary / or performed spontaneously” (and so on), the poems range wildly as per the book’s name-sake. And often the language does appear sparking and vaguely refreshing. But then there is the constant mess, and the jumble, and the shrouds of tones that inspire a feeling of decay and disrepair.
Halfway through the book, I found myself feeling a reminiscence of depression, a weight of the ugly and relentless machine: poetry as chore, as weight, as grumble. Most of Berrigan’s poems, when not fuddling through tricks in phrasing and lingual aerobics, are often situated as pure exhaust. The poet is shuffling around in a sea of images that carry as much meaning as breathing. And the breathing is for the poet, not the reader. So what is the point of these poems for the reader? I return to this question time and time again throughout the book. For example, I ask it when I see “June at One on Ave A,” which reads: “Bus! / Bus! / O bus. . . . .” the text falling down the page, like a dull, pseudo-apocalyptic nightmare. Similarly, I ask about intention and affect when I read the long blocks of text in “New Note” that can’t help me sigh with more exhaustion. The text is composed in huge paragraphs that could just as easily be pages and pages of columns, but it perhaps doesn’t matter. There is a resulting nihilism as I read “the song’s importance retelling what you’ve witnessed undersea, out windows at declines” . . . which has its own, rusty charm.
Perhaps Berrigan’s calling card, then, is a sorrow that can now be quintessentially branded into a fetish. This poetics is a poetics of industrialized pity, meeting mechanized repression, and a holistically-realistic essence of mental illness intersecting with blinding flashes of awe. Thanks to language, of course. And thanks to today’s undead: a bleached, ruptured Americana beyond and yet bound to the mind. And that is truth, a single man’s truth, who haunts the streets and histories of New York, and continues to document his own, regardless of the implications and disastrous messes to be made.
Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems by Jennifer S. Cheng (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2018)
once she was crawling through a tunnel made of fabric unable to see the sky. to find a tear in the cloth, an eyelet of
fear, which is to say, what is the body in transit? a pilgrimage--
(from “Her Dreams At Night”)
The latest collection of writings from Jennifer S. Cheng comes by way of the illuminating and mythological Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems. Broken into a neatly layered and dauntingly dense five sections, a prelude, and an interlude, the book of poetry and prose draws upon a plethora of Chinese myths, most notably The Lady of the Moon, Chang’e, of which the book is named, but also including stories of Nü Wa, Tin Hau, and others. Moon represents an intelligent, matured phase of writing for the poet. Containing a mutuality of intellection and empathy, it follows its incredible predecessor, the acclaimed House A, which explored intimately the ether and disintegration of location, identity, homemaking, and familial lineage. To encounter Cheng’s newest work and ever-expanding relationship with the world via Moon is a beautifully transformative and profound reading experience.
In Moon, Cheng’s words are incredibly inspired, fearless, and empowered by the fluctuations of that which surrounds her; and also, there is an integration and confidence that shows significant growth, appreciation, and resolve for the complexities of experience and endurance. Much like the Lady of the Moon, Chang’e, the proto-feminist archetype who is the subject of many ancient Chinese stories, Cheng is demonstrably capable of surviving, understanding, and acting against hardship and challenge and insight. This understanding of causation and achievement toward and of autonomy, both distinctly different and yet also bound in concept, inform many of the works and their monologues; these are writings of process, writings to embrace identity. Process and identity are significant themes throughout Cheng’s work, but here, in Moon, they are urged forward through the bold, unfaltering poet’s commitment and persistence to progress, knowledge, and freedom.
Sometimes we begin
& gradually learn to shore.
It is the process perhaps
of looking at things
the body builds
loose, saturated in it
Far from egotistical, the core divinity within these works represents a clear, sisterly (and, curiously, motherly) direction of empathy unrevealed so fully in previous works. Her previous movements in House A indicated a fascinating and inspiring relationship to space and the roots of home (as an idea and as an actualized, physical place with actual familial relationships and intimacies). In Moon, transition and migration are still very much resonating ideas; but they feel very much intentional and desirable. This intentionality and rational, firm placement is paired with the sense of wild and unknown that exists all around the poet. Between her homeland in San Francisco to her other homelands in Hong Kong and mainland China, to other, less-identified spaces, the reader is taken into the periphery of those authorial certainties. Environmental factors like heat and humidity trigger actions beyond the enveloping and into the charge of the writer: to find release and pace, to seek inward moments of reflection and protection.
For me, the experience of seeing the poet leverage the awe of the myths and imbue a daily life of communication, work, and insight with those myths gives way to powerful moment of witness. The readers of Moon are granted great opportunities in encountering Cheng’s methodologies. Cheng’s work is heightened to the point of a ceaseless blend with the incredible and extraordinary, and yet we as contemporary humans need not find the old writings and storytelling to be completely beyond our current context. From bus stops to parks to apartments to boats to islands to marinas, the world is full of contexts that can and do mimic the archetypal. In other words, there is a precise, transcendental unity with history here. Cheng’s work pulls those strings, pulls out those ideas, merging them through her own turns along the path. When I read that the book contains “maps,” I became aware of the interpretation of the map as the abstract wayfinding moment contained within the beautiful truth of each poetic experience happening in the past and fortified through the act of writing: that what was still is, and vice versa.
(If a closure of lines is always a lie. If shadows are multiple because the body is multiple. If, then, a continuation, the moon in its phases. Bewilderment and shelter, destruction and construction, unthreading as it rethreads, shedding as it collections.)
(from “Prelude, part i.”)
In some cases, these merges of old and new are most prophetically balanced by the image of the moon. As a symbol with an endless array of meanings, that which is lunar and orbiting in the fullest declaration of gravity serves the poet and the reader both with the energy of reflection. Astrologically haven-like, the moon is where Chang’e was made to be, to live, to continue, grown and growing, following transgression and complication. Cheng explores Chang’e’s movement to the moon and there are as many reasons why it was not Chang’e’s choice as there are reasons that she had to go.
And yet, despite this ambiguity of positive or negative triggering acts that inspire Chang’e’s timeline and journey and resulting emotional circumstances, the effect of the movement to the moon, at least partially, is an embodying of the necessary learning, growth, and subsequent liberation. As hard as it was, and continues to be, from a remarkable number of angles and interpretations, this movement and relationship with the moon is still representing epiphany, insight, and progression. That moment of the epiphany, of the transformation by way of reflection and reaction, is balanced throughout the book, allowing the floods of verisimilitude to open and close like a hinge.
Let me quarry
Let me curdle
(from “Creation Myth)
The form of Moon offers another integration of truth. Its five sections indicate more qualities of mapping, trajectory, and an indication of that process towards reclaiming space for growth and independence. The book begins before the five sections with a prelude, “Sequesterings,” that is enormously enjoyable to read without any context of the mythologies of the book. It is abstract and abundantly self-sustaining, providing a splinter of what follows: “Iterations,” “Artifacts,” “Biography of Women in the Sea,” “Interlude: Weather Reports,” “Love Letters,” and “From the Voice of the Lady in the Moon.” The five sections, split with their interlude, each offer unique angles on the precision of Cheng’s experience. They serve as their own waypoints in the map, but also serve as individual maps of life and the Chinese mythos pulling in characters in some cases and leaving out characters in other cases. They are pillars, pylons, temples that create that visual boundary between the lines of thought that the poet traces.
For as long as the stars do not seem to align in an orderly manner, as long as such lost light sources make their way into the spinning crevices of her lungs, she will continue to ask herself: How does one make a habitation of it? What is the relationship between a woman’s fragments and her desire
(from “Chang ‘E”)
Tracing is one of Cheng’s poetry’s best qualities, from my point of view. Being able to shift and create a poetics that contains both the exquisitely researched and the dutifully exploratory, as a representation of confidence (as opposed to anxiety, unsureness, and pretension), allows a floating essence throughout the book. Like her previous works, this engagement is deeply serious and focused, yet also open to that which is profound and that which is profoundly unexpected. As such, the book contains moments of surprise and delight; there were moments for me, as the average reader, where the book opened up and changed directions and followed leads, or took rests and pauses and meditations, and being within them as the reader felt secretive and empoweringly inspirational in its own way.
In this spectra of Cheng’s poetics, the result is ecstatically authentic, ironically personal even when mythological, and awe-inducing. The book, it appears, is a gift being given to the readers just as it is a gift given to the poet. There is a sense of award and reconciliation contained within that floaty, tracing spirit that lingers within the pages.
[. . .] if you take how she journeyed in utter silence, sailing in no particular direction across an endless and unbounded sea, dully lukewarm water melting into overcast sky, waiting for the waters to recede, waiting to land, somewhere, anywhere—you will remember, above all else, how she is—motherless, childless, godless-the last girl on earth—how the story of the world begins with her, a body in the marshes, sleeping, alone.
(from “Nü Wa”)
Despite one’s knowledge or lack of knowledge of the Chinese stories that are contained within Moon, the book is a significant next step for Cheng and a significant contribution to American poetry in general. It will, I’m sure, be recognized for its respect for an elevation of the adapted Lady of the Moon stories, inclusive of their feminist edge and elevation of the female spirit. The fascinating form and the revealing of Cheng’s continued growth and forward momentum as a writer are also worth noting again, as those who left House A will be amazed at where the poet exists in this work. And beyond all this context and these implications, the work stands on its own in stunning, absorptive independence. Like the reflection of the moon on a body of water, there is nothing quite like Moon, nor do I think there ever will be something like it by Jennifer S. Cheng or any other writer.
The Last Mosaic by Elizabeth Cooperman and Thomas Walton (Sagging Meniscus Press, 2018)
We love to think that various spaces are haunted, as we ourselves are haunted spaces.
(from “Last Breath of Color”)
The Last Mosaic is a collection of poetic statements and musing describing travels in Rome by poet-authors Elizabeth Cooperman and Thomas Walton. This collection is the first major collaboration between these two poets, and one that sticks timely as a footnote (or page rip or cobblestone trip) in the long history of representation of humankind. Like Anne Carson or David Shields (both who literally show up in the book in various ways, along with countless other authors and inspiring minds), the words in The Last Mosaic are loosely clumped into a scattering of ideas, linked together loosely into themes.
In other words, the poems (or sub-collections) serve as clusters of revelation and insight and ultimately as documentation of Cooperman and Walton’s witness and conclusion during their time in Italy. The words, then, serve to help the reader navigate the behemoth of consequence and history consistently present throughout the Rome and its surroundings. The book’s a marvelous feat, one that swirls around mystically and temporally. It is filled with context and subtext, direction and floatation, movement and stasis, evidence and obscurity.
Every poet knows that poets steal. Mimicry is the great device of art.
(from “If We Replaced These Bodies with Our Bodies”)
Most notably and superficially, the poets have written their book about their visits to Rome, and on the surface, in the moment, in the contemporary, it’s a beautiful and hearty record of the encounters in that multifaceted, multicultural place. The zoom that fills the spaces between each image, however, is on the historic and on the complex. In this case of world history, there is the act of borrowing and utilization that becomes key to understanding authorial placement. For Cooperman and Walton, it is a pleasant exchange between knowing the act of being present, and the act of engaging multiple pasts. Here, in “the last” space, we have an extension of all the previous ideas, a la mosaic, and an understanding that those previous ideas can be roped together in some finality. In this case, the finality of the authors and their presence.
The train rattles south, sometimes wailing, kneeling through the Tuscan countryside heavy with sunflowers, olives, hayfields, gold scarves folding, rolling rows of grapevines running over the undulant soil to Rome, Rome where every square foot of earth has its mouth full of stone.
(from "Little Scratches in Tempera")
The writing, fueled by countless vibrations of space and time in Rome, maintains a poetic form of theft. Literary theft, not nearly as morally impermissible, as identified by the authors themselves, is a form of stealing done and done intentionally to amplify thematic range. It’s curious to see where and how that process is discovered; the usage and bringing in of the external forces, the peripheral muses of the city life that buzzes around our poets, is a usage at once amplified and also distorted by origins. It’s a curiously muffled and uncertain position for Cooperman and Walton to take, but as their other works have indicated, seriousness and play are required of one another to exist at all. The journey into the feathery soul and spinal juices of Rome and its streets and peoples and figures is a journey of intentionality but open-mindedness, and despite the rigid consistency of form (on the higher level) of The Last Mosaic and its writing, the flexibility of content is arousing and not nervous or tense.
The process of the poets and their actions, here, in this publication, is complex; as we see them, as readers, these two authors move throughout streets and galleries and museums and plazas effortlessly, evanescently, floating about, taking and adapting that which initiates conversation and thematic development. The writing forms a keystone of imagery (their own ciphering, their own conjuration), ultimately forming images which serve to hold together (unlocking through an assumed completion or stability) the greater image. This bigger picture and macrocosmic lens of Rome is also allowed, through selection and exasperation alike, to be elevated more importantly than the smaller pictures contained within. At times. It’s not entirely clear just how much value is put on the small and the big throughout the book, and maybe it does not need to be. Perhaps the interplay between the various heights of Rome analogically indicates one step further how much beauty there is within the refractive, existential reality of a place set far into the past and far into the future at the same time.
I did not see for fifteen minutes the trick of blood at the old man's waist training his white robes smocked in black velvet.
(from "Soot on the Left Foot of God")
As I read The Last Mosaic, not having my own geo-psychological or emotional relationship to that area of Italy, I watched as the authors established and set forth an arranged system of values and hierarchies of authority and autonomy by way of discovery. More summative, they bumbled along, lived lively moments, and etched their own interpretation of the world around them, much like the many great artists that have continued to occupy Rome for centuries and centuries and centuries. Excitingly, thus, The Last Mosaic with its self-awareness and conceptual core (whether identified before, during, or after the writers’ experiences) is a fundamentally challenging book of these bold and autobiographically-dependent poetic statements; its core, like the city’s reality, is deservedly process-oriented, obsessive of and through history, and maintains a quasi-permanent concept of an umbrella positioning in a world where anthropological deconstruction is gravely suggestive of truth.
There is no feeling inherent in language. The poetry in language is what makes us feel. We use poetry all the time, though poems are generally thought to be useless.
(from “Sick Bacchus”)
Moments like the one described above from “Sick Bacchus” indicate a hearty and realistic relationship between Cooperman and Walton and the poems. Beliefs such as the poetry as synonymous with feeling ultimately identify and characterize the views of art throughout Rome and how we, as humans today, can integrate them into our own sense of being, by way of feeling. The book connects images, ideas, and ponderable frameworks (via strings and other logical progressions) thoughtfully, and again, intentionally. There is a rhythm and a pacing to the book as a whole that keeps it intact and even, in a sense of the eruptive, is capable of breaking down the poems themselves. Poem titles become earmarks but not requirements to the book’s truths. The book, like our occupations of space everywhere we go, is a testimony towards movement, and as such it doubles as a comment on the movement we physically endure and the movement of the language (representation) we express. Here, then, the book’s flow, a linear and circular (circuitously moving between both narrative identities) collection of moments and epiphanies, serves as binding to the reader. Sucked into the ancient vortex of story, hero, and the archaic, the reader has the chance to hold on and watch as that mosaic moves back into the ether time and time again in anti-conclusion. A resulting effect that the authors may or may not have intended is an understanding of the powers that come with the privilege to move, and the privilege to be able to see that movement throughout history. As the artist, the awareness of intention can be matched with inattention; what power we yield and how we relate to it, or refuse to. The book on its surface is often about embrace, but I encountered strands of denial and refusal within the book as well.
Negative capability can be thought of as seeing without a code explaining things. That is, no political agenda.
(from “Content as Costume Jewelery”)
Cooperman and Walton, like Keats, hone for some time on this value of negative capability and perhaps the sentiments of anti-conclusion or anti-conclusiveness are simply synonymous with the understanding of bringing in that which can be brought in, regardless of motive and desire from the conscious poetic mind. On one-hand, that makes for an exciting immersion into an exotic or otherworldly space in a country not of one’s own; on the other hand, the post-engagement approach, as it might be gleaned, could be an active rejection of that momentary weight of being within the privileged hierarchy. The tourist, who occupies space and has the weight of reconciling that space, can be, through the ambivalent, serendipitous encounter, transformed into a more unified, contributing being, who can be held accountable for their presence in that space. A mosaic implies participation and contribution to the entire image, and not a denial, invisibility, or exclusivity away from that entire image. Despite their definite outsider qualities, Cooperman and Walton have done a fine job being “one” with the city of their occupation.
While movement is incredibly important in this book, so is its inverse (as with any book of writing on the page). The Last Mosaic includes the gasps of presence and the nature of the authors and their conjoined, unified, and synchronic flow, as explored, but also in the injunction of description and stillness that pervades a world of movement, action, and space-time blossoming. Specifically, we have the “still life” poems, minutiae of encountered objects painted onto the page. For example, in “One Should Always Be Lost,” there is the following: “Up in the trees, a claw of half-dried leaves, arthritic, grabs a painful shock of sun. Purple wildflower clumps dance in circles around the gnarled trunks of olive trees.”
While this moment, like many others in the book, is deeply personal and reveals a polish of emotion, there is the sense of the author displaced, channeling like Keats or, later, Spicer, the explosivity of the world that surrounds us all. In Rome, as demonstrated by our authors, there is a very pertinent sense of the natural as causing that channeling. Could the roots and new growth emerging between the mosaic’s tiles, atop the fresco, or, like the grotesque refuse of today’s living birds and humans, serve as that conducive sense to move beyond history? Beyond, in this case, does not imply a dimming or degradation of history; for the core of The Last Mosaic, it is the point and the ultimate purpose. But throughout, the reader is challenged by the authors and where they can find sense and grounding amidst flash upon flash of their inspiration. Whether it’s identifying the relatively quiet morning moments or discovering an absurdly extraordinary pool of turtles, these triggering moments are exquisitely spliced throughout the otherwise rhetorical and didactic process of the book.
Beauty is that which we want to repeat.
(from “If We Replaced These Bodies with Our Bodies”)
Didacticism and history become key components to gauging where Cooperman and Walton may explore going forward. Living in Seattle, a place incredibly different from Rome in both respect to history and outlook to the future, the authors may have answers, at least in the form of poetry, that may be worth visiting from their home grounds. As a place that demolishes historical buildings for efficiency, cost, and value, there may be issues in understand that which can be provided by the beauty of repetition directly called upon by the authors in the quote above. As a city that, despite its best efforts, fails to deliver significant respect to the many cultures that fill it and recognize the recent but complex layers of the past, perhaps there is much to be applied or projected via The Last Mosaic. Still, the book does not concern Seattle so much as the splitting moment of existence that occurred in Rome during the period of its writing.
There is no pressure to look beyond the book or move forward from Rome’s streets; the book feels as solidified and territorial as geography itself. And yet perhaps such concentration means its lessons, values, and themes can maintain their harmony and impact all the easier as readers who do or do not care about Rome will find out as they get carried from balconies to cafes to gardens to squares to waterfronts to arenas by way of Cooperman, Walton, and the countless other voices of the same literary vortex.
All reviews by Greg Bem unless marked otherwise.
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