XoeteoX by Edwin Torres (Wave Books, 2018)
A palindrome assures continuity—the entry into itself reborn at every passing. By becoming itself in the course of its lifetime, palindromes are the most human words.
(from “Chaos is a Flower” on page 34)
A book of circumspection and suspected object-oriented investigations of language, XoeteoX is the eighth collection of poems by Edwin Torres. It is a book that cuts some helpful corners by omitting authorial explanation and deconstructive explication, but manages to bring a mature, managed poetics forward to the open reader through moments of graceful experimentation and a surge of intense respect for the learned identity. Part focused vispo and part raw, irreparable reflection, the pages of XoeteoX are filled with the personal as the subject in a world that demands its stability. This plunge into the self feels retributive and swollen with an intentionality of output and excess.
At their core and on their surface, the poems in this book feel like gifts. Take, for example, “I was so Tired this Morning and Now Here I am Awake,” which densely packs a stasis of high energy, realism, and hyperbolic description into its quasi-confessional introductions:
Spilled, entwined, organ’ed, Zygotic, wiped, ready to receive your etcetera,
Becoming mine, etc.
Socketed each to each, chord’ed, felt-wrapped, fluid, etc.
Inched, ink’t, warped, amongsted, Kriatic, impulse, re-neutered, etc.
De-balled, un-iced, ridged prosthetics snugly fit, etc.
Neared, riddled, impossibly squandered, un-stanza’ed appreciatively, etc.
Far felt, nibbled, mouse-holed, in and out energetics, etc.
The language here is a bastion of range of the personal and the exasperated: dramatically posed with scope and boundlessness the poet explores and expands and extends, almost as if by necessity. Torres’s moments are the interconnected splay of the living line of breath in a poem that must continue to breathe. Tones are essences of output and inclusive of the whole, with surprise and relief filling the same void, simultaneously. It is a moment of profound tracks that lead toward some incomplete yet demanding moment of transformation by way of collection and accumulated knowledge. Transition and movement formulate the poem as it continues (pages later) into a space approaching gender and the elements of our human being that make up our identity and placements within our world and worldview:
throw myself catch me—the boy in the body to body the girl
the oblique interruption of body parts—ground into dust by the girl
Relief and shifts in positions of stress and certainty could be one interpretation of the core of XoeteoX, which is a book of parabola and palindromes: concepts with perspectives that lead to equivalencies and continuations (in loop). In the case of some of these poems, it is the method of exploration that serves to create a point of balance; in other poems, however, there is the direct question of the algorithmic procession that can exponentially lead to solutions or resolution in their formulas and building blocks. Take the vispo work “Tone,” which unreproducible here (visually) creates a grid poetics that shows transition by mere variable. In one section it morphs: “the break left alone / by windsect / the man left alone / by worldsect / the world left alone / by insect” (page 21). The poem ultimately is filled with puns of itself, variations on themes found within microcosmic displays of expression. There are roots to be seen in this rough trajectory toward truth, a roughness that is necessary through Torres’s momentum of exploration.
Additionally, traditional elements of experimentation pad those extreme instances, where text is literally torn apart on the page. The poem “Ocean Obelisk” is one example, where long and full stanzas are stripped from meaning and positioning by a carefully plunged representation of the aquatic, tidal scrape: rough text jumbled and smeared with a refreshing or rehashing is the “translation” of a simpler form of poetry and confessional identity. The result of this splice: it is curious but slightly unenjoyable to try and read directly. For me, I simply moved past the poem after scanning it and admired the courage of the self-erasure on the simplest of terms. Looking back, I think about how an obelisk often carries a certain degree of mythic mystery to it, and the “Ocean Obelisk” of Torres does this as well, providing a sort of center point, or blurred core, a depth charge, for the soul of the book. In other words, each palindrome here, which is swirling around the obelisk, needs a reflection point, and the abstraction of this obelisk, this symbolic nonentity (by way of the visual poem) appears, like an epiphany, to be that reflection as it is happening.
That concept of a linguistic carrying-along of personal reflection benefits from a more intense, elongated exploration of these terms and processes by the poet. Torres could have worked XoeteoX into a chapbook, or even a single, short string of poems but, like with his previous books, he does well here due to a slight uptake or excess. Here there is the filling, the overall surplus of humanity that comforts the concept of identity and reiteration. This effect I otherwise recently argued doesn’t work well with all writers. But we warm and learn further from additional examples, layers upon layers unearthed by way of fortification and structure.
circular, omnipresent, the shapes
you secrete, the ones that return
there will be ones, who keep you down
safe from their climb, faced by fear and tribulation
to dare laws of inadequacy, by turning on you
upon the times of your burn, of their bearing, upon ones
who daunt the awestruck jeers of frontal ability [. . .]
(from “Inversion” on page 43)
I personally find the most intense throws of the book in the scrawl and backhanded comments of the poems, the lines that have incredibly serious implications. There are qualities of equity, respect, tolerance, and persistence in this book that transmit before, during, and beyond a generally insular poetic moment of calm (for the reader: the first, generalized reading). These are words that hold an on-edge sense of potential and that which is the probable. But they are as personal as abstract, maintaining a useful sense of ongoing openness and invitation to engage.
Implications are many in the translation of reflection and repetition into broader realms. Much of what Torres writes appears to be meditational, methodical reasonings for grasping with reality, dealing with a gritty sense of the world, and a confident though turbulent placement of self. When Torres writes “how all have a bit of cave / inside / a hollow tone / bringing sound to the word / without answer,” I think of sanctuary and structure, hiding and escape, and, of course, the platonic, supportive sense of origins of the self (from “To Read with Silent Runners” on page 10).
As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I find the lack of a direct explanation and description of many of the individual poems in this collection to make the book as a whole difficult and, at least initially, wanting. While the interpretive openness might help illustrate the confessional elements of the poet’s self, as documented, there is also a sense that more direction, more instruction, could be useful and make the book more straightforward. But Torres’s decision with XoeteoX feels filled with an aspirational, optimistic confidence. The poems are a joy to read in the intense peace of inquiry they offer, and I imagine will serve as fantastic bundles of energy to push the poet forward with more momentum.
All reviews by Greg Bem unless marked otherwise.
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