the cruelest month review series #4
as a reader of poetry and as a poet i have to come clean and say sometimes i don't know where the hell the poems take me or what they are telling me. language is made of signs and signifiers so even nonsense still will make a kind of sense even if we are unable to paraphrase it. take song for instance, we get carried by the emotional pull of rhythm, melody and beat which in turn, if the song is good, carry the energy into our heads. we think and we feel even if the message is a bit opaque.
such an analogy i think is as a definition of complex, difficult poetry rather broadly drawn. my point being that poetry need not make a prose-like utterance of the kind we would expect of say an essay. well, no duh. even experimental novels and cinema do tell a story. poetry works in the groin and in the head. poetry is an alchemy and behaves in much the way that music works on us.
and that brings me to guillermo juan parra's chapbook phantasmal repeats. a terrific collection of untitled texts that i read as a sort of diasporic engagement of being a human being and poet in our new century. these pieces read, to me, as if they were handwritten in several places, or at least one place where the poet lives either part-time or frequently visits. knowing parra is from and does indeed make frequent visits to his natal country of venezuela bolsters my reading of the poems as originally notebook entries during a long visit home.
a sense of loss permeates the book. at times that loss is melancholy and other moments these texts exult in their state of exile. even the structure of the book and a recurring motif is writing synthesized in much the same way sound is synthesized by a moog. even the sounds and lyrics of bands such as new order and sigur ros are are mixed into these poems and parra identifies these bands, along with singer-songwriter sean lennon, on the end-page. the repeats of the title of the book recalls the technique of a master d.j. spinning a recurring sound that punctuates his set with a hook. the repeats i think are love and loss, those timeless subjects not just of poetry but our veritable human being.
what i dig about parra's chap is his use of an old-fashioned typewriter that create in his texts a funky font that is redolent of the mimeo press and zine publications. because these texts are typewritten they possess a sensuality that is not easily doable in our digital world. still, it is the music of these poems, a music that makes reading a pure pleasure, that get this reader jumping. take, for example this piece.
Crystal boxes of clouds worn for rhyme
And the breeze across this tableau
Electronic birds feign illumination
Fantasy currents weaken my frame
Forgotten pages, others transformed
Into the flesh of my flesh, a flurry
You let yourself be conquered so easily
Dario meeting an aging Verlaine in Paris
Who responded, "Glory? Shit and more shit"
parra is being earthy here by quoting the old french poet as an embittered old man, and yet as i read the poem i find a healthy does of irony for shit is shit and there's tons of it but that it is a substance made from the living and without shit, without the ability to take a shit, or even detect some shit talking shit to us, life would just cease.
but it is without irony that i read this collection. parra i think self-published the chap, my kind of publishing, and i think if you visit his blog for a copy you can ask for one. the favor you would be doing is your own for this is a poet not to be missed.