One challenge of reading young poets is the generational divide. All ages face the same life-problems, but the starting assumptions with which we conf...moreOne challenge of reading young poets is the generational divide. All ages face the same life-problems, but the starting assumptions with which we confront them are commonly at wild odds across demographic lines. Young minds engage objects and events with different verbal tools than do their forebears, and these do not always easily translate. When one overlays these temporal distinctions with the spatial ones of foreign cultural filters, the interpretive puzzle grows that much more pronounced.
Adam Mieczyński's new book of poetry makes for an uneven reading experience for these reasons. Mieczyński was born and raised under the leaden decades of Polish history which remain implicitly elusive and alien to me. Obviously passionate for language, sometimes his imagery and constructions appear to clunk about, almost mechanical and obtuse. But then, with a light touch and a quick turn of words, a dash of deft, rolling phrasing bursts through like a refreshing breeze, as in "Freedom":
This is a golden (c)age, and I a parrot pampered into gray paresis
Sometimes skirting close to the edge, his prose threatens to grow too precious, as in "Does One Marry Madness?" or in "Half". And a suggestion of mommy issues seeps through in "Crab Apple Virgin Mothers", as it does again in "Pursuit of Happiness":
I notice Perry K, that little chubby kid my mother loves to fondle so – I think she thinks of me, back in the so-much-potential times. . . Gracefully he hops and skylarks, wings unclipped as yet.
It's alienation especially that comes through in this collection, or perhaps a sense that the surrounding landscape is iced over and sterile. In "Rainbow" we read:
Knee-deep in water, we huddled and wept while other families seeped on streets, shielding eyes, equally surprised to find they had neighbors and we them.
Mieczyński seems to be describing a society just awakening and emerging from a troubled sleep into a retreating deluge left by a glacial melt. One hopes that the process will proceed apace and his future work will feature more of his elegant phrasing with its attendant human warmth. (less)
A great deal of The Swan’s Coconut Cream Eyes reminds me of many of the lyrics from The Basement Tapes, which seem to be temporary, place-holding vers...moreA great deal of The Swan’s Coconut Cream Eyes reminds me of many of the lyrics from The Basement Tapes, which seem to be temporary, place-holding verses that were supposed to be replaced once the song writers thought of something more meaningful to say, only they never quite got around to it. I’m always thinking I’m picking up on threads of meaning running through many of these poems by S Falcon MacDowell, but they don’t always seem to quite crystallize into final significance, meaning, or relevance. This isn’t necessarily as disastrous as it might seem. After all, the legend of The Basement Tapes has not abated yet.
Is MacDowell simply pressing forward into the poetic form with all possible force and deliberation, damn the comprehension, stealing and stapling together, with bits of broken rhythm and rhyme, random subconscious images that briefly break water like flopping fish on the surface of a lake? Maybe.
Take the first few lines of “Just Like Tom Cruise’s Rorschach Rag”: “Bullethead finback sharkmen on the march / Spittin’ up blood in the market square. / Tim the leech leans on his cane, teaches / Children of unsuspecting pain in a public / Park. Approaching darkness, prickly lion’s / Torn verbatim out of night’s broken organs / In a methaneous, Jovian atmosphere. . .” Some of the staples: shark/market/park/darkness, leech/teaches, cane/pain/methaneous. And on it unravels. The groove is there. The meaning? Sometimes maybe, sometimes . . . although I note how sharks and leeches are aquatic creatures, and the prickly lion might be a reference to the constellation Leo, which might link up to the celestial Jovian atmosphere . . . something is going on, but do we have the tools to reconstruct MacDowell’s intent? Or was there intent?
MacDowell’s trademark imagery certainly riddles this collection like bullet holes, and for some readers that may be enough. “Steam-driven interstellar spacecraft / Push back the doors of purple clouds” (“Just One of Those Things”), say, or “I watched her weld it together and douse her eyes in cayenne sauce / Expediently accusing scapegoats before she found herself accused” (“Hung Up in a Holding Pattern”), or “I / Want to go to dinner with her, to / See the suns of her eyes and the / Constellations of her skin, and the / Comets of her hair” (“Temporary Separation”), or “he // longed to eat the moonflower / and be // sliced up into a million mindful pieces / and be // fed to the soldier ants” (“Moonflower”), or “it’s all broken out of this / credentialed reality that flows into our lungs like / liquefied lead & drowns out everything that we / know know know know know” (“Afternoon Showers”). For myself, the pieces which work best are those most closely resembling song lyrics with well-defined rhyme schemes. In these MacDowell most closely holds to a storyline or theme, although never in any conventional way. “All these gull voices ping pong facile platitudes / I tip my hat; discreetly past them all I creep / Someone drained the swamp of ambitious, selfless attitudes / And shellacked their minds just as soon as they fell asleep” (also from “Hung Up in a Holding Pattern”) is one example; another is: “We promised to be true no matter what sorrows befell / Before the days of glasnost and the gleaming towers fell / I remember well when it didn’t hurt so much to laugh / We foresaw no bitterly ironic epitaph / The national emblem featured an eagle, not a golden calf / Now you lean so heavily upon your creaking staff / Like you’re senile or just a little daft as twilight descends / Wondering at your isolation from all your abandoned friends” (“Abandoned Friends”).
MacDowell directs his attention squarely at the arts, or at literature and its critics, on occasion. In “Ideally Abstract Idyll, Really” he proclaims what appears to be his own philosophical stance: “art that fails to wreak havoc is sterile / they criminalized most artistic formulations / while you were out golfing,” and later in the same piece: “soon they’ll be incarcerating the most earnest poets for the most blatant failures of vision.” Something about this reminds me how, many years ago, Salman Rushdie proved that being a fiction author is the most dangerous job in the world. Or of Patti Smith: “all must not be art. some art we must disintegrate. / positive (anarchy must exist)” (“25th Floor” & “High on Rebellion”).
If MacDowell is really digging down deep into the psyche for this collection of poems, the one which best illustrates his quest for the bones of language must be “Hsstj~g,” which contains no recognizable words at all, although unmistakable patterns are present in letters which appear to presuppose a capacity for language and meaning. Is this some kind of code, or is it closer to nonsense? So far I’m unable to decipher it, but I haven’t given up hope. Yet.
Give me Whitman over Disney any day. ―"Green Under a Golden Sun"
Dreambuckles, Turnpigs & Interpretations of Style is a far-ranging, eclectic mix of...more Give me Whitman over Disney any day. ―"Green Under a Golden Sun"
Dreambuckles, Turnpigs & Interpretations of Style is a far-ranging, eclectic mix of poetry that explores, with fantastic – often phantasmagorical – language and imagery, such diverse arenas as linguistic and rhetorical gamesmanship, love, politics and scientific reductionism, not infrequently all at once.
Judging from this collection of poems, S Falcon MacDowell is a wry-humored paranoiac whose words can never be trusted to mean what they appear to say. The opening line of this collection, "Nothing is about anything" ("Magic in Real Time"), signals us that MacDowell's words are not to be read as signifying symbols but as independent signs themselves.
References to the poet's personal interest in astronomy and science deeply inform his language in a smart manner unfamiliar to most students of poetry. Esoteric scientific minutiae abounds as MacDowell dissects emotion-rich situations, unleashing a myriad of clinical details that secretly envelop everyday life, whether he's regaling us with love songs ("Supposed to Be"; "Sketches for a New Statue"), his trademark little allegorical folk tales ("Chemical Panels, Girder Strips, Nuts, Boltzmann"; "A Little Voyage"; "Letter from Between Enemy Lines"), or missives of hallucinatory excess ("Welcome to Jimmy Bob's") that jolt us out of our pedestrian lives and routines.
MacDowell is also preoccupied with exploding and reassembling the expected formal structures of poetry and language ("Unwasted Unfair Review"; "Crashing Stars & Nickel Plated Bullets"; "Dirty"; "Seaside Serenade, Ma (A Seaman-Seeded Sire)") in ways that jar us into unexpected insight into what poems are or may be. Words and concepts are digested and reconstituted in unexpected new configurations before our eyes. Very meta is he.
"Graveloct, he Struve them of Their Tittles" seems to be the central mini-epic of this collection, but I prefer "Gnosisworm (Soft Hits From the War Years)", which reiterates the thematic concerns of the soul-sapping "MACHINE", which to my reading truly lies at the core of this collection. Here the dehumanizing and autolytic mechanical process is thrust front and center, mindless capitalism devouring the foundation of a titanic, globe-striding country it once created.
While his laser-tight focus on technical and scientific detail sometimes threatens to leave me cold, MacDowell appears to be deploying this surgical precision in the attempt to transmit subliminal – or perhaps not so subliminal and subtle after all – messages to his fellow slumbering countrymen.
For the footnotes alone to "Much Owed to Keats' Ale in the Night, in G Major" (which perhaps comprise a kind of mangled tribute to "The Wasteland"), as well as the very last line of "Sketches of a New Statue", this book is well worth contemplating in earnest, I think. These poems never fail to peel back ordinary reality and thrust us into a more magical and more troubling world lying unsuspected just below the seemingly placid surfaces enshrouding our daily existence. (less)