Larissa Shmailo

The World Began with Yes by Erica Jong

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A Desire for Wholeness, the Wholeness of Desire: The World Began with Yes by Erica Jong
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by Larissa Shmailo
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In the nineteenth century, literary women who made their sexual desires known died gruesome deaths, such as the arsenic anguish of Emma Bovary and the decapitation by bourgeois rail of Anna Karenina. In Fear of Flying, Erica Jong’s second-wave feminist classic of sexual liberation, Isadora Wing gets away with sexual exploration with her body and soul intact, one of the first major heroines to do so. However, twenty-first century #metoo messages confirm that female sexuality remains a place fraught with danger and a rising tide of antiabortion laws warn that women’s bodies are still not their own. Safe physical desire is still an intellectual and grey-shaded literary exercise, and Jong’s fantasy of the “zipless fuck” with no deleterious sequelae is still mostly fantasy:
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The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not “taking” and the woman is not “giving”. No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. And I have never had one.
— Erica Jong, Fear of Flying (1973)
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Jong goes on to explain that it is “zipless” because “when you came together, zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff. For the true ultimate zipless A-1 fuck, it was necessary that you never got to know the man very well.” Perhaps because as real men often can’t hear a woman’s no, they may also be unable to hear her yes. Jong ensures that they will with The World Began with Yes.
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Like Isadora Wing, we search for wholeness – physical, intellectual, sexual, and spiritual. And with Jong, we demand a place in the world for our bodies, free and unfettered, alive and abounding in zipless pleasure. The World Began with Yes guides that search, and frequently and successfully finds that happy terra firma where a woman may be whole, body and soul. Like the Rumi of the book’s epigraph, Jong’s poems are sensual and simple, philosophical and drunk with life. They eagerly and ebulliently engage the other. With no little joy, we find that here the zipless fuck has evolved: we can know the object of our desire and be known, have our lust and eat it, too, and from that dialectic, create an interdependent synthesis, a greater us:
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It was always yes,
come in, welcome, eat me
merge with me, love,
let’s join to make another
little bubble of us
who will seem like us combined
but turn out to be another.
— “The World Began with Yes.”
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The 77-year-old Jong sings a joie de vivre absent in the depressing muses of younger poets. Her themes are from an existence that is both every day and sacred, personal and universal. Grandchildren and goddesses cohabitate. The main thrust of all the poems is a dervishing passion, an elemental dance of mysticism incarnate:
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If we could imagine
beyond our body’s
borders,
we would remember
our connection
to the sea —
how we join
molecule to molecule
in the rush
to be together. …
—“One”
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To bring her happy news home (she rejects the televised type), Jong employs wonderful sound values: assonances, consonances, internal and end rhymes. Elegantly arrayed, these emphasize the sensuality of the “Yes” poems and their celebration of the “fierce force of life.” Insistently of the body, the poems banish shame and guilt.:
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We are made

to break each

other’s boundaries &

save each other’s
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skin

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for sin

does not exist

unless you insist

on death.
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—“Spanking”
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Connection, physical connection is the path to the soul and disembodied phantoms may type, but do not love:
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What is a Facebook friend?

Without smell, without taste,

Without smile, without guile.

Is a Friend a friend?

—“Facebook Friend”
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True to her avocation as writer, language, that physical portal of the psyche, that spiritual touch, is a leit motif in the Yes collection. Like Rumi, Jong has drunk the wine of her poetry:
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Poetry is
the most important
meal of the day,
without which
we sicken,
we starve.

—“Your Eggs”
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And
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Language

is more than a garment.

It is the poet’s skin.

It is hair.

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It is flesh.

It is us:

—“Emily Dickinson: A New Daguerreotype”

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Poetry is truly for Jong “the Word made flesh,” a tactile and universal transubstantiation; Jong concludes in “Writing Poetry,” “we r all / writing / one poem.” And as William Carlos Williams had it, you may indeed die miserably spiritually and sensually for want of what is found there.
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In The World Began with Yes, it is as though Jong is trying to physically touch us with her words, to wake us, hug us, spank us. The Yes poems go mano a mano, toe to toe, skin to skin with their readers and are a right continuation of Jong’s mission to free the female body, to claim the full rights of our physicality, to endow us with the zipless joy of communion, union, sex. There is a transcendence beyond the fears of #metoo and the defiant waves of feminism, a hope for a joyous and liberating us. If we are to fight, then we are to remember what we fight for, the rush of dandelions, the effortless fall of rose petals, the knowledge of ourselves and the other as we dance the poet’s Sufi dance.
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Larissa Shmailo is a poet, novelist, translator, editor, and critic. Her new novel is Sly Bang (Spuyten Duyvil). She is the author of three collections of poetry and is the original English-language translator of the Russian Futurist opera Victory over the Sun.

http://www.larissashmailo.com/

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Blue Lyre by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

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The Romantic Surrealist’s Ear —A Review of Blue Lyre by Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

by Larissa Shmailo

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The second-best thing I like about Blue Lyre, Jeff Wright’s Kathy Acker Award-winning book, is that I can’t pigeonhole the voice, although a surrealist Frank O’Hara with a richer metaphoric lexicon comes to mind. Kinda. For O’Hara, the part where the everyday meets the unexpected trope. For surrealism, Wright’s way with original images and their juxtapositions. For example, these lines from Wright’s invocation of his muse:
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I pick up some words
and toss them in the air
to see if you pay any mind.
Just to see
if your breath catches fire.
                        —“Begging for It”
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Wright is a self-proclaimed New Romantic, and perhaps that’s what has been missing from surrealism to date: there is a yearning in these poems with their diamond glitter on the beach that complements the surrealist’s art as it jumpstarts romanticism. Unusual language meets love, and poetic devices are freed from their leashes:
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Take me to your navel.
“Aye aye, Capitan.”
. . .
Ready for the Canon
to come on.
And by the way, your clown
costume becomes you.
“Aye aye capstan.” Let me
hoist you from the depths.
A winch I’ll be for my wench.”
—“Titania’s Tool”
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What I like best about Wright’s work is reading it aloud. Live Mag! editor Wright is a known New York impresario of spoken word and the oral tradition, and Blue Lyre’s jazzy rhythms attest to his ear. No mushiness here: The line breaks are crisp as ice and right:
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            Black plums from Madame X
            conspire on the sill.
. . .
            Following the choir.
            Listening to the “new” air sound.
            Looking for a “new” word order.
                                    —“Thimblerig”
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Like a wise Zen teacher, Wright offers his share of koans in Blue Lyre: “Now only ashes remember / how many ways we burned”; and “Always the sky / has the last say” and the brilliantly titled “(B)utterfly)”:
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            Yeah, well,
            My heart’s a reed
this poem
blows through.
—    “(B)utterfly”
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With its expansive minimalism, surrealistic romanticism, and page-meets-stage poetry, Blue Lyre would clearly win the approval of Jeff Wright’s muse and, most likely, yours as well.

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You can find the book here: https://www.dosmadres.com/shop/blue-lyre-by-jeffrey-cyphers-wright/

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Larissa Shmailo is a poet, novelist, translator, editor, and critic. Her latest novel is Sly Bang.

Edju By RW Spryszak

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The Surrealism of War, Politics, Religion and Everything Else

By Larissa Shmailo

RW Spryszak;s Edju is a compelling, thought-provoking read, possibly one of the best antiwar novels since Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. Its eponymous unreliable narrator is certainly as odd as Trumbo’s and every bit as opinionated. Edju’s point of view is skewed, we suspect, but the surreal world he encounters is undeniably more so. Populated by fantastic saints, monstrous war machines, and fatalistic animate metaphors of death, the world of Edju threatens us with the core horror of humans systematically killing one another for questionable ideas.

Reading Edju, I saw elements of the original picaresque novel in the adventures of its Quixotic, but always truthful, protagonist. But his story—a hagiography, perhaps, if Edju’s time-warping memory serves— is a continuing exercise in excess, an attempt to trump absurdist and surrealist writing of past several centuries. There are loud shout outs to Gogol’s nose and Kharm’s corpses, and more than a few scenes that are reminiscent of Kafka and even an absurdist Robinson Crusoe.

All of this is done in a slow reveal—we learn the name of the narrator, an old man mocked by children only in the eighth chapter. We assume Edju is mad, hopelessly odd, a compulsive-obsessive religious fanatic, a kook who thinks his dead lover is strangely and selectively alive in a sack. As his Nordic world unfolds in subsequent chapters, we come to believe this limited being is the only sane man on his dystopic nation.

The central conceits of the novel, Edju’s windmills, are surreal metaphors for war and competition in reduction ad absurdem: war machines fueled by human bodies, a Mountain of Flesh all are eager to climb, factions absurdly fighting over table cloths which have become their last banners, a Maze of defense. The path to war is depicted accurately, starting with pamphlets and the rise of fascism and inevitably followed by

Leftist Agrarian Front. Rightist National Unity. Holy Orders of the Fist of God. The Liberal Party. The Conservative Party. Liberal Conservatives and Conservative Liberals. The Armed Hand of the Nation. Nuns. All armed. All vying for power

And:

Évitez les faux, they shouted. Libérez nos bébés, they called. N’accepte pas les substituts. It seemed like a full-scale rebellion was at hand. I had no idea if those phrases were in any way grammatical and correct. But in times of revolution even the commas get misplaced.

Religion fares no better than politics. In nomenclature reminiscent of David Foster Wallace’s Year of the Depends Undergarment, faith in Edju’s universe is represented by Bibliana, saint of headaches and hangovers, Our Lady That Didn’t Tumble, Saint Fomildehyde, and extremely peculiar paths to canonization.

The writing of Edju is synaesthetic and witty, replete with eyepopping detail, zinger similes, and wise one liners:

Death makes everyone an outcast.
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There was a tan gray moon, a pure slice of venom in the blood, floating overhead.

Climbing up the em­bankment was a struggle, but her perfume reached out like a muscular ghost that held me close to its face of vapors. As wrong as elephants.

Left to the devices of nature all things decay. Why is this not the basis of the theory of everything they search for?
The rain fell so hard it opened graves.
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If you are not them, you are the other. It’s in the Constitu­tion now.

Firing a gun is like fucking a ghost.
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RW Spryszak’s unusual hero’s journey belongs on your reading list. Like many fine works that eptly mine and mime our culture, it is novel, in the first meaning of the word.

You can find the book here:

http://www.spuytenduyvil.net/edju.html

Larissa Shmailo is an American poet, novelist, translator, and critic.  Her poetry collections are Medusa’s Country, #specialcharacters, I n Paran, the chapbook A Cure for Suicide, and the e-book Fib Sequence;  her latest novel is Patient Women. Shmailo’s work has appeared in Plume, the Brooklyn Rail, Fulcrum, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the Journal of Poetics Research, Drunken Boat, Barrow Street, and the anthologies Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters, Words for the Wedding, Contemporary Russian Poetry, Resist Much/Obey Little: Poems for the Inaugural, Verde que te quiero verde: Poems after Garcia Lorca, and many others. Shmailo is the original English-language translator of the world’s first performance piece, Victory over the Sun by Alexei Kruchenych. Shmailo also edited the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and has been a translator on the Russian Bible for the American Bible Society. Please see more about Shmailo at her website at www.larissashmailo.com  and Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/  Larissa_Shmailo.

 

 

 

Reader Picks for the Holidays 2018

 

The following list consists of 15 book reviews published in 2018 that have generated the most interest from our readers as of November 2018. Click the links and consider a purchase for your holiday gift giving.

Gessner

The Conduit and other Visionary Tales of Morphing Whimsy by Richard Gessner

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/the-conduit-and-other-visionary-tales-of-morphing-whimsy-by-richard-gessner/

border

Border Crossings by Thaddeus Rutkowski

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/06/01/border-crossings-by-thaddeus-rutkowski/

mailer

The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/07/01/the-gospel-according-to-the-son-by-norman-mailer/

appearances

Appearances by Michael Collins

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/appearances-by-michael-collins/

young

The Infinite Doctrine of Water by Michael T. Young

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/08/01/the-infinite-doctrine-of-water-by-michael-t-young/

attic

A Look Back- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/a-look-back-antic-hay-by-aldous-huxley/

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Leaning into the Infinite by Marc Vincenz

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/07/01/leaning-into-the-infinite-by-marc-vincenz/

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Monte Carlo Days & Nights by Susan Tepper

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/monte-carlo-days-nights-by-susan-tepper/

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The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/the-gates-of-pearl-by-jill-hoffman/

ornaments

Ornaments by David Daniel

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/ornaments-by-david-daniel/

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A Bright and Pleading Dagger by Nicole Rivas

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/a-bright-and-pleading-dagger-by-nicole-rivas/

thieves

Thieves in the Family by Maria Lisella

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/thieves-in-the-family-by-maria-lisella/

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Logos by Gil Fagiani

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/10/01/logos-by-gil-fagiani/

fire-without-light-copy

A Fire Without Light by Darren Demaree

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/a-fire-without-light-by-darren-demarre/

Lasater Philosopy of Ranching by Laurence M Lasater cover photo

The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Ranching

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/the-lasater-philosophy-of-cattle-ranching/

 

 

The Infinite Doctrine of Water by Michael T. Young

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By Larissa Shmailo

William Carlos Williams famously wrote: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” And the poet Anna Wrobel demanded, “If poets aren’t prophets, / what are they?/ If poets aren’t prophets, /what good are they?” More than any other art, we expect wisdom from our poets, even as we also demand the usual things we want from the arts: beauty, inspiration, elegance, connection, revelation. Dickinson, Whitman, and Frost delivered on those scores, and in an intimate, deceptively simple way, so does Michael T. Young, who takes up the mantle of poet as philosopher and fabulist in his rich collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water.

Young’s wisdom is paternal, and its source is nature, and the advice of natural history is couched in lyrical language full of subtle twists and delights. In “Advice from a Bat,” our Aesop adjures: “Hunt only at night. Fly erratically. Defy even your own expectations / . . .  Cultivate the myths about you . . .”  Many poems of Doctrine are like unexpected gardens in the center of lower Manhattan, replete with catkins, beech trees, lemons, dandelions, bioluminescence, chameleons, and gingko trees. And water schools us through the title poem’s prosopopeia:

Go around, it says, or through or under or over,
but go on.
Stand still for no one and no thing,
because when you stop,
your breath will thicken and grow dark,
the life swimming in you
rot. The stones will not preserve you,
their hands will not endure; in fact, you will grind
them down to pepper the way for those who follow.
Whatever trinkets you pick up,
soften them in your hands, shaping them
with the gentle art of friction . . .
                                    –“The Infinite Doctrine of Water”
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Like the water which carves a way for those who follow, Young’s natural history explores, or more aptly, carries the past, a theme signaled by the epigraph from Stephen Dunn, who terms it “unfinished work . . . seductively revisable.”  The elegant lyrical sestina “The Generosity of the Past” shifts light, memory, and a changing relationship with subtle chiaroscuro.
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In our apartment there was always light
splitting through the windows like mercy,
illuminating bookshelves and what we thought,
our conversations or our glasses of wine
lifted to toast each day of generosity:
the quantity surpassing what we knew.
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The poet walks the streets of lower Manhattan and nearby Jersey, an observer of its denizens and architecture, the tacit memory of 911 always at the tip of the lyricist’s tongue. In his peregrinations he declares, like Borges’s Funes the Memorious, “that is to truly live—be a master of minutiae, every  marginal  memory,” but realizing “part of me was missing.” In “Birdwatcher,” he surveys his ground zero home, finding that coming to terms with tragedy may not always be possible in the “shadows it can cast but never catch.” But the poet notes growth attributed to the homo fabers of all epochs:
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Years later, as I pass a construction site
and each morning, there’s a little more cement,
a few more girders, wiring and steel,
fused under acetylene flies,
I realize all those hands, all those minds
pick their way through halls of carbon and fly ash,
trace potentials down molecular paths of iron,
water and gravel, bits and pieces like breadcrumbs
trailing all the way back to subterranean lavas
and prehistoric furnaces, the inhuman fires
that go into making every habitation and home.
                                      —“Breadcrumbs”
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In The Infinite Doctrine of Water, bridges and subways and the station at Journal Square and Wall Street’s narrow lanes become an ecosystem full of flora and strange fauna, strangely haunted and strangely hopeful, connected viscerally to the past, animated by a lyrical pen that brings its fond transcendental musings to it, and luckily, to us.

You can find the book here:

http://www.terrapinbooks.com/newmdashthe-infinite-doctrine-of-water-by-michael-t-young.html 

Larissa Shmailo is a poet, author, translator, editor, and critic.

Leaning into the Infinite by Marc Vincenz

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By Larissa Shmailo

I am not a fan of the unadorned vernacular in poetry, no matter how sincere its sentiment or pertinent its message. In my book, what a poet should do is invent wonderful turns of phrases, new syntax, head-turning semantics. There should be a dialectic of differences which interacts to ­­create the magical, entirely new, entirely necessary synthesis. A poet should bring brilliant LANGUAGE to the reader, by which I more nearly mean semiotics, meaningful, culturally rich, innovative signs that the reader gets to deconstruct time and time again. If you are tired of reading monosyllabic laundry list poetry, then you will be delighted by Marc Vincenz, a poet who trucks in the unpredictable and unexpected, and who conjoins words like gems for jewelry.

In Leaning into the Infinite, Vincenz displays a magical imagination that mines from three continents and a dozen cultures. The language is literate and sparkling. Look at a typical title: “When Uncle Fernando Conjures Up a Dead-Bird Theory of Everything,” where Fernando is “Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa and his many alter egos . . .  written under more than seventy heteronyms.”  Other inspirations are Li Po, Wang Wei, Kafka, Paracelsus, Heraclitus, and Robert Bly. If Auden multitasked, if cummings studied alchemy, if Borges reincarnated into a Hong Kong-born British-Swiss living in America on a green card, you might get a Marc Vincenz.

 If Auden multitasked, if cummings studied alchemy, if Borges reincarnated into a Hong Kong-born British-Swiss living in America on a green card, you might get a Marc Vincenz.

Vincenz’s Infinite is a poetry of mind, a garden of images and ideas and characters that is uncannily aware of its reader. Perhaps all good poetry has this in common, this drawing of the reader in, like an accomplice to its art. Vincenz’s poetry engages and questions, implicitly and explicitly: “How?” “Should I?” “Who?” In “Unreliable Narrator,” he asks “Should I be / stumped / by the greatness / of God . . .”

Who then is

the protagonist

when trillions

of single cells

all think

for themselves?—or together?—

The poet asks and the spare Basho–like verses —and rich longlined poems later in the collection—wait for answer. The poet’s elegant use of line breaks and sculpted white space seem to invite readers to reply, to mark Leaning into the Infinite up with all kinds of marginalia.

We have a tradition in the European canon of the philosopher-poet, in which a poet offers insights into the human condition. Modern poets do so ponderously as a whole. Vincenz’s touch on this is so light and his language so original that you scarcely know you are being enlightened. His temporal range is from the nascent prehistory of cave paintings to the post-relativistic twenty-first century. His worlds are populated with extraordinary beings, including the aforementioned Uncle Fernando and his interlocutor, the oracular Sibyl. In “Uncle Fernando & Sibyl Exchange Curt Words,” Fernando asks for “that mythical moment” and the oracle replies, “Hush,”:

Carbon first.

Then light.

Sibyl, Vincenz’s untamed muse, also appears in dialogues between Prometheus and Orpheus:

 

Orpheus:                                             Prometheus:

The voice                                             & what

of time                                                 is that perfume—

 …                                                       . . .

within the planes                                 the word made

of being                                               Thing

…                                                        . . .

Sibyl:

whenever I start

to try & explain it

I forget words

altogether

My favorite characters in Leaning into the Infinite include a finch singing to his mate from a tree-top which he thinks is a mountain, the Tree God Saluwaghnapani, and Milen, a Filipino wet-nurse who sings a song she “claimed drove off demons that grew within Javan / smog clouds: Ai-Li-Ma-Lu-Ma-Nu — . . . “

Leaning into the Infinite ranges from Olympus to “The Penal Colony” and is vivid and visceral:

Not from the gagged mouth—it knots & tangles in the larynx

& the chain simply groans: ‘Have done it.

Have it etched to the bone.

 It’s all in the pointed nib of the writers’ dark truth.

 In an enlightened moment the Bewildered gasps alone—

The Orwellian/Kafkaesque boot stamps:

Just                 Be                     

             a        

      good Citizen 

Be                    Just

And then the poet escapes to his natal Asia:

O to be born reforested in Borneo

 where water doesn’t run off in disappointing sloughs,

 but cascades & careens within the bejeweled heart

of a single fruiting tree, where a child is a rambutan

(or the fleshy dumpling-pulp of a mangosteen)— . . .

Vincenz speaks to the childlike longing in us to have a storyteller/mentor introduce us to the world’s mysteries, to share its secrets:

If only I had a good uncle to sit me down at an uneven hearth

with a hot cup of mulled wine, a twinkle in his eye

& this background whiff of ancient pine:

To hear how the world begins green, fresh, tabula rasa:

& late at night or early morning through air still as glass,

to eavesdrop upon the grasses & their endless philosophizing.

You have this uncle in Marc Vincenz. Drink up.

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You can find the book here:

https://www.dosmadres.com/shop/leaning-into-the-infinite-by-marc-vincenz/

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Larissa Shmailo’s latest novel is Patient Women and latest collection of poetry is Medusa’s Country. www.larissashmailo.com