. . . . .
Friends and Strangers, I should be up this late working on my syllabi for Fall classes--especially since I ordered a new set of books!--instead I'm up reading Alex Lemon's first book MOSQUITO. Another dream, another fight, another / ripped by light--mouth-locked, licked / ecstatic--lost as a sucked moon & lashed, tongued / bright and banished: that's how I feel after reading him, the black blast of his poems, a jacuzzi hotjet in my mouth. In Mark Doty's Introduction, he insightfully points out that pain and language enter a syntactical relationship, one that can result in utterance, or cliche. If pain destroys langauge, "style, unlike the defenseless body," Doty poignantly remarks, "has a sort of permanence." I resist this statement momentarily, but agree that the style of our poetry will outlast this body of ours that filters it.
Unfortunately for Lemon, it seems that every mention of his book is inextricably related to his brain surgery, as if the pulp of that hidden organ were some fruit broken open, torn apart across a rock, and the poetry seeded grit and gleam. There is a haunting of Plath here, where poetic insight seems always to be reduced or to condense her suicidal struggle. I guess I'm thinking also of a recent review in the NY Times of the poetry of prisoners at Gitmo (approved by the US government) which remarks that the verse itself is bland, absent of real poetic insight, juvenile, useless on the page and borne only by the fact of these prisoners' predicament. It's annoying to me that so many reviews and commentaries of Lemon's work feel it necessary to relate the poems to his medical condition, as if that in itself amounted to poetry. Even if Plath's predicament was suicide, and Lemon's, brain surgery, the incantatory excitement of their poems, the visceral drama of their poetry, cannot be relegated to experience, but to craft.
At times Lemon's attention to the flesh is brutal, but in its murder, in its lit seizures of pain or love or joy, we find him like a saint of bodily limitation, beckoning us to the spiritual reward of suffering, which is the access to Beauty:
"Feel my wrist,
it is a coda dragging its feet. I click
my teeth like cymbals. Hold
your hand to my chest, I'll baptize you" ("Juke Joint")
So from Plath, Lemon inherits the visceral clarity (and the curse of biographical affliction), and perhaps from Hopkins, metrical desperation, something sprung from a pulse that's heated, panicked at the idea that it might not say everything before it can't. In the title poem "Mosquito" he writes, "You want evidence of the street / fight? A gutter-grate bruise & concrete scabs--" and in "Corpus," he whips us forth, with the immediacy that accompanies desperate, last-attempt, gallows entreaties:
"Send posthumous letters in neon,
scribble love unreadable. My body is sweet
with blasphemy & punk teeth, memories
of slam-dancing underwater.
Tonight the absence of rain
is the mouth-open rush to noise:
a hurricane of wasps throat-clambering"
. . . . . .
Friends and Strangers, it's nearly 4 a.m.! I don't know how I'm going to be a bit of racing green, early next week's mornings! TV's all bad and it's too late to eat. These are pure and lonely hours, but not sad--Lemon's poetry is that sustaining, necessary work that renders language uttered relic, that speaks into your own mortal heart's repeated pause like a demon who whispers, tyrant of love. Lemon's work is real poetry, temptful morsel. Curseful blessing. I like to eat it, tang leaf, black meat, to watch the black flight fall--I like to listen to him tell me "Moonlight / confounds us nasty & the heart / murmurs." Tonight I went to a birthday party and wallflowered my own absence like a blue shadow. Here I am, finally, with someone. I love this book.
. . . . . .
LITTLE HANDCUFFS OF AIR
"But always it will be never . . . . . It will be too late and lustrous
Into me lightning everywhere and you lovely
And leaching out of our chests. . . . . . . . . .All of us
Coming. . . . .Anvil-tongued . . . We will be
Sundered with light"
. . . . . .
This is a an imaginary diary of facts, confessions, or messages. This is a notebook of working but broken ideas, lines, images, notes on books I'm reading, writers I admire, and brief fantasies of language. Here unfiltered all mannerings pseudo-private, publicized, ur-. Here I am art and unrevealed: poetic, political and pop. These are my moonlit rough beginnings and should not be taken literally, directly, truthfully, reliably, and none of it is legally binding. These lies are all choreographed, but only haphazardly. Beware.
My work has been awarded the Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets, a Swarthout Award, and has twice been nominated and shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize. My first book, A Book Called Rats, was selected for the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry (Eastern Washington University Press 2007). I'm curating editor for the online journal of poetry: PISTOLA and my poems and reviews most recently appear in Massachusetts Review, Beloit, Ploughshares and RAIN TAXI. I currently teach writing and literature at Santa Monica College in southern California.
FRIENDS AND STRANGERS
- ► 2008 (28)
- ▼ 2007 (40)