Thursday, January 08, 2009
The Fearful Symmetries of Lo Galluccio’s Sarasota VII
article by Michael T. Steffen
From the sepulchral artifacts of ancient Egypt to the horror films we watch in our cinemas, civilizations have attested again and again to the powerful creative articulation people find in the loss of loved ones. Far from any form of closure, grief resonates irresolutely within us, demanding response after response, a virtual wellspring of language, the poet’s torment and treasure. Formally approached, art provides a medium of exploration to channel and cultivate the enormous curiosity that loss bequeaths to us. Yet drawing expressions from these sources of our inspirations hardly depletes the well. So much happens simultaneously in our relationships: you as you are, you as I perceive or desire you, I as am and as am perceived/project myself. Factor in time and the complexity deepens: you as you are, you as you were and would want me to be this new year… Many writers feel some accomplishment in extracting an element or so from the complexity in a given piece of writing. More boldly, however, attempts now and then are made exposing the artist in a defiant embracing of as much elemental psychic transference as she or he can, resulting in some of the works we read in classes at the highest levels, The Odyssey, Hamlet, The Waste Land. I don’t mean to mince values by comparing Lo Galluccio’s Sarasota VII with the great masterpieces of world literature. (Irene Koronas in Sarasota VII sees traces of Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, to name a few.) Yet reading Sarasota VII gave me the impression of a poet drawing into that kind of perilous arena, a tamer in a cage surrounded by dangerous “symmetries.” While wary of falsely glorifying Sarasota VII, I think it important to acknowledge the work’s barest formal venture, the confrontational expectations proposed and that Galluccio was able to contain this material and shape it into one work. It attests to a great character of faith and resilience in it author.
The perceiving of multiple identities (I-thou, am, are, is, was…to become…) haunts Sarasota VII and also seeds the work with brilliant insights.
…those of us who lose a reflection of ourselves
in childhood have two lives. We know ourselves
against life and against death. As a tree knows
itself against a space of sky and against a density
of earth (I,3).
We know hot from cold, both of shared elements, water or air. So life from death, yet again of shared elements, memory and language, which make us human, the creature for whom so much of the present is composed of the past, memory, language.
And the life of the body is known from that of the mind.
The smell of barbecue rising through the open
window, caress of wind, a desire to lie on the
floor and feed kisses with kisses on some mouth,
even a woman’s, even her own. The sensation
makes her dizzy and enormous. Enormously earth-
bound and stupid. Smarter than words. The body
defies all ideas and projections of ideas. The body
wants only to move, to rest and to touch. It offers
ecstasy and expression. The mind dangles spiders,
spins cobwebs, and explanations that mummify
the rest. Split? (I,8).
This is wonderful poetry, naming—this from that, Adam in the garden, Joyce in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is the beginning of a galaxy, analysis, the splitting or separation of matter, this from that, the poetry of the discovery (rediscovery) of each thing, consummately of the beloved, the so significant other, at whose meeting we begin to synthesize, to know and identify with and in part become one with.
We kissed. Again and again. For nine months.
I sent you home. I loved you. I loved the taste
of you. Knew the danger of you and you walked
home in my jacket. “I already expect to die,” you
said. Just like a survivor. I knew that better than
almost anyone else, you knew the art of survival
and how to feed yourself (I,15).
Anxiously in section 12 of Part I Galluccio asks, “Can one form a work of art without attention to form, without a basis in it?” In fact, Sarasota VII enacts a universally recognizable formation in its taking apart and synthesizing things, people, psyches, worlds. The form of human life synthesizes the fetus out of a series of meiosis or splitting of cells. That is nature’s task, initiating a life out of the initiation of two deaths, those of the lovers or sexual partners. The anxiety of that natural death ignites the intellect of the artist in defiance, whose spidery mind at some point refuses and steps back away from the completion of the natural sexual death.
you’d feed off me. Now you say, “You were lonely.”
Now you say, “You shouldn’t have let me steal your
power.” I say: “We were twins.” I say: “You shouldn’t
have needed to steal the power you admired and hated”
So the lost lover, the subject of Part I, failed to become the provider. Instead, “You offered heat. You breathe lies and drama… You became my theatre… (ibid).
Classically, in the Latin poet Horace’s terms, dramatic form was linear and consisted of a beginning, a middle and an end. It established the characters in the setting of a significant moment, troubled those characters with that moment, then (comedy) resolved that trouble or (tragedy) further unraveled the characters in the exaltation of their dilemmas. It’s not the lack of formative polarities that is missing in Sarasota VII. It is their linear playing out, a more obvious and logical sequence, which we are denied, perhaps which we today expect to be denied.
Galluccio owns this work, though, as a memoir, yet the notion of drama is frequently conjured so that a nifty sleight of the theatrical echoes over into the reader’s perceptions. I particularly liked the section that identified actors and criminals:
Both refuse a set place. A legitimate space. They ribbon
graffiti on the walls of worlds solid hands and straight
minds have constructed. They wear masks. What
distinguishes the outlaw, the actor? His long-term
cowardice or his continuously summoned, quickly
spurted courage? (I, 10).
Part II shifts its focus from lost lover to lost father, and also visits Galluccio’s experience with drama. Rather than being disappointed sexually, the child orphaned by the parent’s death deals with a larger, more cosmic sensation of abandonment, and the poet sings the plangent refrain, “Because I’m fatherless…”
Because I’m fatherless the director wants me to come
by his bungalow for a drink so he can confide in me
all the frustrations of his theatrical kingdom. Like
Viola in “Twelfth Night” I’m to become sympathetic
and marooned by this Duke’s forlorn appetite. I decline…
Though it is refused the presentation of linear form, there is a story, a drama to Sarasota VII. Out of a similar refusal Vladimir Nabokov wrote his memoir-style novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. Formally the memoir is appropriate to the spirit of post-modernism in that its narration is topical rather than temporal, its narration simultaneous rather than linear, all things happening at once in the out-of-time moment of remembering and writing.
If Sarasota VII elicits comparison with great works, it is I think because Galluccio has dared to flutter around some very long-burning flames, love and death, the rules of the mind vs. the joys and pains of the body, the comforts of being accepted vs. the stings of rejection, deeply the daughter and the father.
It would be wrong simply to flatter and inflate the author unjustly. Sarasota VII is not a bad attempt at artistic surrender in amplitude. Whether it is enough for a young literary talent to rest upon, that is the author’s decision. It is a generous gift to us readers certainly.
About The Book of Nightmares Galway Kinnell was told that it was a great poem despite its many flaws.
Impressive in scope, continuity and sustained melody, Sarasota VII bears everything necessary, high and low, to be read with enthusiasm and consideration.
Sarasota VII is available for $12.00 from Cervana Barva Press/ P.O. Box 440357/
W. Somerville, MA 02144-3222/ www.cervanabarvapress.com.
See also, Bookstore: www.thelostbookshelf.com.
Michael Todd Steffen Jan. 2009