Friday, September 24, 2010
Where Sanity Begins
by Hugh Fox
Cervena Barva Press
Review by Lo Galluccio
Hugh Fox is one of the most prolific and genius voices on the poetry scene in America. His writing spans generations, cultures, cosmos and concepts of time and self. With a deeply subjective eye he manages to orient us as the compass of his heart would, toward people, places and things that flash through his awareness. His poems read like little short stories sometimes, or flash fiction snapshots of the real. There is also a journalistic flavor to some of his best poems, disjointed or elliptical as they may be, a sheer and jumbled travelogue of this wondrous man's life. In “Where Sanity Begins.” he has put together quite a fine collection of these poems and the picture on the title portrays the irony of it. Sanity is important to Hugh Fox, the everyday sanity of childbirth, of worldly transactions, of chit chat, and his grandchildren, but he has his demons too and they edge his poems like the angular play masks on the cover of the book. Sanity is really multifaceted and manifold. And it means seeing things your own way, from different perspectives. What any poet or songwriter must do to succeed.
First, there is the generosity factor of the poet's big heart, in “The Invisible Woman,” who he describes as having “a look of stark terror on her face, like she's face to face with a King-Kong sized spider.” And furthermore “the old lady and her terror totally invisible.” So what does he do but befriend her by picking her up for ice-cream every afternoon at 2 pm? And in a typically beautiful and dissociative way, the poems ends with “as I walk to the top of midnight and over down to dawn.”
And memory. There is much remembrance in these pieces, of a sage older man looking back through time. At one point he remembers how, in his youth, he would marshal a culture brigade in his family to hit the theatre and concert scene, putting these excursions before even the money at hand, “I feel that we're all pulling together toward the cooperative kibbutz realization of The Circle of Light, educated, enlightened, knowledge = Power DREAM..” p 12
Hugh's poems resemble hyper-journal entries replete with lists and sub-dubbed with precise and colorful details of city streets and familiar places. Often threaded in is a movie title like “BONNY AND CLYDE” OR a sign like “CHAMBER OF COMERCE OF GREATER JACKSON AREA.” These are both fixed and moving markers of pop culture, and landscape. All parts of a travelogue of his life where people, places and things are collected, recollected and indemnified.
I love the way he interjects a drop of dialogue in the center of a descriptive-narrative piece, this one not so disjunctive, but following the thread of taking his 1 and half year old grandson (or is it his son?) out to the sandbox in the autumn. The kid sees leaves and wants to eat them. “You don't eatum for god's sakes” cautions the narrator to his beloved boy and then off onto an aria of earth bits: “lilac seeds, pieces of acorns chewed on by squirrels...” Called “The Lowest Layer” Hugh Fox seems to be reaching down through this fragmenting hearth, to see the earth as a home and to tell his legacy that “you'll have a feeling when Fall comes and you're in a place like this, that someone loved you,” “look at things, don't just run away, but stop....” p 21
Another charming poem about his grandson is “Tantric Moon.” Together in the bathtub he “scrambles after the big white soap...” And then “I take him out into the cold late-October dark, the first time I've ever showed him the moon, “Look at the moon!” And the ending, again, pieces on an ethereal wonder: “I'm teaching Night too, Water, doesn't want to go in, dying. Awe.” A bulleting through description of the states he moves through at that moment looking at the moon after the bath.
One fine poem is Irdische/Earthly wherein he defines himself as an “I-Robot remembering when I was a man,” he conjectures “She must remember too. When the girls were born and her body flooded in all the good hormones, centered, the center of love, flowing out, flowing toward her, current and counter current.” It unravels with “sails/gloved/domed/the dew inside continuing skin...” A lyrical treatise on how again and bodies changing remains a constant in our impermanence but how the time of succulence and love-making still hovers by from when it was manifest.
In another portrait poem called, “Fireworks” the poet watches a woman dressed up with “an onyx medallion around her neck,” “trying on flowered pants and holding earrings up to her ears” – in this Fellini-like flashpoint of an image of beauty, there is “only the burst of light in the black Time sky.” In “Houdini Returns” the poet plays escape artist with the illusion or dream of life, its many rooms and the juxtaposition of timelessness and time with the human condition: “the petty but painful “individual neurosis or perversion” – “to walk into the jaguar forest to meet the gods.”
The gods, the moon, Kali, time, seasonal shifts all enter into Fox's poetry as it is in touch with the primordial and cosmic aspects of civilization as well as the contemporary antics of modern man. In an aside in a poem called, “The Light” he writes “I always wanted to write a book about the migration of the morning star symbol out of Asia to the Americas....” p.37 A magnificent poem of many threads, Fox begins with “The light goes so early, fugaz,” and ends with a meditation on the Nazis: “instead of killing the Jews, the Germans should have said LETS DRINK WINE, DO BUSINESS, AND EAT WELL AND BUILD HOMES AND BE JUST AND LIGHT CANDLES AND PRAISE GOD.” p 37
Fox's hunger for life and for loved ones is curdled sometimes by depression. – his consciousness haunted by the great ones who've gone before him. However, in “In the Moment” he writes: “The last fine day before the herds of Winter come and I feel like I've died and almost come all the way back, a spider thread between a dead pine tree and the Design Studio, a bright sag for a moment, then invisible, then bright again, invisible.” p. 40. It is an almost Puck like persona that can flicker back and forth from visible and invisible on the heels of the hell-frost. It seems to refer back to the theatrical masks on the cover of the book, to a man whose real and imaginary lives remain in great balance, neither eclipsing the other, both vivid, devoted and compelling.