Saturday, February 12, 2011

Laying the Spirit Bare, Surfacing the Subtext: WHITE AS SILVER, poems by Rane Arroyo

Laying the Spirit Bare, Surfacing the Subtext:
WHITE AS SILVER, poems by Rane Arroyo

by Michael Todd Steffen

The poems in Rane Arroyo’s eleventh published book of poetry, WHITE AS SILVER
(Cervena Barva Press), display an abandon which is also a freedom of the swan’s and of a youthfulness perceiving the potential disorganization of the world in its intimate mirror of that creative silence and secrecy of the artist’s meditation. Odd sequences abound. Time and place lose their specificity in the poet’s far-in-reaching visions:


am I crossing bridges at midnight
as if a twenty-year-old again who
wants to parachute off Miss Liberty?
My America isn’t on a staid map. (“Short Version”, p. 3)

Chicago wears a burning
birthday suit. We can go,
oh, anywhere. Why not
Fisher’s where the thin
poets are all we have for
needles? (“Freed of Innocence”, p. 17)

The liberty of arranging unlikely juxtapositions bespeaks a bearably open spirit directing acceptance from within outward instead of the self being subjected to an impinging, critical environment. In so doing, Arroyo’s text, what we have before us, advances the gambols and surprises we normally only get glimpses of while reading up through the suggestions or subtext of a work. Surprising transpositions of terms spark out from this unusual kiln:

The graffiti artists are now grown-ups,
returned to childhood in prisons for
crimes not about art. Some of them
are in maximum security art galleries. (“Modern Hometown”, p. 4)

When the mortar of undertone becomes the subject, the masonry itself, the imagery of the poem, takes on a hovering disconnected quality, leading to a puzzlement of appearances:

I resist you and take a walk on
a long pier on a shrinking lake.

Women in rowboats whistle down
currents. Men build a lighthouse

for UFOs. I spend the currency of
my eyebrows and leather coat in

shuttered bars on eerie Erie Street.
Men in raincoats ply me with shots

and chagrin… (“My Sex Life”, p. 5)

Everything gets turned around here. More emphatically than most books of American poetry, WHITE AS SILVER, in its literal claim on eminence and assurance, eschews the lucid connectivity of accusative reason in a criminal character:

Under gods, under gaming stars,
under our most honest skin,
waits joy and flight from logic’s thugs. (“Listen”, p. 16)

That is a turn of mind, a sense of humor and defiance, reminiscent of Surrealism, with which Arroyo flares in his frequent use of the copulative structure for odd centaurian terms:

My shadow is a bodyguard
never to taste champagne.

The streets are a tambourine’s
autopsy. Home is a pool

made translucent by breathing
furniture and blue windows. (“Life without Maps”, p. 35)

At the sunset of his day, Arroyo exhibits a zest to demolish common structures, risking the venture of leaving his guests behind in a uniquely understood assembly of language, in his unyielding sequences that do not fail to miff and intrigue us:

A call to pray for Aaron who
is brittle with his bitterness
after seeing his buddy turn
into a bursting chandelier in
a desert darker than thought. (“Radio Evangelist”, p. 26)

Arroyo prestos an astonishing literal surface that will communicate to readers of mosaics. There remains to consider the true reader who is on the quest of acquiring vocabulary and patterns of thought that will guide her or him throughout life, even on life’s tangents, barring some event that demands rethinking and reaffirming everything learned. WHITE AS SILVER (maybe not unlike Pound’s Cantos, or The Book of Revelations, though in a very different, much more modest, personal reach) requires a certain invitation. Lacking common objectives and familiarity, it will not sing to a general audience. Though this can be one of the book’s intimate gifts.

WHITE AS SILVER by Rane Arroyo, 54 pp
available for $15
from Cervena Barva Press
P.O. Box 440357
West Somerville, MA 02144-3222

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