Thursday, December 08, 2011

Exhibit of the Forking Paths By James Grinwis

Exhibit of the Forking Paths

By James Grinwis

ISBN: 978-1-56689-280-3

Coffee House Press



Review by Dennis Daly

Artistic forces channel through James Grinwis’s poems in a very unusual way. His book juxtaposes eighteen lined, near conventional poems with twenty-nine prose poems, each one a meditation on an electronic mechanism and the symbol of that mechanism. Both types of poems are heavy on imagery (sometimes surreal). The symbols are simplified but effective pictures of the electronics named, much like Chinese ideograms. Ezra Pound’s imagist theories and Ernest Fenollosa’s studies come to mind.

In the poem, Capacitor, a truck crashes into a wall, and behind that wall are men throwing javelins and thereby unburdening their hearts of violence. The stripped diagram of this action is the symbol for a variable capacitor. A capacitor’s function is to hold a charge, which in this case equates with violence.

In the very next poem the act of aggression is replaced with a defensive mechanism, Achilles shield, and that is ineffective. A man on a moped crashes through and a scene reminiscent of the movie, The Graduate, takes place. Then all are enveloped in a surreal mushroom cloud. Sound a little much. Well, it works. So I, for one, won't quibble.

Note that with javelins, shields, and later dinosaurs, and Aztec accoutrements the dimension of time is easily crossed. In fact in Halo with Bolt Through It, the poet, says, “Many dots coalesce and crawl together or make very small holes in space.” We’re talking worm holes here.

In Thermistor, the poet describes “entering a sphere and being spun about, shot up, shot down, flushed down a drain to emerge in one piece so wet, so new.” In other words, out the worm hole and into a parallel universe.

The poem Awry details more about one of these parallel universes,

Because there are five planets

holding themselves

against a huge bleached face

I write things.

Like hello, and

“I know you from somewhere.”

Cold as some of these images are, there is still some humor here. A Snap Switch springs under tension, joins currents. The narrative follows the snap switch’s diagram thus:

The arrows have struck one another, and the people are pulling

them apart. When he goes to the office, his tie never fits. Then she

whose belt is too large comes to him.

Also, in the Poem, Canine As A Kind Of Tooth,

Oversexed. Under

weather. Some say a microchip

embedded by an alien

is at the root of us.

a trainer of whippets,

a whippet-eer. Nobody being

nobody, she whispers

under her brainstorm.

Many of these poems are populated with ghosts. These figures not only personify the essential soul of an individual, but also the phantom double operating in another world. In Acknowledgement,

a glue stick of a ghost

an area beyond ghostliness

is it the stealth ghost

the one who stares while he moves

eats the legs of gazelles while she sleeps

The care and feeding of ghosts is dealt with in the revealing poem, Of Phantoms:

His face like a tooth blasted apart, though;

only a spike would mess with it.

Still, he is your phantom. Care for him

We must care for the things under our wings…

In Landscape Lento,

… The soul stares at its image in the ghost mirror.

A lantern glows vastly across the ghost mirror, which releases an

eerie whine backed by a far off organ grinder. There is an inter-

mezzo that creates itself and weaves its notes only for you, a

mingling of winds inside: the wind’s own ghost mirror:


The poem, Condenser, which is defined as storing a charge, gives a gripping description of life in this mechanized world. Following the pattern of the poem’s symbol,

Four vehicles have taken off from parallel locations and soon pair off

toward an emptiness characterized by large white spaces unless, in

actuality, two pairs of vehicles as they approach one another diverge

and split off into parallel lonelinesses …

This book is not an easy read and certainly not for everyone. That said, once you get used to leaping from imagist construct to mechanist diagram, it becomes a real interesting poetic game, and a fun game at that.

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