Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Review of Angles of Incidents by Jon Curley
Review of Angles of Incidents by Jon Curley (Dos Madres Press, 2012)
There are the poets of image and emotion and there are the intellectual poets, poets of ideas, and Jon Curley falls solidly in the latter category. The poem from whose text the title of this collection was drawn (more or less), “Existents and Precipitants,” conveys this as well as any other poem in the collection:
Like watching the scene from an angle
As it stretches itself out, grows anamorphic
And between the bodies and their outlines
You can see the widening inner spaces growing
Outer, indications of the ingenious layering effects
of perception which, if stripped, reveals the sub-
phenomena of aura, arriving into this world
from some others:
These we can call the angels of incidence
How often do you read such a short poem – or any poem, for that matter – that contains words like “anamorphic,” and “sub-phenomena”? Even the rhythm of the poem is intellectual, the rhythm not of an event unfolding but of a thought process. “Thought process” is perhaps the best way to characterize Curley’s poems overall. They are not often experiential, in the way highly personal poems are, not emotionally revealing, the way confessional poetry is, but seem to work as explanations—a man standing back and making a case for an idea. Here are the opening lines of “Exhibit B” (itself a title that implies the presentation of a case).
Here in the off-chance oblivion’s staved off
and ordinary life does not fixate itself too lovingly
on itself we can herald some formulations
encrypted as myth but trusted to us as forms
through which we move
Can we agree that deferring out obligations,
those typical hesitations,
only helps to beck us back to where we had come…
And this opening from “Polarities”:
The imposture of doubt
bordering the premise
colliding with self-impression
I stagger over and over
at the rupture line of tension and release
words and movement
wishing for errancy and ardency…
Occasionally, some more passionate words and feelings do make themselves known in the poems, such as in the line “I stagger over and over” in the poem just quoted. However, even the more intense moments tend to be subsumed in a more intellectual whole. “Body Politics” is a good example of this:
Traumatic impulse in the brain, enhanced tremors
Of terrors, the night cries of the body contemplating
itself encased with mixed signals, chromosomal divination,
the faculty of predestination, preparing for cell division
to go libertarian, arbitrarily, subject to no fathomable
arbitration, the cancer secreting its cells, its selves
going haywire, re-wiring all to anarchy, where state
upends into mirage of sanity then goes weak with the
husbandry of self devouring self, genomic entropy
which calls for nothing but grief and utopia of the gone
Presumably, this is a poem about cancer taking over a body, but it has none of the gritty physicality of other poems I’ve read on the subject, nor the emotionality of someone dealing with impending death.
I also must admit to not always understanding what Curley is trying to say in his poems, though his convincing diction usually makes me believe it is important. And being that convincing is an achievement. The poem “Blake in 1989” exemplifies this so well that I’ll end this review with it, and leave it to the reader to decide if he or she is convinced:
The walls fell. Most ceilings
trembled. Foundations floundered.
Some sundered, some stayed the same.
The firmament was still an umbrella.
Under it, rained change. The watchtower
became voyeur, yet its beacon still
burned. Flies crowded to its beams.
That nine-year-old girl in the crowd,
near the ramparts, imagines herself
a goddess, wandering through
dead furnishings, new futurities.
She wonders how the walls that fell
could keep propped their fearful lies.
I whisper phantoms in her ears.