Friday, October 16, 2015
Chloe Garcia Roberts amid the Spaces of Poetry
in her new book THE REVEAL
article by Michael T Steffen
There’s a great joy in recovering lost and forgotten things, even the old lost things of language we call archaisms. This accounts for one of the true delights Chloe Garcia Roberts brings us with her new book of poems THE REVEAL (ISBN 978-1-93489-45-6) from Noemi Press. The titles of the poems, somewhat elaborate, hinting at paradox or suspended with grammatical complexity, are reminiscent of old anthology titles, first lines from Emily Dickinson (“After great pain, a formal feeling comes”) or one of Shakespeare’s sonnets (“That time of yeeare thou maist in me behold”). Thus Garcia Roberts gives us: IN ORDER TO SEE A TRUTH IN DARKNESS ; THOUGH TRANSPARENT IN THE DAY, AT NIGHT LIKE GLASS I BECOME A MIRROR. Some of the titles go postmodern in their old Baroque constructions and metaphysical evocations: I AM A SUSPENSION, NOT A SOLUTION ; ONCE WHEN LIGHT RETURNED AFTER A BLACKOUT, I FOUND MY FACE PRESSED INTO A WALL ASKING FOR HELP ; FREEDOM IS THE THICKET WITH WHICH YOU FILL YOUR DELINEATED AIR.
The book’s leading title, THE REVEAL, does something of its own. Words such as “shoot”, “fly” and “find” like Brock Holt play different positions with ease. Without changing forms, they can be either nouns or verbs. You play on the stage when you stage a play. But “reveal” does not do this so readily. Only very recently, mostly in context of media disclosures or TV drama denouements, has it been used and accepted as a noun. “Revelation” is its normative noun form. So the effect of the title THE REVEAL, especially in context with the other grander, old-style titles, is one of peculiarity. On the book cover the article THE is set almost a line above REVEAL, denoting spaces, perhaps for a fill-in-the-blank sentence, like THE_____ REVEAL______. This is not “reveals” with an “s”, so we are dealing with a third-person plural, required by the definite article, for the subject noun. For example: THE MOVEMENTS IN THE CURTAIN REVEAL THE CAT IN THE WINDOWSILL.
Because the titles are given all in capitals (mimicking the majority solution to resolving grammatical and typographical uncertainties), there is support for the idea of gaps between THE and REVEAL. This carries over to the furled lining of the hemi-stitches in the poems themselves, leaving gaps of delineation and silence down across the page. One very concrete definition of poetry lies in the deliberate margins of its composition and presentation, denoting the metaphysical speech of silence, transposed as “DARKNESS” in the book’s first title and remarkable opening statement:
IN ORDER TO SEE A TRUTH IN DARKNESS
Listen for its edge.
The border always —silhouetted, glancing—
divines the real from
The fragmentary lining gives rise to different contextual possibilities. Written out as an ordinary sentence, there is a definite sense to the statement, “I know only one voice in the swarm and am not interested and refuse to see the cloud, the skin, you wreathe it in.” The meaning draws particularly to “the one voice in the swarm.” But lined out as it is in the poem, we get something with more amplitude and a much wider reach:
only one voice in the swarm
and am not interested
and refuse to see
you wreathe it in (page 3).
Given these spaces, the eye is apt to land on “I know…and am not interested…and refuse to see…”—a credo of diffidence we may generally own while not wanting to, yet helpless in the barrage and volume of information we are prone to, in the spill out 24/7 holding the world in our hands, in our cell phones, IPODs and tablets, everywhere we go, let alone whatever newspaper or book in non-updateable print we happen to pick up. These notions from the first page reflect back to the contemporary sense of “REVEAL” as a noun, indicating a media news disclosure, that a Hollywood couple has had a fallout, or that another personality has come out of the closet. Trivia. In its short form, the word means substantially less than it does in its traditional form, revelation, which distinguishes poetry as a created and significant form of writing.
It’s reassuring when poems delving at confinement, within one’s room, can be suggestively reflective of what’s going on outside around the house. It affirms the continuity, in Seamus Heaney’s terms, between center and circumference, fruit and tree. This is so even if Garcia Roberts’ poems robe themselves with much referential plumage in the way of language poems, anonymously assertive without formal regard for completion: I AM A SUSPENSION, NOT A RESOLUTION—speaking by turns in defense of her sources of inspiration, by turns in her own defense.
Who precisely her counterpart is… In one passage she describes the process of disintegration between structure and surface:
Bathe the body from the bones
and only the us is left,
leafing silently beneath. (page 7)
Most captivating about Garcia Roberts is her deliberation in earnest. These poems are written, not scribbled or edited like show poodles. She keeps her readerly self, that inheritance, at hand for light in its different senses of wit, affirmation and elucidation.