Wednesday, February 03, 2016
Stanzas on Oz Poems 2011-2014 By David M. Katz
Stanzas on Oz
By David M. Katz
Dos Madres Press
Review by Dennis Daly
Formal poetic design, when singular and well-wrought, can layer the human condition in a mime of consciousness that enchants beyond any purposeful sense or reasoned expectation. David M. Katz, curtained off in his new collection, Stanzas of Oz, pulls the levers of artistry with jaw-dropping dexterity, producing shimmering verses imbued with redemptive, sometimes transformative powers.
Opening with poignancy and a sense of lingering injustice, Katz’s first two poems stake out territory in the white collar domain of office culture. The poet elicits contempt and ire with calm detail and enraging logic—T. S. Eliot’s objective correlative in spades. The first of this duo, a sonnet, Katz ironically entitles Anniversary. After an early morning firing, a woman leaves her workplace hurriedly. She eases through the institutional glass doors for the last time and, taking with her some paltry belongings, she tosses her company benefit plan binder. Nothing else happens. But, of course, everything happens: a life defined by its work deconstructs itself into anonymity. Pathos at the heart of the piece has its way,
She had taken a glance at the office behind her
And seen only one person she could possibly hug.
She prefers to depart without any reminder
Of a confidence shared with a meaningful shrug.
No, she’d rather go out and leave nothing behind her,
Not her snapshots of nephews, her bent pencil can.
At the Chophouse, the second of these office culture poems, moves to the other side of the ledger. Katz’s protagonist has just fired a key member of his staff, a woman who helped make him a success. Her loyalty was without question, as was her naivety. This narcissistic boss mulls over his heartless decision with a sophisticated double scotch, twist of lime, no ice drink. Even worse, the bastard seems to have some insight into his former employee, as well as a touch of self-knowledge to boot.
On a personal note, I remember when the CEO/First Bureaucrat of GE, Jack Welch, very publically dismissed the concept of company loyalty as useless and outdated. By the time the word trickled down to the old school asbestos-breathing factory workers, who fitted out their homes exclusively with GE appliances, they had already retired and died (often one followed the other pretty quickly). I represented those men and women.
In his comfortable chophouse Katz’s protagonist considers this misbegotten and one-way concept of company loyalty,
She was first, no question about it. Did the
Books, yes, the records,
Held away the creditors—babysat, for
Christ’s sake. Just us two, and my bright idea,
Which she barely understood. “Software bringing
Business to business,”
“Innovation,” tentative rounds of funding,
Smart-ass venture boys, dog-and pony demos,
IPOs—through all of it, all she knew was
Loyalty. And now? Just behind me there’s a
Frozen city: that’s how I see the past, and
When I let her go, she had started freezing
Up like a statue
Notice the clipped fourth line of each stanza, a half-line with five syllables. It works wonderfully by adding both emphasis and some very real drama.
Without doubt, my favorite piece in the collection is the title poem, Stanzas on Oz.
Katz probes the art of poetry and the wizardry of its creators. The movement of the stanzas progress from flamboyancy to dread to a dream of oblivion. Every stanza repeats a refrain, albeit sometimes altered There is a nice bit on poet Philip Larkin’s poem, This Be the Verse and its misanthropic view (mom and dad don’t do well in this poem) of human existence. Ending the piece with a twist, Katz’s persona admits to fooling us with his prosody, and hiding his isolation beneath a surface of mesmerizing rhythm and structure. Duplicitous as it surely is, poetry pleases with an alternative world of awe and wonder. Consider the penultimate stanza,
Let’s take the plunge and meet the magic man.
Let’s take the plunge into delirium
Below the waves, down to a chambered garden,
Where all the bubbles rise into oblivion.
His show proceeds according to plan
Of stripping down, unlayering the onion.
Inside this stanza, deep below the surface,
We hold our breath—but find no larger purpose.
Villanelles, perhaps because of their plotted repetition of lines, handle obsessions very well. Katz knows this. One of his villanelles in this collection, The Picture of My Father in a Chair, showcases this strength. The poet’s persona recalls an unhappy cloud hovering over the quiet of family life. Zeroing in on the offending picture, Katz explains,
The photograph is none the worse for wear.
He seems to be at ease. She wasn’t there.
I find his license, other souvenirs.
This picture of my father in a chair
Recalls his ignorance of her affair
And how the rye had hidden all his fears.
The photograph is none the worse for wear.
That solid room’s dissolved into the air
Of who we were, through some of it coheres
In a picture of my father in a chair.
The poet concludes his collection with charm in a poem entitled Between the Covers. He chronicles his literary heritage through William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, and many other late greats, including Ezra Pound. I found the first and last lines in the Pound section telling and not without irony. Here’s that section,
These were friends and parents,
Lovers as real to me
As anyone outside
Of covers—Father Pound,
Sailor, mate aboard ship
On the terrifying
Trip to Hades, always
The earliest rooster,
Explainer of the past,
The guide who lost the way.
Back in Kansas now, I watch the tornadoes pass, and appreciate even more the technicolored illusions of Katz’s enthralling verses.