Tuesday, August 09, 2016
Becoming the Sound of Bees By Marc Vincenz
By Marc Vincenz
Review by Dennis Daly
Over and beyond the pages of his new collection, Becoming the Sound of the Bees, Marc Vincenz’s poems swarm, transcending set structures and standard dimensions. Some pieces align to the right margin. Others crawl down the width of the book, accommodating elongated lines or spacing anomalies. Never placid, these verses seem to vibrate out filtered memories and existential queries from a multilayered cosmic buzz. The vertiginous reader would be well advised to focus on a nearby item of solidity (try a bookcase) as a necessary counterbalance to this noise that in harmony becomes silence, a sacred silence.
Stiff, salt-encrusted nautical images limn and define Marc Vincenz’s opening poem entitled Transmigration. The poet describes the movement toward rebirth and hope as a gravitation force conveying feelings and language and flaws. The poet details the anticipated moment of genesis,
… scars trace icons
of a recurring past, crystal heaped
in ions as fleas creep into our rags
and rats’ eyes quiver like insect eggs.
Voices are rigging and sails
that creak and snap, and through
knots and cracks above, the light,
finding little access, ceaselessly bemoans.
And when we emerge, some of us less
than half the men we once knew,
in one blinding flash, as dog greets master,
that curious light comes running.
Playing God or poet usually ends poorly. Vincenz in his poem Crank-Handled describes the unsightly process of creation in mechanized terms. Even those temperaments well suited to the process mostly fail. Abandoning the fabricated mess often is the best option. The poet cites the Neolithic Cucuteni culture, who developed a model of constant destruction and reformation in their densely urban, but ultimately nomadic, way of life. Vincenz brings his piece to a Frankenstein-like crescendo in a neat under-the-hood description of reverse engineering,
Wrench-spinning, you insist nonetheless.
& not until you strip everything down to cogs, spokes,
sprockets & springs, exposing that frail skeleton,
a crude beast of brass. Miffed, stooped, stumped
over yourself, you discover your own speechlessness.
And then—course, I’ll give you full credit—you
cough it up: Nothing ever came from hydrocarbons.
What is it actually good for, if anything? & as you rid
your fingers of grease and muck, oily-gluey gunk,
it sputters & rumbles, moans & coughs &
for a tremulous moment it’s almost coming alive.
Out of the empyrean noise the poet in his piece, Yet Another Reincarnation, channels his muse/medium into being, bringing a certain omniscience to bear upon the temporal world. Time compresses radically and everyday subsistence takes a back seat to oracular rantings and ravings. Imaginings generate little miracles and demand complex preparations for the next iterations of new life. Vincenz opens the poem with business acumen,
I pay my soothsayer in hard-boiled eggs, chicken wings,
gristly claws, livers or gizzards—she believes in the due process
of tempests, visions of omniscient butterflies. An old woman
scrubbing floors portends violent crime or racketeering;
finch in hand, fraud or incest; beetle on the mantelpiece,
ill health. She snatches invisible lassos from the air, spins dizzy
larks above my head, everywhere she sees living dead,
centuries of men on the low road to the country fair, millennia
of citizens ensnared in menial tasks, plowing, sewing, reaping,
daydreaming; mostly she knows where lightning will hit,
who will combust …
I exist therefore I am, said Jean Paul Sartre famously. In his poem Weightlessness Vincenz picks up this thought and runs with it. Man acts in the midst of weather. Outside forces affect man’s acts, sometimes re-enforcing them, other times deterring them. Yet man must still make decisions, act on them, and be held responsible. In existential thought the problem of Cartesian duality does not exist. Vincenz seems to agree with this take. Being is not just the starting point, it is the point. Even storm-tossed families afflicted with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and with daughters run amok are governed by these demonstrable but effervescent strictures. The poet puts it this way,
It is only in our decisions
that we are important.
It’s not always about the matriarch, you’d said,
more often it’s about the habitable zone and what you make of it,
how primitive life forms
react to sunlight,
how dinosaurs eventually rise
from single cells,
how creatures like us
learn to take
wind, water, fire, and earth
shake and stir, and recreate life in test tubes.
Desires drive Vincenz’s protagonist, Ivan, onward. His protagonist’s muse or dead wife seems just out a reach. Her siren song transfigures man into boy again, bestows the youthfulness of wonder. She understands the sacred universal drone—the eternal beehive. Wasps and wild dogs momentarily interrupt their quest, but only momentarily. Other natural organisms wave them on. The poet mines his memory for queries and clues,
… the thrushling flutters on, dangles, bounces, wavering on twigs,
it’s then suddenly I realize, as we emerge from the undergrowth
sweating and dripping, scratched through our faces that Ivan, no
Buddhist, believes her to be the reincarnated spirit of his wife.
He asked me once: Did you eat your way into this life, like me?
Did you devour your share of the proceeds of your well intentions?
Or, did you live for something more like love or affections?
Those were the days he still made sense, now mostly little
matters, not the grass, nor the sky, there is no stirring
or yearning, & yet, with nothing left there was still more,
like the thrush, like the sunlight on ice, like the industry of bees.
A cache of caught sunlight in the realm of Being and Nothingness can make all the difference. Vincenz’s richly illuminated visions and commanding oracular verses in this momentous collection do just that.