Friday, August 03, 2018

Three Poems by Geoffrey Gatza: Presented by the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo

Geoffrey Gatza

Geoffrey Gatza "Three Poems"
Publisher: The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries of the University of Buffalo
Reviewed by Ari Appel

“Three Poems,” published by The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries of the University of Buffalo, is a pamphlet of three poems by Geoffrey Gatza from his most recent book, A Dog Lost in the Brick City. The pamphlet is an excellent example of what poetry can be in its least inhibited form, when using language becomes painting with pens, paper, and word processing. It is an experimental force rather than a typical poetry collection.

The cover of the pamphlet introduces us to the author's use of font colors other than black, an innovation that seems to have so much potential once the unwritten rule of using black has been broken. In a world in which printers can print pages in color, why should a poet, someone who uses language in its most raw and ultimate form, not experiment with the possibilities that color printing technology has to offer? It seems that this use of color deserves attention and incorporation into more works. The titles of the three poems in the pamphlet, "What Is Done Cannot Be Undone," "Draw Up My Prisoned Spirit To Thy Soul," and "The Truth Is Rarely Pure and Never Simple," come together in a colorful circle of red, blue, yellow, black, green, and purple, with the end of the text meeting the beginning so the titles continue on infinitely. The cover demonstrates that Gatza has something unique to offer.

The inside of the pamphlet does not fail to deliver on the level of creativity promised by the cover. Each poem is composed of the words of its own title written thirty-nine times in three thirteen-line stanzas. Each line contains all the words of the title, with the first and last line of each stanza occurring in the exact order of the title, and the rest of the lines occurring in another order. The three stanzas of each poem are all exactly the same. The order of the words within each line in the lines that do not occur in the same order as the title may have a strict order such that the poem occurs according to a logical rule rather than the creative choice of the author; in other words, the author may have created a rule and structured these poems according to the rule. The colors, the formal nature of the poems, and the repetition within the poems are reminiscent of artist Bruce Nauman's neon displays like “One Hundred Live and Die.” Reading the poems is hypnotizing and magical. Effects like “The Truth Is Rarely Pure And Never Simple / Is Rarely The Truth And Pure Simple Never” toy with the meaning of the first line due to the orders of the words in the next, generating semantic possibilities latent in the words themselves and their formal arrangement rather than in authorial intent. The poems in this short pamphlet are very cool and make a good plug for both the pamphlet series and the author's book.

What I like most about “Three Poems” is that the poems are simultaneously highly formal and highly innovative. While most poetry that is formal reverts to old traditions, while innovation is seen to occur in free verse, this poetry makes its mark through formal innovations, by experimenting with the tools available to the poet. “Three Poems” innovates by using these tools in a new, yet highly structured way.

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