Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Defiance by Hugh Fox (reviewed by Lo Galluccio)

Defiance: Pensee Rouges et Noirs
Poems by Hugh Fox
Higgannum Hill Books
88 pages

Hugh Fox’s latest collection, Defiance, is a brilliant freeverse exploration of fractured language in two languages – French and English, my favorite of all his work thus far. It’s divided into two sections, like any revolutionary undertaking, “Hope” and “Despair” – in fact the first section’s “Hope” is more deconstructed and list-like and Kerouacian than the second, which becomes more narrative and real. I suppose that tells us about Hugh’s stance in the existential picture, and maybe why he chose to write this collection in French and English. French being the birthplace of class revolution as we know it, deconstructionism, romantic beauty (for me, it runs a close second to Italian as a romance language’s ultimate beauty) and existentialism. Immediately, I wanted to re-read Barthes, “A Lover’s Discourse” as I remember it being laid out in lettered segments, both delicious and abstract. So is Hugh’s book: it is delicious and it is rather abstract/formal but child-like too. What is a fox, clever and defiant? Yes.

We dig in at the Hope Section:

In the poem FORGETTING (on p 29)

(I’ve written in the margins MAKING SENSE BREAKING SENSE)

“The raven still hovering over all
Our Baruchs, Attas and Adonais,
mea culpa, mea culpa,
the reins of
even though the devil-
angel shadows
still growl

Hugh starts with an event or a place and unwinds to his own position or place in it, an emotional one, “maxima” referring to mea culpa in Latin and then down to the positing of a devil-angel growling in shadows, a typical hybrid moral invention or amoral invention of Fox’s. Remember the collection sports a sinuous orange Fox on the cover, maybe and of course Fox himself, in a defiant foxy frame of mind.

More language games in the poem SATORI (p 25) on which I write at the bottom Strange love poem, a love poem to what really? And then figure out:

In the daughter-granddaughter,
Christian- Aztec-Hercules Sungod
Village under the
Moon-sun sky

Je t’aime/toute le monde moi aime -*

nothing more than


It is a love poem ultimately to the referent on the left, all the religious descriptions end in Buddhistic, the religion of the present, of sitting with oneself in the present, breathing and the little pyramid of love, I love you/all of the world, my friends, nothing more than NOW. The power of Now. With all the other religious referring to it coming down to it on the right hand list. Our image is the village under the lilac poppy moon sun sky. So Hugh will take important, even personal fragments, that may seem abstract, and combine them to a splendid whole image. One that contains opposites, one that tastes good on the mouth that embraces earth and sky, a flower like the red delirium poppy.

In MAGNA MATER Hugh translates the first French stanzas into English at the bottom. As my French is not terribly good, I will give you the English:

The magic of nothing,
Nude legs in tennis shoes,
Long hair all fluffed up, two
Women who are taking a walk
Because everything has begun to
Be reborn, almost ready to die/sleep
Again, I wait for magic runes and

Prehistoric musics when everyone,
Like me today, believes that the earth was
The Magic Mother,
Nothing else.

In this poem, Hugh refers to a subject in which he has shown an archeological interest: prehistory and the cross-connections of culture, in addition to women as sign, the signifier also. It is the Magic Mother that he yearns for. To go back, as Van Morrison sings, to be born again, in “Astral Weeks.” He starts with the seemingly suburban “nude legs in tennis shoes” looking for the magic of nothing….to be found in women. That is fine, fine. Prehistoric musics and prehistoric muses as well….

There is a feeling of lists and list making and transcription in these poems that is elegant and sly mystical and beautiful. It does not seem overly constructed, not haphazard and that makes for a thrilling and imploring read.

In EROS – Post-Modern.

“All night long massaging our feet with sandalwood oil, a cloudless, billion-starred sky, full moon and your feet….”

A quote from another poem?

Then the French,
“Moi aussi, la meme shose…mais nous sommes separes puir seicles et les spaces celestes/me too, the same thing…but we’ve been separated by centuries and celestial spaces…”

And then,

“Gitane-Gypsy cornhusks and tequila, submerging back to sane-times, before the Aryans come in.”

Post-Modern is also, for Fox, a time before recorded history, before the Aryans came in. the gypsy signifying erotic innocence and free-beauty. This his love, his romance. His roaming. His trance-dance...

The second half of the book, “Despair” contains more mosaics of real world details. For instance, in ONE MORE DAY (p. 66)

“One more day alive, coming
to this page to reach out to you
wherever I may find you, now,
or in a thousand years buried
in a tomb under endless sands,
inflamed and half mad, my
groin screaming! The doctors
(general physical) examining
my eyes and toes, while my prick, balls,
prostate burn, burn, burn
all through the psycho night.”

For the poem EDEN, I wrote: “Condradiction: this poem is in the section called Despair. Hugh’s turning things on their head, upside down.”

Feeling ashamed of walking
Under new maples, drinking pink
lemonade instead of getting shot
in the head by a terratenanente
in the Brazilian Outback, walking
over new grass next to new ferns
instead of through pigshit,
being constipated instead of having
cholera, surviving to 60
instead of being tossed onto the sidewalk
from four stores up by the “Gestapo”
when I was two.

Okay, black humor. A dark poem which still centers also around the new maples and the pink lemonade. “Every picture has its shadow and it’s source of light, blindness, blindness and sight” Joni Mitchell.

And another example of the “polytheistic heavens” that Hugh Fox believes in/lives under can be found in the references in the facing poem called, “What are the voices….”
p 73 which I’ve circled: (the whole poem):

“Hanuman dance, Ganesh dissolve into the
mud of the ashes, Kali
stand, sword and severed head,
blessing and protecting?”

It’s important to note that with all the shifting political and historical entities, Hugh still pins most of his poems on a love of women—la femme eternale --- and deities of other cultures. He is in this sense, despite his Judeo-Christian background a true Sufi poet because he gives many of these figures their magical and essential power. They are part of his landscape….Kali the goddess of destruction/creation in Hinduism, Hanuman, Krishna’s monkey-headed and winged messenger and Ganesh, the Gateway God who is throw in to the ocean in plaster from by his beloved devotees. None of this is highlighted as strange, foreign or inconsistent with life as we know it to Hugh. They are, like the world he hearkens back to, elemental and animistic and this is the interesting mix of Hugh Fox’s vision. Whether they are truly real, truly the answer can be found in his question mark.

There is something human and bitter-sweet, like the mirror we look in each morning, about the book’s second half and perhaps I will leave it off with one last poem:


“A man about sixty comes into
The café, very elegant, reminds
me of my father, she’s maybe
fifty, the suave perfect legs and
elegant Madrilena face, they
sit down and order and all
or a suddent it’s like he takes
off a mask, starts kidding around,
I can’t hear what he’s saying but
He’s five again, I can’t see her
Face, she’s laughing, you never
See this kind of thing where I’m
From, no multiple personalities,
Just one mask per person.”

For Hugh, one mask per person is not really what we want to expect from each other. He prefers the ancient mask, the Carnival, the unexpected and wrestles with the Thanatos/Eros swing in us all. Defiance is as much about defying death as language as a means to defy what is placid and pedestrian all the time about life in the modern world.

Lo Galluccio
Ibbetson St. Press

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