Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review of Angles of Incidents by Jon Curley

Review of Angles of Incidents by Jon Curley (Dos Madres Press, 2012)

Lawrence Kessenich

There are the poets of image and emotion and there are the intellectual poets, poets of ideas, and Jon Curley falls solidly in the latter category. The poem from whose text the title of this collection was drawn (more or less), “Existents and Precipitants,” conveys this as well as any other poem in the collection:

Like watching the scene from an angle

As it stretches itself out, grows anamorphic

And between the bodies and their outlines

You can see the widening inner spaces growing

Outer, indications of the ingenious layering effects

of perception which, if stripped, reveals the sub-

phenomena of aura, arriving into this world

from some others:

These we can call the angels of incidence

How often do you read such a short poem – or any poem, for that matter – that contains words like “anamorphic,” and “sub-phenomena”? Even the rhythm of the poem is intellectual, the rhythm not of an event unfolding but of a thought process. “Thought process” is perhaps the best way to characterize Curley’s poems overall. They are not often experiential, in the way highly personal poems are, not emotionally revealing, the way confessional poetry is, but seem to work as explanations—a man standing back and making a case for an idea. Here are the opening lines of “Exhibit B” (itself a title that implies the presentation of a case).

Here in the off-chance oblivion’s staved off

and ordinary life does not fixate itself too lovingly

on itself we can herald some formulations

encrypted as myth but trusted to us as forms

through which we move

Can we agree that deferring out obligations,

those typical hesitations,

only helps to beck us back to where we had come…

And this opening from “Polarities”:

Intersecting angles

The imposture of doubt

bordering the premise

colliding with self-impression

I stagger over and over

at the rupture line of tension and release

words and movement

wishing for errancy and ardency…

Occasionally, some more passionate words and feelings do make themselves known in the poems, such as in the line “I stagger over and over” in the poem just quoted. However, even the more intense moments tend to be subsumed in a more intellectual whole. “Body Politics” is a good example of this:

Traumatic impulse in the brain, enhanced tremors

Of terrors, the night cries of the body contemplating

itself encased with mixed signals, chromosomal divination,

the faculty of predestination, preparing for cell division

to go libertarian, arbitrarily, subject to no fathomable

arbitration, the cancer secreting its cells, its selves

going haywire, re-wiring all to anarchy, where state

upends into mirage of sanity then goes weak with the

husbandry of self devouring self, genomic entropy

which calls for nothing but grief and utopia of the gone

Presumably, this is a poem about cancer taking over a body, but it has none of the gritty physicality of other poems I’ve read on the subject, nor the emotionality of someone dealing with impending death.

I also must admit to not always understanding what Curley is trying to say in his poems, though his convincing diction usually makes me believe it is important. And being that convincing is an achievement. The poem “Blake in 1989” exemplifies this so well that I’ll end this review with it, and leave it to the reader to decide if he or she is convinced:

The walls fell. Most ceilings

trembled. Foundations floundered.

Some sundered, some stayed the same.

The firmament was still an umbrella.

Under it, rained change. The watchtower

became voyeur, yet its beacon still

burned. Flies crowded to its beams.

That nine-year-old girl in the crowd,

near the ramparts, imagines herself

a goddess, wandering through

dead furnishings, new futurities.

She wonders how the walls that fell

could keep propped their fearful lies.

I whisper phantoms in her ears.

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