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Rapid Transit

Elaine Equi
Click and Clone
(Coffee House Press, 2011)

Elaine Equi is one who won’t stay “inside the line… or outside the line. // I am the line itself,” she proclaims in the lead poem “Follow Me.” In an age of instant and infinite communication marked by blips, beeps, and tweets, she continues to streamline her unique vision.

Click and Clone gets its title (with permission) from the University of Utah’s genetic program. This troubling topic, seemingly alien to a poetic sensibility, is indicative of Equi’s reach into the future. She also keeps the past magically alive. Amidst the clones a carriage awaits, drawn by swans. Her antennae knit timeless lore into a wry, post-Pop, post-deconstructivist 21st century milieu.

Drawing openly on predecessors, from Breton to Brautigan, from Pound to Pessoa and Poe, Equi addresses range within a cut-crystal style. Romantic lists, faux tarot readings, and surrealist essays alternately pose questions and posit answers.

Brief passages float between asterisks in the title poem. Spare couplings like “Syllabic / Silhouettes,” capture the blank space around them and condense it. The connections being made are both personal and cosmic as Equi navigates time while being “caught in the layer cake of an ancient argument.”

“The Collected” grasps at the untouchable, at “words and spaces—” asking if they “can exchange places.” Sorcery, spirituality, and spoofery align. Turning images inside out, Equi is never “blind to the invisible.”

Gary Jackson
Missing You, Metropolis
(Graywolf Press, 2010

Mutants with special powers are misunderstood outcasts. They fight obsessed villains from a lonely vantage. Gary Jackson moves into that tragicomic territory, formally and substantially. He eavesdrops on interior monologues by the likes of SpiderMan to re-contextualize superheroes, mixing them with friends and family as well as history.

“Magneto Eyes Strange Fruit” quotes Billie Holiday’s haunting indictment of lynchings. Magneto finds the bodies of two children in the playground at night hanging “like marionettes.” The derogatory term “Mutie” is “scrawled across the cardboard” around the deceaseds’ necks. This transfer of identity in the victimization reassigns the specters of segregation and slavery onto a world of archetypes.

Wondering what kind of special power the victims had, Magneto’s musings are poetic and counter-intuitive. Maybe one was able to “turn glass into sand, // to hear rustled leaves as words, / something simple, something humans kill for.”

Jackson’s overarching metaphor lets us look at ourselves with new expectations. Caped crusaders can fill in when the disappointments of lovers and friends are too much. Injustice can be avenged. The superhero transposition taps into searing anomie, while expressing a grudging dedication to serving humanity.

By the end, Jackson masters a parallel universe in verse where the other is the self. Comics have become poetry cum gospel: “we indulge in the power / to inhabit a world a page removed from our own.”

Dorothea Lasky
Black Life
(Wave Books, 2010)

The poems in Black Life feel like anti-poems. Forthright and studiedly conversational, they are brave (and audacious)—think rock lyric/nursery rhymes à la Hal Sirowitz or Eileen Myles. A tongue-in-cheek puerility coupled with a talky voice establishes presence and access. Humor and pathos bleed together in lines like, “I am just so very sad now.”

This straightforward approach sets the stage for what turns out to be “a wild kid” (or even “a wild band”). Starting with a matter of fact tone, Lasky slings zingers into the high-pitched surface.

In “Style is Joy” she explores simplicity until it sounds profound. Praising the sun, the word “yellow” repeats seven times in 22 lines, as the poet insists “all the crescendos of language couldn’t show you things more real…”

Contemplation of the sun results in communion “when you are ready to receive it.” Communion could describe the poetry itself, as it strains the sun’s light.

And this is “Real joy / stylized and static joy.” Then, in a tautological switcheroo, Lasky quips that this is the kind of joy “that comes only from the moon.”

Such nonsense sounds fresh and direct. As importantly, it follows the logic of the poem’s own momentum, validating an inner homing device. It shields the vulnerability necessary to plumb emotional depth. Laugh, cry, or shake your head, Lasky cuts to the chase.


Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

JEFFREY CYPHERS WRIGHT is a poet, publisher, critic, collage artist and eco-activist involved in the community gardens of New York City.


APR 2011

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