(Hunt & Light, 2013)
Matthew Frazier’s *****Original Message***** doesn’t try to mystify, confuse, or control, and that’s a good thing in a world as ironically detached as ours. As its title indicates, today’s original message is one surrounded by asterisks—an aside, a distraction from the noise, but also a message that is by default unoriginal—borrowed, typed, transmitted.
Consider Frazier’s first poem “Ode to Catharsis?” where “From the point of view of a bat/the world’s a radio broadcast,” an image that is soon repurposed to the narrator’s “letters in my alphabet soup” before becoming a jar—“Unappreciated jar, natural reminder,/a loss of words—the soup, I mean.” The refrain back to soup reinstates the dullness of objects and our complicity with them. Like Wallace Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar,” Frazier’s opening is a mockery, a joke prodding the intricacies of technology and the banality of our more immediate surroundings, which are two sides of the same coin.
Taking this as preamble, Frazier sweeps through poems about daily life but cuts them with surreal, dispatched imagery. In “Two Movies” Frazier writes “Since the 80’s,/there have been three great movies about high school,” before stating, “The truth about what is happening right now: I am/a movie review about two movies, for the Metronomical/ Press, the sound of information and stuff I don’t know,/exposing eight-legged beasties on another channel.” The buried lead here is in not stating what the third movie is, but we can justify its invisible existence in the same way we do most modern things: as our distance between them and our importance to them. Here, nature odes, like one to Hurricane Irene’s impending danger, offset tragedy by way of relaying their sacred stillness and eventual proximity to humankind. “We’re about to take over,” he writes, as if the hurricane is bound to meet its diffusive human match.
But diffusion and human expression are not the same, and if Frazier’s real-life job in Special Operations in New Jersey is any indication, separation must be made between the connectedness of a workplace espousing composite messages and the voices of individuals. Frazier asks in one poem, “Am I a traitor/to my people, sitting in a cubicle all day?” and in another, “Did you receive my many messages,/the self-improvement tapes I shipped just days after we met, standing in line at the department of human resources?” As a communal entity, Human Resources should be a comfort because it protects against unfairness, but at its wick is still disenchantment, longing, and uncertainty. It’s similar to how Frazier begins his second poem: “To cut back on cholesterol/I fell in love with you;” a seemingly plain line that diverges into two rhetorical ideas wherein its reverse magnifies the narrator’s perhaps ill intentions: I fell in love with you to cut back on cholesterol. We are thus confronted with the “other” in Frazier’s Original Message, like a twin brother who can’t be trusted, and with themes of storms, fantasy football, sex, and marginalized romance, Frazier gives us plenty to ruminate on.
And if rumination is not Frazier’s intention, it’s his natural outcome. The prose, which is clean, restrained, and colloquial, is a natural barrier when considering how vast his themes stretch. Frazier understands the multifarious skins these messages live in, and as if to warn us, he keeps the reader at bay, perhaps insisting that the world can still be simple and, yes, it will still receive us.
MATTHEW DADDONA is the editor of the Tottenville Review and a member of the improvisational spoken word group Flashpoint. His most recent writings have appeared in BOMB, Joyland, The Southampton Review, Tuesday: An Art Project, and Forklift, Ohio.