Saturday, January 10, 2015

The New Poetry Today Column 
January 2015


The language of poetry extends beyond the bars that imprison the words in poetic form (sonnets, odes, etc.). The form can sometimes distract (and as with certain forms--like the limerick--it is meant to distract) if the words themselves do not or can not dominate the structure, think bad rhymes. So, the words and their meanings (be they layered or singular) must utilize form, and form must serve language. As such, the poem disappears before the readers' eyes and seeps into their minds like an abstract mural. For example, the words "cloudless clime" depicts a clear sky, but the word "cloud" must be used to paint the picture. The measure of poetry, then, must be the clarity of the images painted by the prose, and to measure it, one must take into consideration the poet's technique and style. Whether the picture is concrete or abstract is irrelevant; what matters is the use of language to create the mental image.

In the two years I have written the Poetry Today column, I have found poets who have exemplified a language style that is timeless, writing poetry that would be relevant 100 years ago or 100 years from now. Luckily, for poetry readers today, they are part of the Age of Information, our generation now. I will use the new Poetry Today column this year to focus on these poets and to discuss their particular styles, one per month. This column will be part of a work in progress that follows the current trend of these unique poets and their styles that not only capture the voice of the new millennium but also the traditions of structure and form in their use of poetic language common from generation after generation.

 Poetry Today: Andrew D. Blacet
A Critique
Anthony Servante, PhD

In "The Occupant of the Ditch", Andrew D. Blacet brings a new voice to the language of poetry. Prizing internal meaning and significance, Blacet approaches prose with a stream-of-consciousness flow; however, he is always in control of the intent and draws his readers in with an alluring wordplay that ignores structure, although he does provide a poetic framework not uncommon to the Victorian Age poets. The narrative is the cohesive element of his voice. Its slight echoes to a bygone poetic age are flavors created by a combination of spices, so to speak, a hybrid of thoughts born of unrelated words.

In "The Thing in the Ice", Blacet intentionally uses the word "thing" to denote a real presence of a concrete element, but its name is never given and need not be. He writes of this thing, "A mouth feeding on itself,/Gasping for blood and air." The thing "gasps" for blood and air, implying the presence of lungs and a heart, but it is a mouth, a Cheshire smile without a body. We see the body through its self-consumption as in the paradox of the Ouroboros (the snake consuming itself); it feeds to exist, but devours its own existence to survive. Then we learn "it" is an ice sculpture of a man, "though it had never come quite to life/It [my italics] was not exactly dead", echoing the paradox. But Blacet is not content with this life trapped between worlds and comments on its demise by a return to its roots: "I pray the shrieking wind erode/That thing of ice.../And wash it back to the sea," the origins of water before becoming ice. Blacet has included the reader's imagination to complete the cycle of the paradox, for the "Ice" is the "thing" and itself simultaneously.

The poem "The Moon Became Her" extends Blacet's use of language to coalesce another paradox. Here we have a personified "moon" before the eyes of an insane man: "Moon pressed her belly to a wine glass,/Somersaulted to singing wolves, dancing/Bats/And a man in a padded cell." We can read the line as three objects to the verb "somersaulted" or as two subjects (the moon and the man). In the former interpretation, the multiple objects include the "man" into the moon's perspective (the moon imagines the man in the cell), while in the latter interpretation, it is the moon that the man imagines as an animated object, like a 1930s cartoon with the moon exhibiting a body (again, unseen except in the imagination of the reader). Both interpretations play counterpoint to each other, producing a melody with their two separate tunes. Ultimately, it becomes the moon's story, but is it told by the man in the cell? Without a clear-cut answer, Blacet weaves a new and clever conceit for the reader to ruminate over.

"Nothing There", Blacet's closest work to a traditional poem, employs the paradox form again, but hidden behind the words spouting nature and love. Framed in the phrase "'There's nothing there,' she said", the poem transitions from a pastoral description where lovers sit by a creek and enjoy their surroundings of trees and songbirds to an existential experience of the narrator. He spies something in the creek, something unknown. He tries to find comfort that it may be a "crawdad or fingerling trout", but his girl points out that there's nothing there. He sees the water is empty and "grimly laughed". The beauty of nature in an instant became the grotesque underbelly of the creek, that side of nature that's creepy because we don't know what lives down there, but we know there's something there, for the chills we feel remind us. The juxtaposition of the words "grim" and "laugh" speak to the reader of the contrary meanings of these words that together create the new meaning, that hybrid we referred earlier to as the paradox. Happy laugh, yes. Serious grimace, yes. But grim laugh? No.

We should be reminded here of Jonathan Swift's definition of natural beauty: Nature at a distance is beauty; up close it is grotesque. In Swift's "Gulliver's Travels", Gulliver is both giant and miniature. From the giant's point of view, nature is flawless: mountains, valleys, forests, et cetera, are visually stunning, but from the miniature's point of view, Gulliver sees from up-close the enormous nipple of a young woman and gags on its hideous imperfections: the thick hairs, the pimples, the obscene wrinkles, a nipple that from a distance was sexy and erotic. In this sense, Blacet shows us the distance of nature with the first half of "Nothing There" with its unblemished beauty, but in the second half, he shows us the up-close look in the deep part of the creek, where the unknown resides in all its grotesqueness.

With his work, "The Occupant of the Ditch", Andrew D. Blacet engages the readers' imagination with challenges of his paradoxical language, creating mental puzzles and visions with oxymoronic hybrids built with poetic contradictions and clever juxtapositions of lines and images. What many poets strive for with ten percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration, Blacet accomplishes with his stream of consciousness writing that naturally plays out in poetic conflicts that the reader must resolve for himself. In the Victorian Age, Nature and Beauty and the Age of Industry (think Browning and Dickens) were the rage. Andrew Blacet has shifted that paradigm to make free-flowing imagination the new poetry. He is not the first, but he is one of the best. 

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