29 September 2009

The Loneliness of Dogs by Tim Mayo

The Loneliness of Dogs By Tim Mayo Pudding House Publications, 2008. 28 pages. $10. Reviewed by P. Nelson Reading chapbooks, the physical act, is a kind of metaphor for the lexical process, the pages in open tension between the regulator of our thumbs, like the flexion of attention, open, in suspension between engagement and a dismissing closure. What sets the main spring of mind going is, I am convinced, the apprehension of “voice”. (Which is not to be conflated with “music”. The next time someone rhapsodizes about poetic music, recommend to them five minutes of Bach and when they say they meant a different kind of music, well, that conversation can be continued). So by poetic voice we mean something very different from our usual simian jabber, its finest quarter hour the shower’s aria. Voice is that strange positing identifier, both constituting the poem and constituted by it, an event at once a prior and a posteriori. (That’s enough Kant cant for one review. Nothing new here either. Please proceed- ed.) OK, I like “Tim Mayo’s” voice. “Now I see I lacked imagination/writing so many poems in that same person/until the I of my typewriter wore out,/and I was banished from the page, guilty of nothing more than my own experience.” (from “The Confessional Poet’s Confession”). Here is an educated man who knows more than he shows and knows we know it (which is a high degree of refinement), who isn’t afraid to refer to Georges de La Tour, The Dark Lady, the Agora, “The Flea” or even tell us “ About spelling the human masters were never wrong”. (Nota bene: how one tires of unlettered poets or worse, those that leave their education behind as if it were a leash or muzzle that they might more authentically bay under some sub-prime moon.) The master lyric poet of our day has written (somewhere) that the best poetry “comes from our deepest being, decision and self-forgetting” (reviewers, especially Y.T., take note!). But we can’t all be Seamus Heaney and in lesser hands the poetry of deep being becomes the monotonous boom -boom-boom of Forester’s Marabar caves.* Mayo is poet of quotidian and intelligent self- remembering, his aim not to take us where we’ve all been so old boldly before (say via zany spacing and page layout) but to use poetry’s received grain to communicate and put, in every sense, a lucid gloss on the matter in hand. Only the lights’ greater clarity/and the subtle change in suits/seem to fall in spades on their faces, as if the painter suddenly knew/this story that repeats itself-/diamonds, clubs, it doesn’t matter-/ we are cheats at heart, suspicious/of the other who always wins.” (From “The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, after de la Tour”). A certain kind of reader may find some of the poems here metaphorically underdetermined. I thought a few of Mayo’s endings a bit pat, as if the poet couldn’t resist a “natural” conclusion, one too easily at hand as in “The Red Convertible” where the male as a type of pistoned motor, conclusively hopes “for the red convertible of your smile to pass by and give him a lift.” I don’t think that will quite pass a rigorous inspection. Overall, Mayo’s judgments are consistently good in a free verse finding shape in sound, rhetoric and proposition. Most admirable is his vital balance between the freight of meaning and its engine of conveyance, what Heaney calls “stamina; the distribution of the argument over line ends and stanzas, more a matter of vertebrae than plasm.” But I digress, for it was there I found this seal of a warrior saying farewell to his wife. The fine detail of his muscled calf as he turned from his spear, shifting his concern to his wife’s imploring arms, made me think Id found mine. I didn’t know then that an art of significance was what I was searching for, nor did I see the true meaning of his implied turning back. None of this was etched into that piece of colored glass as I saw the sun flash through it highlighting each muscle of his readiness to leave for something he deemed more important than love. (from “The Counterfeit Seal”) There is more weight of meaning, at an almost Empsonian curvature, on this quarter page than in a whole box car of contemporary poetry, not to mention prose. But again it is the poet’s voice we react to, if we do, first and last, a vibration along the deepest lines of our linguistic being that resonates a responsive voice, one almost our own. [*EMF’s translation of the caves’ speech as “Everything exists, nothing has value.” is perhaps not entirely literal.] ____________________________________________________________________________________ At Fiddler Crab we are inclined to comment upon the positive; “the rest is silence”, ever the most effective criticism. Thus preambled, as one who worked briefly (and unsuccessfully) in both computer and letter press production, I know there is always a good reason (and sometimes a good excuse) for mistakes in printing. So the good folks at Pudding House Press - dedicated as they are to chapbook production - may want to know that 7 of the 21 poems in my copy of The Loneliness of Dogs have typographical anomalies, mostly flawed letter fill. It’s the kind of thing a reader hardly notices the first time, which upon repetition makes for ever more anxiety and distraction, a glitch that’s an itch. Someone at the press needs to come up to scratch - so we don’t have to.