Oct 19, 2008

Re: Repeats

I was excited to receive a chapbook of poems from my friend Guillermo Parra, from whom I haven't seen an extensive number of poems since Cy Gist published (a portion of) his Caracas Notebook in the summer of 2006. Phantasmal Repeats is an austere black and white volume, produced on an apoplectic typewriter whose "e's" and "a's" appear to be sinking into the ground as if, appropriately, pulled by the arms of the angry dead. ("I can't hold these vowels enough to make the trembling / cease"). Even the bottom margin of the book itself appears rough-hewn, as though itself torn from the ground. The effect of the jagged lines is to make each poem a kind of Rorschach-like piece of visual art. This does not detract from the traditional sanctity of the poems, though, which are in keeping with Guillermo's exilic voice from Caracas Notebook, only this time they seem to be about the shift from North to South, or urban to less-urban (I'll probably receive letterbombs if I call Durham "rural")--Guillermo moved from Boston to North Carolina around the time that I moved to New York, another member of the great Boston poetic brain-drain that occurred around the middle of the decade.

The poems here seem mostly solitary (somewhat unlike Caracas Notebook which feels more "public"), with the narrator appearing to inhabit an empty domestic space with music infinitely looping ("Recurring rhythms make paste") in the background (the loop is a reoccurring motif in Parra's works--the "Phantasmal Repeats" of the book's title and "stress points / compose / phantasmal repeats"), and the musical paeans that bespeckle the poems seem considered and appropriate ("I'm one of the few people who live what's called the low-life" from New Order), and thus less irksome than I sometimes find purloined lyrics. Maybe I only like musical references when they are bands I like. Something I always find satisfying though are ghosts, and there are a number of them haunting this chapbook; indeed the black and white bleakness of the chap seems to adumbrate the spectral white sheet with two full stops for eyes ("like a ripple / of ghosts/ across the window"). Recurrent phrases and motifs ("bass cathedrals," loops, flowers) accentuate the haunted-quality of the book, as do the poems homebound-ness, although the narrator does leave said environs to be terrified by the brick block of a TJ Maxx in one of the bleakest and scariest poems of the book.

Guillermo is one of those poets who is not afraid of the lyric "I," and comfortable (or as comfortable as possible) with the process of mediating between the protected sacred self and the dumb tableaux of the world ("I write fitting spaces / For the sake of secrecy's map.") Probably like me, Guillermo is also one of those poets happiest by himself, with only oblique traces of obvious literary antecedents, choosing the right tool for the job independent of anyone else's kit.

I have no idea how one might acquire one of these outside of Guillermo himself, who I imagine would probably send you one if you asked.


Brooklyn said...

"Maybe I only like musical references when they are bands I like."


richard lopez said...

i too was lucky in getting a copy of this wonderful chap. great review. funny about the purloined lyrics because i also like the same bands that are referenced within these texts. but then peharps it doesn't matter so much about my musical tastes, for these poems are the real deal and if he had quoted say journey lyrics well then i think he'd find the right space for them.