Cleaving by Dion Farquhar
(Poets Corner Press, Stockton, CA, 2007)
A Path Towards “Sysiphian Smarts”
So this year at the Academy Awards (if you watched), you might remember the host Jon Stewart opening up the show by noting how the majority of the nominated movies for Best Film had to do with murder and mayhem.
“Thank goodness for teenage pregnancy,” Stewart proclaimed as mock-relief from the other movies’ dark themes (he referred of course to “Juno”).
And then Stewart joked, “Does this town [movie-dom] need a hug?””
Well, Stewart’s question popped up in my mind while reading through Dion Farquhar’s Cleaving. For this collection is quite powerfully clear in its disenchantment, dismay, discombobulation, dis____(you fill in the blank) over how the world has become to be what it is today:
Now Apollo’s a spaceship, Argo
a starch. Nike is plural
as running shoes
Delta an airline.
Emily Post our Proust
Yes, the world has come a long way but not perhaps as the author (or protagonist in these poems) expected or desired:
We had Junior Mints and Sugar Daddies
Dots and Red Hots, Mr. Goodbar and Milky Ways
Baby Ruths and Snickers, Good and Plenty
Tutti Frutti, Life Savers and all the Ludens
mentholated cherry you could suck
in a morning of math
So shut your eyes tight, bite your tongue:
Imagine another world
where it’s not stuck-in-the-sixties
to want more justice,
an end to sexism,
class, white supremacy.
(from “Candy: A History”)
What struck me early on in my read of this collection is the almost total lack of moments that may offer relief or redemption or hope to its critical (pun intended) narrative arc. But that’s also the collection’s strength: its uncompromisingness -- the relentlessness of its gaze. The eye might not like what it sees but it doesn’t flinch. Or, per the title, the vision is unwavering.
Still, it would be reductive to consider Cleaving to be one prolonged rant (I note this since I acknowledge the thought popped up in the midst of my read). It’s really more of an attempt to accurately portray the current state of affairs, with the tone occasionally being matter-of-fact or wry – e.g., “Apparently, you can leverage anything…”
Except. Except, she also tosses this in from “Choice Bits”:
So let us open the door
to the undead of our desires
a solidarity forever
living full the lives we’re in
with all the horror
& the beauty
& the loss
be cheered by other things:
the choice bits
& loves and passions
big and small
by Sisyphian smarts
(from “Choice Bits”)
Sisyphian smarts. What a great phrase -- and fitting for what’s certainly required by the times defined by the sick environment, Bushie’s legacy, insider trading, et al.
So far, I’ve mostly responded to the collection’s arc rather than the individual poems -- and they should be hailed for their vibrant energy and lyricism, the latter in particular when the raw material must include such texts as “turnkey networks”, “Gameboy”, “Actuarial search engine” and so on. There also are some fabulous juxtapositions throughout, e.g. “ukulele moustaches” and “giddy epistemes” which further enervate the language. These are poems determined to sing through the grit, and they do so evocatively. They acknowledge life’s dysfunctions without letting them bury the art, or the treasuring of memories that some might consider small moments but which lubricate ease into life and might even be encapsulated as joy, as in this New York-based:
…night with my best friend
in her tiny apartment, feasting
on sugar cane shrimp and summer rolls,
shredded papaya salad from the
local Vietnamese by Columbia
Thus, on the last page, the poet is “still singing, sort of.” Yes, “sort of.” But, most importantly, she is “still singing.” Therein may be the most important lesson about coping with life.
As remuneration for editing Galatea Resurrects, Eileen Tabios doesn't have her books reviewed here ... but she's pleased to point you elsewhere to Thomas Fink's review of her SILENCES: The Autobiography of Loss.