Click through to read the full review of Derek White & Carlos M. Luis’ ma(I)ze Tassel Retrazos, the twenty-second in this full-press review of Calamari books.
I don’t know how I would feel if someone tracked my work in a series of reviews, reading my words from their beginning to the present, but I’m sure that most writers would feel a tinge of strangeness at the prospect, and perhaps even shreds of embarrassment or gut-punch humbling if they are like me, and always believe their work gets better with time.
I am not intentionally tracking Derek White’s writerly progression, but since he publishes his work through Calamari, this full-press review gets him every time. And while I believe he may have cringed a bit to see his earlier chapbooks reviewed here (or maybe not, I could be wrong), his chapbook ma(I)ze Tassel Retrazos seems to me the turning point in a trajectory, leading upwards to POSTE RESTANTE and MARSUPIAL, the novels he published after so many chapbook bouts.
If you look at my previous reviews of White’s chapbooks, I often reflected on how I thought I liked what White was doing, but that sometimes I felt too lost to know for sure – how his artwork or graphic play or textual conflagrations (pieces littered with symbols or garbles or phrases I can’t unravel) often left me feeling not hopeless, but a little helpless. ma(I)ze Tassel Retrazos does not feel this way. ma(I)ze Tassel Retrazos tips the scales towards hopeful, giving the reader plenty of graphic play as well as the beautiful art of Carlos M. Luis, but also giving a fairly straight forward narrative with bits of dialogue and explained action, like an author turning from full experimentation to only partial experimentation, creating a chapbook that is both readable and dense.
from ‘Swallowing on the Way to the Gallows’:
There was no geographical destination within my head. The trap door was slipped away under my feet. Corn Tassel was Marsha, the girl three rows ahead of me in geometry class. She was three years older than me. The ‘a’ at the end made her feminine in her tongue, but the rest of her was a boggy march. Her father owned the only movie theatre in town that subtitled movies in my language. I swallowed whenever I thought of her. This was the effect she expected.
See? Readable and fairly unlike White’s previous chapbooks with Calamari. But this doesn’t mean the edge is gone, or the thickness, take as an example this cut from later in ma(I)ze Tassel Retrazos:
from ‘Sucking the Graduated Head Fabric (A Prayer for Something Better):
The earth split open before my fingers even touched it. The animals knew these things in advance. Their eyes were upon us. This was evidence. The hormones seeping from my nodes made me act the way I acted. I climbed all my stepfather’s to get back to mother’s Hole. I stuffed The Hole with cashed alimony and child support checks from all those men with Spanish surnames. All the irreversible tassels and retrazos were fed back in to The Hole. The loom itself rammed back home before the textile it was creating was finished. Ma(I)ze Tassel was now a sodden marsh of 40 holes. Burying my head in one was the same as burying it in all. I negotiated my tongue in the dark cavity of Monkey House. I drank my first Negra Modelo. The fingernails staked in my feet and hands kept me from jumping overboard. The Modeler was not on the cross. I swallowed my tongue. She was all in my head. My head was inside her. We became one and the same.
This evolutionary step in White’s writing makes me super excited to see how his novel-length work shakes out, and I’m glad that his first, POSTE RESTANTE, is not too far ahead on the list.
Copies of this ma(I)ze Tassel Retrazos are available here.
Next is 3RD BED , then White’s POSTE RESTANTE followed by Miranda Mellis’ THE REVISIONIST.
Fight the good fight.