Click through to read the full review of James Wagner’s THE FALSE SUN RECORDINGS, the thirty-fourth in this full-press review of Calamari books.
I don’t understand James Wagner’s auralgraph poems. I don’t. There, I’ve said it. This doesn’t mean I didn’t try. I tried. I read THE FALSE SUNRECORDINGS backwards. I read it out loud. I read it carefully. I read it as slowly as I could. I read it looking, listening, wanting. I tried and tried. But still, nothing. They are beautiful words, these poems, but I don’t get them, together, as poems.
I don’t understand Wagner’s work, and so this book escapes and eludes me, and I fall short of being able to review THE FALSE SUN RECORDINGS in a way I’d like. Others have understood more about THE FALSE SUN RECORDINGS, so I went to learn from them, but I still don’t get what ‘ear-writing’ / homophonic translations really do or how to read and understand them (if there ever is such a thing as understanding or meaning in poetry).
So, as I can’t do this book justice, I’m going to let Joyelle McSweeney highlight what she can about Wagner’s work:
the false sun recordings begins with a group of fifteen short lyrics whose titles—anagrams? foreign and technical terms? bits of onomatopoeia?—seem not quite parseable as English: ‘Klart,’ ‘Oremoth,’ ‘Chilema.’ These titles signal the dense and endlessly interesting texture of the lyrics they emblazon. ‘Veste,’ a thirteen-line poem, begins:
The phantom vacuum of. Rain in the locative, the
Relaxing incisors. All bullets deprive the gold from
Sunning. The peach trees reach like a banker. [ . . . ]
This is an evocative description of relentless rain, rain that in its flaccid insistence is like ‘relaxing incisors,’ like ‘bullets’ that make one feel stuck in place and make that place into a ‘phantom vacuum.’ The repetition of ‘v’ sounds only drives this point home. Once inside the texture of this never-ending rain, we then see through the rain like a lens: The ‘peach trees’ seem to reach up towards their own gold fruit, and in reaching for that gold are ‘like a banker.’ Thanks to the deftness of what I can only (but am loath to) call ‘craft,’ we see through Wagner’s written world like a lens that makes that world even denser, even (visually) clearer.
One may see rain in the last image of the poem, ‘the dreary Syracuse ambulance corps,’ but one also sees and hears ‘corpse’ in this line, the corpse which a (literally, emotionally) rained-upon body has been rendered in the course of the thirteen lines. This subject ‘I’ seems to surface in rather than to utter the poem, not appearing till late and then going from second to third to first person from line to line:
As if the peanut butter would never leave his ridge.
Pointing to areas of relief on my body. Your body
Is an index they want you to embrace strangers in
Western apartments of. I may not be much, but I
Am all I think about [ . . . ]
These lines form a semi-coherent push-me/pull-you-type dialogue about stability and wholeness, by turns humorous (the peanut butter stuck in the mouth, the narcissism of the last two lines) and serious, for the body itself is a puzzling ‘index’ whose location grows more uncertain with each mangled adverbial phrase: ‘an index they want you to embrace strangers in/Western apartments of.’ By the end of the poem we do have a corpse but it is perhaps a paper corpse, washed apart by the rain.
The poem, however, remains coherent because of its tone, the knitted-togetherness of its sonic effects, and, importantly, its iconic lyric status on the page. ‘Veste’ is a thirteen-line poem with short, pentameter-looking lines. It doesn’t matter that they are not actually pentameter: ‘Veste’ and the other poems in this group look like sonnets and have the confident, echolocating quality of Keats’s odes. Wagner’s use of line is also traditionally lyric: enjambed, varying musically between long runs and short staccato phrases, using breakage and flow to control the current and pitch of the poem. He uses line plus syntactical repetition-with-variation to create suspense and release, which in turn produces a dramatic whole. In ‘Eyth’
Meat-house-valium. I superceded. I filmed the
Film was forgetting itself. I was forgetting the for-
Getting was forgetting. We allow ingots. Their
Wrens. They rubbed us in a wrong way. [ . . . ]
In this ‘I’-based poem, enjambment allows Wagner to pull his sentences off in unexpected directions, to make the word ‘forgetting’ spool like a piece of film and thus somehow shore up the equation between the two. Sonic dismemberment allows him to produce ‘wrens’ and ‘ingots’ from this reel of words, and to put them into motion based on their ‘r’ and soft ‘o’ sounds, ‘rubb[ing] us in a wrong way.’ Ironically, in a poem finally seemingly uttered by an ‘I,’ it is the ‘I’s ineptness with the medium (film) that sends the poem off the sprockets of mere reportage and allows the poem to ‘remember’ that it is sounds that produce words and not the opposite.
Read the rest at the Constant Critic, and thanks to Joyelle for letting me steal her words to replace my lack of understanding.
Want to try your hand at this? Get yourself a copy of James Wagner’s THE FALSE SUN RECORDINGS here.
Up next: A super-sized review of the final four issues of 3RD BED, Derek White’s MARSUPIAL, Gary Lutz’s STORIES IN THE WORST WAY, & SLEEPINGFISH 8.
We are almost done. Chug-a-chug-a.