Monday, September 21, 2009
Michael Leong's e.s.p. (Silenced Press, 2009)
Michael Leong's debut collection, e.s.p, just published by Silenced Press, on the heels of his translation of Estela Lamat's I, The Worst of All, aptly demonstrates what he calls in one poem's title, "Notes Toward A Ludic Inarticulacy"--balanced between the anarchic impulses of the ludic, and the hierarchial ones of articulateness, Leong tries on poetic strategies the way a good actor tries on character.
Echoing the ludic experimentalists like Lev Rubinstein, Charles Bernstein, Bob Perelman, and Christian Bok, Leong darts and weaves through serial litanies, riffs on foreign idioms and cliches, pangrams, magnetic poetry, acrostics, anagrams, concrete poetry, ekphrastics, alliteration, and so on. He has a lot of fun with the array of new forms (often, themselves, older forms but taken at a conceptualist's promixity), which luxuriate in the sound of words, as Stevens once famously wrote, which could hold off the pressure of reality, in "The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words."
What if poetry--and all art--is a kind of escape? If so, what kind of escape does it provide? Is it like Achilles' shield--that first ekphrastic poem--which both represents the world and keeps it from killing us?
The ludic is, of course, never "just fun and games." It is fun and games as a way of being. (How's that for making even the ludic sound unfun?). I'm reminded of my buddy M--- G--, who, just a day after we'd heard of the tragic death of a classmate, began to tell jokes where the punchline was this student's name. It was pretty ballsy, but it was a strategy for surviving. He was clearly thinking about her--as were we--and his mind went to the ludic.
I'm particularly drawn to the poems that create the vertiginous effect that such jokes gave--where the ludic is wrestling with the "pressure of reality" a la Stevens. Where the fun is the vertigo of facing the abyss, as in Leong's "Pensando en la inmortalidad del cangrejo," where the thinking literalizes the metaphor and dizzies us into the real. Read the poem here. Here's the end:
Within the oceanic O
of my omphalos,
the crab is dreaming
a fathomless dream about
the bottom of the sea,
where the kelp sways lazily,
and the coral feeds
at its leisure,
and, from time to time,
bursts of bubbles
to the surface,
which, from here,
give only the slightest impression
that the water is boiling.
Leong has given us a promising collection, where the possibility that the seas are boiling, seems both funny and ominous.