Friday, March 06, 2009

Felonies of Illusion

Mark Wallace's Felonies of Illusion reads like a battle between two kinds of poetry. The first section, "The Long Republican Winter," is, as the title suggests, the work of a poet imposed upon by the world. He's aware of what this entails:

it would be wise to want
nothing from the human world

let my wisdom fail me

In the same section of the sequence (the twelfth of fourteen parts), this "failure of wisdom" leads to some brilliant, uncannily direct writing:

work here long enough
you'd start trading poems for jobs

money doesn't ask
how you'd like to have it

the poet who doesn't need a job
meets a worker who doesn't need poetry

they stare at each other and neither can say
what it takes to live in the world

The impasse of the poet's confrontation with a world of people who "don't need poetry" concludes the section:

show the world's complex
the audience says they don't get it
make it simple
no one hears it that way either
tell people they have eyes
they'll say they can't see you
then one moment deep at night
a body flies awake and stares


The second part of Felonies of Illusion is called "Felonies of Illusion," and the poems in it are completely different. These poems resist a common mode of reading that is possible with "The Long Republican Winter": they cannot be attributed to "speakers" whose personae and perspectives the poems develop. There's just enough first-person singular in them to make such readings tempting, but there's so much else going on that they are very hard to realize:


Like two idiots in love
coherence and contradiction forgive
the silence everything else has become

when we choose what moves away
because it can't stand to be in the room
with other losses it's invoked

like friends we know we never had. If I promise
never again to see tonight
as part of work as its own reward,

will I be allowed to leave the drama
during the telethon conversion
through telephones that eat me up

when decisions are to be made?
Ask again later? Earn a better place
in the central obfuscation debate?

Put the blank streak on the main
reasons to be poor once more
in the quest of insubstantial poems

raining on a check. I could never
forget to seek forever in a moment
that kills the chance to speak together.

"Coherence and contradiction" are "like two idiots in love": the poems in "Felonies of Illusion" contain many such aphoristic moments; sometimes it seems like the arrival at such lines is the point of the sequence, while at other times they seem all too coherent for the contradictory, absurdist (and often quite funny) waywardness they emerge from. Perhaps such lines are the moments when "a body flies awake and stares," sifting something from dreams and their "felonies of illusion."

So here are some of those wide-awake moments:

I object / that our objections are not the object. ("A Question of Semantics")

Are you talking / to your hand yet? ("Spray Day")

As long as we're having fun, / let's wonder why it's fun we're having.
("Thanks for Having Me Out")

Who's it time to impersonate now? ("Who's There")

Stop looking / through the door to the door on the other side. ("Or That One")

When looking at the problem there's always
a problem to the side of it
("Management Theory")

..... So many lines
to learn so fast, remember the next
one forgetting morning, taking a walk.
("Feeling in Touch with My Gettings") [Love that title!]

We could count the number of flaws
or go on again in the morning.
("You're Around the World, I'm Right Here")


Dave King said...

There are forms of poetry where the meaning is not everything, if by that you meaning a resolution to the lines. There are poems which are perpetual travel with no particular destination.

Andrew Shields said...

Thanks for the comment, Dave; it makes me think that MW's poetry (or at least the FOI sequence) is a good example of "Just Do It" poetry (see my post called "Just Do It" of a few days ago).