Reviews Rosal

Published on August 14th, 2016

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A Poem Is A Field: Review of “Brooklyn Antediluvian” by Patrick Rosal

From The El Paso Times

Sunday, August 14, 2016

 

Brooklyn Antediluvian
Patrick Rosal
Persea
80 pp
 

The familiar lines from Rumi, “There is a field beyond good and evil, I’ll meet you there” suggest that a field is infinite and contains unlimited possibility, perhaps a mystic view of heaven or prelapsarian innocence and wonder. It makes sense that children and dogs love to run into a field, because they can play all day, equipped only with their imaginations. They can create talking trees and roads into ancient and future cities. A field is anything. All things.

In his latest book of poems, Brooklyn Antediluvian,” Rosal writes, “a poem is a field. What enters the field enters the poem.” What has always impressed me about great poetry, from CD Wright to Pablo Neruda, is how the syntax can pull us in with one idea or sound, and before it ends at the period, we are somewhere entirely new. Language is a wormhole into the multiverse, the infinite landscapes of the imagination, that is, the field.

Yes, Rosal is right (even if this isn’t what he meant): In the right hands, a poem is a field of infinite possibility.

What’s masterful about this new collection is how the language, endowed with sound, music and image, can go from the streets of Brooklyn, where young men fight over nothing, to mythical lands where the images beg to be read not as literal representations, but as archetype, creating those Rilke “things” that lead us into what makes us human. They go from a young man punching some punk, to a poem in some magical place where girls throw five bricks into the air and they become birds that fly past the ears of God. Images slide into street life as easily as they do into antediluvian archetype.

The poem “Uptown Ode that Ends On an Ode to the Machete,” begins with these lines:

 Me and Willie hail the first yellow

to fly us from Franklin and Fulton

The language avoids the demands of ordinary grammar, so it’s not “Willie and I,” because these are Brooklyn boys, so it’s “Me and Willie.” And what a beautiful way to say catch a cab, to “hail the first yellow.” And the alliteration winks at the reader, “fly us from Franklin and Fulton.”

This poem starts with catching a New York taxi, but it somehow ends up in the Philippines, into another time, into the intimate company of men who make machetes.

 They stoked the embers. They chanted low.

They dropped their mallets in quick

cut time.

 The language itself becomes the sound of machetes being made.

It’s not only to the Philippines where Rosal’s language takes us, but into places of the collective consciousness, like in the poem, “Instance of an Island,” where we hear the story of an island which both is and isn’t, an island that is a literal place where a couple sit by an infinity pool, as they,

 Think of infinity. Many many years ago,

a great emperor wiggled his finger

Although the emperor of the poem may be a literal reference to a real emperor, the poem takes us beyond the “real” into the field of pure poetry, in two lines and with an ambiguous enjambment.

If Rosal’s first two books didn’t show he was one of the great poets of the Americas, one who can bend syntax and create magic, this book definitively displays it.

His sounds are amazing, not just the syntax and rhythms and beat, but those he creates in the minds of the reader, things we hear, like rain being “a zillion spoons whacking the rusty roofs.”

In a poem about boys fighting, he writes,

 We ducked under the cop’s bright red

hatchets that swung around the corner.

Yes, this is a beautiful way to say they hid from the police and their sirens, but it also deepens the meaning by the enjambment and movement, “bright red,” then “hatchets that swung around the corner.” They make as much metaphorical sense as they do literal.

And then there’s the basketball game in the Philippines, played by “boys of half-court flip-flop runs,” where even the use of hyphens adds to the sound.

We are taken to an urban basketball court, one we can imagine, where we see the boys run and play ball while wearing flip-flops, and we hear the sound, but it is such precise wording that the reader can even imagine what clothes the boys are wearing. We see and hear.

Blending in a bit of Brooklyn, the Philippines, a bar in Austin Texas, and other mythical places of the imagination, i.e., the field of possibility, this book shows that Rosal has entered into the realm of the masters, but on his own terms.

In one poem he writes of city boys who make their own turntable with parts they find in dumpsters, and with their equipment they spin tunes that make people jump, blending everything, even Bach with Bambaataa, the latter who is a DJ from the South Bronx.

Rosal writes,

“We chopped up masters and made the whole block bounce.”

That’s exactly what he does in this fine collection .

The familiar lines from Rumi, “There is a field beyond good and evil, I’ll meet you there” suggest that a field is infinite and contains unlimited possibility, perhaps a mystic view of heaven or prelapsarian innocence and wonder. It makes sense that children and dogs love to run into a field, because they can play all day, equipped only with their imaginations. They can create talking trees and roads into ancient and future cities. A field is anything. All things.

In his latest book of poems, Brooklyn Antediluvian,” Rosal writes, “a poem is a field. What enters the field enters the poem.” What has always impressed me about great poetry, from CD Wright to Pablo Neruda, is how the syntax can pull us in with one idea or sound, and before it ends at the period, we are somewhere entirely new. Language is a wormhole into the multiverse, the infinite landscapes of the imagination, that is, the field.

Yes, Rosal is right (even if this isn’t what he meant): In the right hands, a poem is a field of infinite possibility.

What’s masterful about this new collection is how the language, endowed with sound, music and image, can go from the streets of Brooklyn, where young men fight over nothing, to mythical lands where the images beg to be read not as literal representations, but as archetype, creating those Rilke “things” that lead us into what makes us human. They go from a young man punching some punk, to a poem in some magical place where girls throw five bricks into the air and they become birds that fly past the ears of God. Images slide into street life as easily as they do into antediluvian archetype.

The poem “Uptown Ode that Ends On an Ode to the Machete,” begins with these lines:

Me and Willie hail the first yellow

to fly us from Franklin and Fulton

The language avoids the demands of ordinary grammar, so it’s not “Willie and I,” because these are Brooklyn boys, so it’s “Me and Willie.” And what a beautiful way to say catch a cab, to “hail the first yellow.” And the alliteration winks at the reader, “fly us from Franklin and Fulton.”

This poem starts with catching a New York taxi, but it somehow ends up in the Philippines, into another time, into the intimate company of men who make machetes.

They stoked the embers. They chanted low.

They dropped their mallets in quick

cut time.

The language itself becomes the sound of machetes being made.

It’s not only to the Philippines where Rosal’s language takes us, but into places of the collective consciousness, like in the poem, “Instance of an Island,” where we hear the story of an island which both is and isn’t, an island that is a literal place where a couple sit by an infinity pool, as they,

 

Think of infinity. Many many years ago,

a great emperor wiggled his finger

 

Although the emperor of the poem may be a literal reference to a real emperor, the poem takes us beyond the “real” into the field of pure poetry, in two lines and with an ambiguous enjambment.

 

If Rosal’s first two books didn’t show he was one of the great poets of the Americas, one who can bend syntax and create magic, this book definitively displays it.

His sounds are amazing, not just the syntax and rhythms and beat, but those he creates in the minds of the reader, things we hear, like rain being “a zillion spoons whacking the rusty roofs.”

 

In a poem about boys fighting, he writes,

We ducked under the cop’s bright red

hatchets that swung around the corner.

Yes, this is a beautiful way to say they hid from the police and their sirens, but it also deepens the meaning by the enjambment and movement, “bright red,” then “hatchets that swung around the corner.” They make as much metaphorical sense as they do literal.

And then there’s the basketball game in the Philippines, played by “boys of half-court flip-flop runs,” where even the use of hyphens adds to the sound.

We are taken to an urban basketball court, one we can imagine, where we see the boys run and play ball while wearing flip-flops, and we hear the sound, but it is such precise wording that the reader can even imagine what clothes the boys are wearing. We see and hear.

Blending in a bit of Brooklyn, the Philippines, a bar in Austin Texas, and other mythical places of the imagination, i.e., the field of possibility, this book shows that Rosal has entered into the realm of the masters, but on his own terms.

In one poem he writes of city boys who make their own turntable with parts they find in dumpsters, and with their equipment they spin tunes that make people jump, blending everything, even Bach with Bambaataa, the latter who is a DJ from the South Bronx.

Rosal writes,

“We chopped up masters and made the whole block bounce.”

That’s exactly what he does in this fine collection.

 

Daniel Chacón is the award-winning author of Hotel Juárez, and other books of fiction. He hosts the literary radio show “Words on a Wire” and can be reached at soychacon@gmail.com

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