Tuesday, May 22, 2007

LITTLE WAR MACHINE by M SARKI

EILEEN TABIOS Reviews

Little War Machine by M Sarki
(Ravenna Press ,Edmonds, WA, 2004)

With abstract poems, I usually am able to enter their space and engage, which is to say, I manage to interpret the work into something specific to which I then can respond. I’m not calling the poems in M Sarki’s Little War Machine “abstract”, but the term arose because, while seeming to state something specific, their meanings actually elude fixed definitions. Witness the first poem:

HOT

I want to go
to Guatemala
and feel the

maddening drip
of its bulbous
grasses washing

my dead away.

I use the term “witness” because, as much as I read the poems, I seem to watch them more. It’s an interesting effect—the first that I can recall experiencing from poems. That is, the poems don’t call out to be heard. They seem to be entities totally unreliant on audience. I can picture these poems as sculptures standing deep within some rain forest perfectly content—well, perhaps not content but more like indifferent as to whether human traffic (readership) will come their way.

So what’s the significance of this effect? Especially given how the title of the book would imply a politics underlying the poetry. Don't politics, after all, usually demand to be heard?

I think this result stems partly from how the poems present mysteries which cannot be resolved to any fulsome satisfaction. Witness the collection’s second poem:

Lake

Every ripple
In the floor

Rises

To kiss his lips.

It could be a simple poem. One can gloss over it by simply appreciating the image and what it literally states. But it makes one pause, and not to enjoy the romantic charm. That’s the thing—I feel like it should hearken romance. But, instead, there’s something ominous about it. Instead of a lover, if only a Narcissus looking down at his/her reflection, I feel like there’s a policeman instead. A policeman looking into the lake for some murdered body. And I think this brilliant slippage occurs because the second line presents “floor” rather than, say, ‘water” which is what one might expect from the title of “Lake.”

A similar situation comes up in this poem:

Nearest Theory of the Spruce

It is thick, this
flesh he scores.
Her gift to him

for adoration.
The backdoor of
her ample stock,

naïve and jingling.

I read this poem as a man having sex with a woman from behind. And it doesn’t evoke “making love” versus “sex” despite the inclusion of the word “adoration.” There’s a dispassion to the tone—from the intellectual title (even if nonsensical, intellectualized) to the last lines whose descriptions bespeak a bystander rather than participant.

Also facilitating this sense of distance is an implied thumbing of one’s nose at preconceived notions of the sacred, which this poem for me exemplifies -- though I hasten, too, to draw attention to the neatly unexpected twist presented by the last line.

Long Robes Sublime

She sees her
sun now
as first love.

Aged beside
indifference.
Her lips

opening each can.

For me, Little War Machine is presenting a critical eye towards the world. Other poets with critical stances have lapsed to irony, religion, humor, rant, transcendence, despair, among others. Little War Machine doesn’t lapse to anything. It holds its ground to look and comment. It remains steadfastly grim.

In that grimness lies an unflinching eye whose poems are among the most impressive I have recently read. I still don’t really know why these poems are so effective. But I suspect it has to do with words as things. That their thing-ness precludes the sloppiness of multiple subjective interpretations and insist, indeed, on remaining stubborn mysteries. I mean, check out this poem

Beast

Winter came riding
on the back
of a gray seed.

I appreciate the poem without feeling any particular need to blather on and on about it. It is simply what it is.

These poems also refresh minimalism. For example

Blue Dirt

The sky blue.
And the earth brown.
The blue blue.
The brown brown.

This is deceptively simple. One read could be: What could reverse the natural order of things -- as in the title "Blue Dirt? One answer could be the way humans engage—the politics of humans. You, Reader, be the one to insert her a list of what’s wrong today, okay?

Of course that’s just one reading. More significant is that these poems shift your vision and you sense that as you leave the book and start moving on through the rest of your day, you are looking at the world … differently.

I note that this is a publication released in 2004. I don’t know how much attention it’s received but I certainly did not know of its existence until a review copy was sent to Galatea Resurrects. This book show why I’m not interested in having Galatea Resurrects review only “recent” titles. Poetry lasts…and I think those in Little War Machine deserve to be more known, deserve to last, even as I suspect they’re indifferent to the whole matter of eternal fame.

*****

Eileen Tabios HEARTS wine, dogs and Thou. She can't do anything but shrug over the loudness of her Silences...

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