NO APPOINTMENT NECESSARY by THOMAS FINKTIM PETERSON Reviews
No Appointment Necessary by Thomas Fink
(Moria Poetry, 2006)
In Thomas Fink’s new collection No Appointment Necessary, the author continues to investigate a series of invented and borrowed forms, including a series of shaped poems, Yinglish Strophes, and Haynaku Box sequences. Each of these forms provides a slightly different means for Fink’s ongoing exploration of a sardonic political critique of referentiality, which at times also becomes a kind of “targetless parody” in the tradition of Shapiro’s reading of Ashbery. Fink’s weird speaker talks in a kind of colloquial tough-guy shorthand, now commenting on politics, now addressing a series of fragmentary scenes or foregrounding dead metaphors:
underbudgeted chorus of
ignited its own
big cleanup will
many sore pockets”
Oddness, surprise, humor, and the grotesque are all central to this project which at times creates a texture not unlike that of Jackson Mac Low’s poetry. Common to much of Fink’s writing, this texture is most prominent in the first series of shaped poems in the book, which are each shaped like a sickle or a backwards question mark. This passage is from “Responsible Fires Inserted” (Editor’s Note: To compromise with Blogger format, the poem is presented with a series of periods which the reader should ignore as the insertion of periods is done to shape the text the way the poet intended for the poem):
……..upper business com
……..-mune asks, ‘Why
……placate the screw-
…exegesis? An auto-
…..crat ally narrowly
Here elaborate theoretical words such as “exegesis” are set into the unlikely context of a speaker who sounds like he could be reading news headlines. Is he talking about homosocial relations, the military industrial complex, the phallus, or something else? How seriously are we to take the glib shorthand utterance “Can’t bitchslap government”? All we know is there’s a slyly cynical, wisecracking quality which cuts across the various sentences, establishing a consistent tone, rhetorical context and direction for the politics of the poems, which might be liberal but might also be described as a bleaker position of a leftist critique of the left: “Wart / paid for / by liberals / les miserables / illegibles alike.” Could fashion be to blame? “What’s toxic / tomorrow / might be loveable now.” In this situation, the reader is continually drawn back to the language as a context and the ways in which stating the problem might be the problem. The poems have trouble taking their own metaphors seriously, because it all seems somehow pre-commodified, and the individual words are implicated: “A drained camel / has blushed casual Disneyland / quicksand” which leads to “Hollwood bacon crawl,” a conflicted attitude towards postmodernity.
The critique of the system of reference here attempts a critique of other political systems, as in some work by David Shapiro or the arguments of the Language poets. The echo of a context is continually established only to have the subject and the speaker’s location in a scene change sentence-to-sentence, as in “The rondelay in the air is”: “Please don’t maul the display goose / Reaching the entrance, she removes glasses.” What display goose, and what glasses? Such moments of partial imagery in Fink’s poetry acts as props for a kind of private objective-correlative that, you guessed it, figures an attitude of bemused critique. It’s important that this critique in Fink’s writing is somehow continually thwarted by the sardonic simulacrum of reference that lies waiting for it, because that’s where a great deal of the pleasure and humor in the poetry lies. The “Yinglish Strophes” in this book continually demonstrate a kind of loving ambivalence toward the author’s linguistic and cultural heritage, foregrounding the bizarre moments in a syntax that is also native to his family: “There is a lady very old / and she paints gorgeous.” The affectionate simulacrum of Yiddish-influenced syntax here reminds us that identification in language is a complicated process, an always elusive, incomplete project with a shifting ground.
Tim Peterson is the author of Since I Moved In, recipient of the first Gil Ott Award from Chax Press. He edits EOAGH: A Journal of the Arts and is a curator for the Segue Reading Series in New York.