Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Elegy of Now: Jeff Latosik’s “DreamPad

     “We have to postulate a fiction. // I could follow what is real down to its furnaces.” In his latest bracing poetry collection, Dreampad, Jeff Latosik loops childhood memories, samples clearance sales and photostreams, and remixes a world gone, “so boho, but it can also go all doorknobs// on you.” These doorknobs, if the reader chooses to turn them, open onto meditations which resist closure and openly question the authority of the personal lyric, as Latosik orders and shapes the ephemera of now, the present moment, troubleshooting existence by showing how conditional our lives are.

     The first thing readers notice when digging into this book is its sheer size but there is no dead-weight to be found. His first poem “Dreampad”, which is also the title of the collection, is breath-taking in its sweep and scope.  

It’s this calendar I’ve dislodged and am playing
like a simple music grid controller.

It’s the past, plus all I’ve sleep-talked
and confused with what took place

and it starts out with a pulse of light click-tracking
across time and space. I gather up some days

and make a living beat to layer over. Then the grid
populates as memory, which has reverb

and you best believe it has attack. Myself, age eight,
coming back from a vacation that my mother

and stepfather had themselves dreamed up
heading in the same direction for the last time

and I’ve got a salamander hidden in my hand.
I want to make a commune for the part-pond things

but when I look again it’s just a smear of red
like I’ve wrenched down a nebula.

My stepfather looking out onto the highway
must have felt the same thing when he understood

my mother would be leaving—some general lack
over which the world comes tumbling again.

Hence, a trick I like to do. I make all that isn’t
come to in a half-life of being dreamed and as I do the days

patch through in a way that’s hard to damp and fade.
Strange, though, my remixing’s not my stepfather getting clean,

or my mother finally getting to live beside the Atlantic.
I feel it in my hand sometimes, like a rubber band

has tightened in my wrist, but I play better than I once did
the older that I do. I missed something that made my life.

     The trick this poem is doing is taking the speaker’s experience and not rendering it sequentially but “remixing” it with memory, making “a living beat to layer over”, as the speaker boasts, "I make all that isn’t //come to in a half-life of being dreamed”. This suggests memories are not so much what happened but are more a by-product of the moment we are living. He admits in the poem’s conclusion “I missed something that made my life” which reads like an elegy to both the past and the present.

     In another poem in the collection ”The Fortune You Seek Is In Another Cookie”, this theme of celebrating the pursuit of meaning while simultaneously mourning its loss as  ephemeral, continues with the speaker admitting “What you think should be is often in another life, not this one”. The ending of the poem is particularly salient when the speaker's suspicions about meaning are realized while they are sorting through memories and experiences: 

 Let’s say one night you were sorting through everything
that made you realize you weren’t the person you thought;
somehow you’d sliced through the thin adhesive strip
that separates each thing from where it should have stayed.
Perhaps you’d walk through every room watching sunlight
slow-tsunami the parquet with its lone blend of everything that is,
plus a cleaving quiet. And you might come to rest on a view
of somebody sitting on a stoop outside waiting for news
of a friend who’s not now suddenly so far. Or even far-gone.

      Latosik has a deft gift for phrasing with lines like “watching sunlight // slow-tsunami the parquet with its lone blend of everything that is”. He writes just as eloquently whether it is in tercets or quatrains or long meditative block lines.  

In a later poem “The Great Illusion”, Latosik writes “Our everyday sense of being // evicted from the real and true for a few electric shivers.” Clearly, this is what Jeff Latosik is doing in his latest poetry collection DreamPad. An elegy of now, this book shows how precarious reality is as it interrogates our private lives within the public realm. Pick up a copy from your local bookstore and read these poems for yourself.

By Chris Banks

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Waiting and Finding

     So you have finished your next collection of poems and you are left to wonder what next? Every poet knows this feeling as a deathly silence takes hold and the words begin to evaporate. There is no rule as to how long one should take between books but from my perspective I get worried when I take longer than three years.

     However, there may be good reasons for being patient. Sometimes the voice you have carefully buffed, finessed over a couple of slim volumes, begins to change on you, and it takes time to figure out what is meaningful about those changes. For myself, I have little interest in writing for the sake of writing. I have to feel like I’m staking out some new poetic territory for myself, or if I’m returning to my favorite triggering subjects, I’m writing about those subjects in a new way.

     I’ve written long syllabics and surprisingly surreal poems, thoughtful meditations and slap-stick lyrics, but what to turn my attention towards next can sometimes be a mystery. I certainly do not want to force a subject, a poem, an image. I would rather wrestle an angel. Friends suggest reading the new darlings of the poetry community, or going back to earlier influences for inspiration, or maybe heading out to a reading series to hear poetry spoken aloud, but ultimately new work comes when it is ready.

     When I am writing well, I feel like the language is literally spilling out of me. I write quickly and passionately. I feel the rightness of every word and every line break. I am not one of those people anymore who does twenty drafts of a poem. If I knew how to channel that manic energy required to write, I would clearly do it because I feel in command of my life when I’m writing and bereft when I’m not.

      I worry about my life choices when the silence takes over and I’m forced to wait for the next surge of poems.

    What gets me through the hush-hush of times when I am not writing are my kids and those poets who have written far more eloquently about such things than me. Here is a poem by Jack Gilbert I return to, again and again, when the quiet becomes overwhelming:

 Waiting and Finding

While he was in kindergarten, everybody wanted to play
the tomtoms when it came time for that. You had to
run in order to get there first, and he would not.
So he always had a triangle. He does not remember
how they played the tom-toms, but he sees clearly
their Chinese look. Red with dragons front and back
and gold studs around that held the drumhead tight.
If you had a triangle, you didn’t really make music.
You mostly waited while the tambourines and tomtoms
went on a long time. Until there was a signal for all
triangle people to hit them the right way. Usually once.
Then it was tomtoms and waiting some more. But what
he remembers is the sound of the triangle. A perfect,
shimmering sound that has lasted all his long life.
Fading out and coming again after a while. Getting lost
and the waiting for it to come again. Waiting meaning
without things. Meaning love sometimes dying out,
sometimes being taken away. Meaning that often he lives
silent in the middle of the world’s music. Waiting
for the best to come again. Beginning to hear the silence
as he waits. Beginning to like the silence maybe too much.

By Jack Gilbert