The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Fiction from Mexico City

Poetry Review: The New Measures by Al Moritz

A. F. Moritz The New Measures

 

(Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2012)

Review by Georgina Mexía-Amador

Published in The Ofi Press issue 36

The poetics of Albert F. Moritz in The New Measures can be summed up in this verse: “The first and simplest things were best” (from “Simplicity”), for it states the aim: to contemplate and think the world in those instants when the most subtle images and sounds of nature are disclosed to the poet. The poems of this book are built on the deep meaning of details, on the beauty of the ephemeral…and on the impossibility of inhabiting nature.

Exquisite and heartwarming images of nature such as trees, almonds, stones or shells are found throughout the poems, and this highlights the intensity of the lyrical experience when the poet thinks of his relationship with nature, as it happens in “The Stranger”. In these verses, the poet bursts onto a beach inhabited by stones, and a process of both reflective admiration and unrest takes place when he realizes his presence is that of an intruder; a verse reads thus: “One I remember/all black but for a burning, silver-dun/sprinkle of old stars”. These words speak of how the poet delivers himself to touching and admiring the little universes contained in the forms and colors of the stones, as if the microcosms could suddenly hold the infinite inside them and the poet were witnessing such a revelation. Contemplation at this level is possible because the acknowledged world becomes reachable to the poet by means of words: Moritz poetics remind us of the fact that poetry always implies the appropriation of the macrocosms and the individual experience of it.

                The rejection of the city as landscape and machine is a complementary perspective to that of nature as the site of poetic revelation. Poems confronting these two apparently irreconcilable spaces are “At Erie”, in which some small shells resemble halls, buildings, and “silent roofs”, as well as “The New Measures”, in which the city is referred to as a mother and its inhabitants are prisoners in the roar of an inhuman music:

feet on subway stairs, long pulses

of the strides of skaters… limping of wheels,

click, click-click of a paper clip dropped

and caught in the works of a fan, the wheeze-whistle

of loosening belts in old motors…

Moritz constantly returns to the dichotomy of the urban as noise and of the natural as the territory into  which the human intrudes. There is an acknowledgment of the constant irruption of the human into the natural, as if the relation between both spaces could not be determined otherwise: just as the poet becomes an intruder in the beach of stones in “The Stranger”, so is the machine in “Farm Engulfed” and “View from and of an Airplane”. In these poems, the noise of the machines smashes the contemplation of natural beauty and is even able to substitute for it; in “Farm Engulfed”, the poet tells us that “...the old machine/helps with the dry month—gives the hissing/of water, and sprouts the smell of rain-wet ground”. Notwithstanding the poet’s sympathy for refined images of nature, such as a cob, an oak’s bark, a pond about to receive winter or a horizontal rainfall witnessed from a train, he is also aware of how likely it is for nature to become the stage of death. In “Fukushima Dai-Ichi Psalm”, “The Cold: A Testament” and “News”, death is a complementary chance: it does not only mean tragedy or the impossibility of the regeneration of life, but also the necessary beauty of the immobile and hopelessness: “The cold will give me dark/for warmth and comfort. The cold is not so bad” (“The Cold: A Testament”). 

On the other hand, the evocation of childhood can be considered as another possibility of contemplation of the ephemeral, as in “The Volcano”, where the image of an erupting volcano leads the poetic voice to recall an anthill once regarded during childhood, and this reflection leads to a genealogical quest based upon memory; naming the ancestors is thus enough to bring them back to life: “But she’s with us, she remembers/her grandfather, so he’s there too, and his/grandmother, since he recalls her”.

The poems of Moritz offer the reader the sensation of penetrating into an already known world because of the cyclic recurrence of images and topics, while at the same time we encounter in every poem elaborate proposals of lexis, imagery and feelings as in a “theme and variations”, since the poet constantly explores and abounds in every new meaning of the “simple things”.

At the same time, the consciousness of poetic creation beats throughout the multiplicity of verses and voices, and this happens from the beginning of The New Measures  in “ “The Book to Come”. Here, the poet reflects on how each poem is a new beginning, an independent and live unity despite its belonging to a wider group of creations. Therefore, each single poem is at the same time the precursor and the offspring of the rest:

In that splendid extent each page trudges lost

and when it stumbles, startled it comes on words

of another there before it—“Breathing in,

breathing out, o Elysium”—and sees

its hope is wrong, its glory dark, and so

crosses itself out and starts again.

(”The Book to Come”)

This metaliterary exercise is also to be found in “The Visible Brother”, “Painting and Poem”, “In the Food Court” and “The Soliloquy”, which propose an intense and intimate relationship with words and with the series of mechanisms in which the miracle of poetry happens. The poet has an ambivalent approach to reality: he rejects it because of its “dictatorship of togetherness”, since the poet’s individuality is drowned amongst the mass, but at the same time the outer world encourages creation, as in “The Visible Brother”. The same happens in “Painting and Poem”, where the intertextuality between word and image allows Moritz to bereave the world of its visual empowerment —already represented and stolen in painting— in order to turn it into poetry: “And that’s why there’s nothing mild/beneath the image. Words scream out.”

                This metaliterary reflection leads to intertextual exchange, such as the one found in the poems devoted to Northrop Frye, “Full Circle”, and to John Hollander, “Essential Poem”. In this poem, Moritz is not just dialoguing with a branch of English poetic tradition but also, and most importantly, he is portraying the figure of the poet as an early reader, achieving aesthetic pleasures on his own: “So Traherne pours over you/his wild remembrance of the world to come”.

                The poem “Open House” is worthy of an approach of its own, since it closes the book as a whole in what it seems a possibility of rebirth. It is built by thirteen parts which seem to draw a crescendo that moves from the oppression to the freedom of the self and the body. We do not know who inhabits the house that is pictured from the beginning; we can only infer that this house along with all its objects is a metaphor of the body as a habitation, and that the self wishes to run away from its imprisonment. In order to achieve this, death and destruction are necessary, following the biblical tradition of the deluge, the plagues and the divine fire. The initial house thus becomes a ruin, an architecture of ashes, and at the end of the poem we are at last able to experience the freedom of body and soul:

So later they went out. Left the house open.

On the path through the fields alone together

they’d live forever with the amber dragonflies (…)

They’d walk with their absent friends

alone together

trying to open,

each in the house of a body

that would be all doors.

In sum, The New Measures by Albert F. Moritz portrays the subtlety of simple and beautiful things with careful intensity and fury. By means of a profusion of images, metaphors and sensations the reader realizes the achievement of a long journey to the core of the self, and that Moritz’s poetic language has been the guide towards such discovery. His poetics explores a wide variety of languages and creates verbal atmospheres of spaces in which times does not seem to pass by: these poems are an invitation to contemplation and bewilderment always extended by words.

 

Versión en inglés por Georgina Mexía-Amador

English version by Georgina Mexía-Amador

 

 

 

The New Measures (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2012); 80 pp.; $19.95 Cdn

Available also as ebook/ También disponible como ebook: www.houseofanansi.com

 

Revision de Poesía: The New Measures por Al Moritz

The New Measures de Albert F. Moritz

(Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2012)

Revision por Georgina Mexía-Amador

Publicado en The Ofi Press edición 36 

 

Los poemas de este libro toman como referencia la contemplación del detalle, la belleza de la ruina y los recuerdos de la infancia. Desfilan imágenes tibias y reconfortantes de la naturaleza: árboles, almendras, piedras, conchas que permiten a la voz del poeta detenerse en reflexiones y memorias; en “Simplicity” el poeta sentencia que “The first and simplest things were best” y sus versos proponen que ante al descubrimiento del orden natural y sus sonidos, el alma poética se entrega a esa contemplación. Lo mismo ocurre en “The Stranger”: aquí la presencia humana irrumpe en una playa sembrada de piedras, y el poeta se entrega al tacto y a la admiración del pequeño universo contenido en las formas y los colores de las piedras: “One I remember/all black but for a burning, silver-dun/sprinkle of old stars”, para finalmente concebirlas como las ruinas de una ciudad en la que él es el intruso. Los poemas de The New Measures parecieran también debatirse entre el rechazo a la ciudad y la entrega contemplativa hacia la naturaleza, y este ejercicio que conjunta imágenes en las que ambos espacios supuestamente irreconciliables da pie a poemas como “At Erie”, en el que unas pequeñas conchas semejan edificios, salones, o “silent roofs”, o como el poema que da título al libro, “The New Measures”, en el que la ciudad es referida como madre y sus habitantes como prisioneros en el estruendo de una música inhumana:

feet on subway stairs, long pulses

of the strides of skaters… limping of wheels,

click, click-click of a paper clip dropped

and caught in the works of a fan, the wheeze-whistle

of loosening belts in old motors…

Moritz indaga constantemente en esta dicotomía de lo urbano como ruido y de lo natural como territorio en que lo humano irrumpe. Las formas de la naturaleza no son ajenas a la presencia humana, y así como en “The Stranger” el poeta es un intruso en ese mundo natural, también lo es la máquina en “Farm Engulfed”, “View From and of an Airplane” y “Noon in Our World”. En estos poemas, el ruido de la máquina quiebra la contemplación de lo natural y su belleza, o bien, es capaz de sustituirla; en “Farm Engulfed” el poeta nos dice que: “But the old machine/helps with the dry month—gives the hissing/of water, and sprouts the smell of rain-wet ground”. No obstante la simpatía del poeta por imágenes y detalles preciosistas de la naturaleza, como una mazorca, la corteza de un roble, un estanque en aras de recibir el invierno, la lluvia horizontal vista desde un tren, el poemario también ofrece la posibilidad de que la naturaleza sea el escenario de la muerte. En “Fukushima Dai-Ichi Psalm”, “The Cold: A Testament” y “News” la muerte es una posibilidad complementaria: no es sólo tragedia ni la imposibilidad de que la vida continúe generándose, sino la contundencia de lo inmóvil, de la belleza efímera y necesaria. Dice el poeta en “The Cold: A Testament”: “The cold will give me dark/for warmth and comfort. The cold is not so bad”.

Por otra parte, la evocación de la niñez se inserta en la misma contemplación de lo efímero, como en “The Volcano”, poema en el que la imagen de un volcán remite a un hormiguero contemplado durante la infancia, y a la indagación en la propia genealogía y en la memoria.

            La poesía de Moritz otorga al lector la sensación de que penetra a un mundo familiar por la recurrencia de las imágenes y de los temas, pero al mismo tiempo encuentra en cada poema propuestas de léxico, de imágenes y de sensaciones. Describiría los versos de Moritz como un “tema y variaciones”, puesto que el poeta explora y abunda en nuevos significados de “las cosas simples”. Pero la conciencia de la creación poética late a través de la multiplicidad de versos y voces, y esto ocurre desde un principio: en “The Book to Come”, el poeta diserta sobre el hecho de que cada poema es un nuevo comienzo, una unidad viva e independiente a pesar de su comunión en un solo libro. Cada conjunto de versos es siempre el primero, y es al mismo tiempo el precursor y el antecesor de los demás:

In that splendid extent each page trudges lost

and when it stumbles, startled it comes on words

of another there before it—“Breathing in,

breathing out, o Elysium”—and sees

its hope is wrong, its glory dark, and so

crosses itself out and starts again.

(”The Book to Come”)

Son otros también los poemas que reflexionan sobre la creación poética, en un ejercicio metaliterario: “The Visible Brother”, “Painting and Poem”, “In the Food Court”, “The Soliloquy” proponen una relación intensa e íntima con la palabra, con la imagen y con los diferentes mecanismos mediante los que el milagro del poema sucede. Es una relación ambivalente con el mundo exterior: por un lado se le rechaza por su “dictatorship of togetherness”, puesto que ahoga la individualidad del poeta, pero al mismo tiempo, como en “The Visible Brother”, es el estímulo hacia la creación. “Painting and Poem” explora a su vez la intertextualidad entre la imagen y la palabra, hecho que hace eco del recurso con que Moritz despoja al mundo de sus imágenes para convertirlos en poesía: “And that’s why there’s nothing mild/beneath the image. Words scream out.”

            Para estimular este intercambio intertextual y de reflexión metaliteraria, en The New Measures también hay poemas dedicados a otros poetas, como “Essential Poem” para John Hollander, y “Full Circle” para Northrop Frye.

            Un comentario aparte merece el poema “Open House” constituido por trece partes que parecen trazar un crescendo que va de la opresión a la libertad del ser, del cuerpo. En estos versos no sabemos quiénes habitan la casa dibujada desde el principio: sólo podemos intuir que esta casa con todos sus objetos es una metáfora del cuerpo como habitáculo, y que es el ser quien anhela huir de dicha prisión. Para ello, la muerte y la destrucción es necesaria, y siguiendo la línea intertextual con la Biblia que crean otros poemas de The New Measures, no creo desatinado comparar esa destrucción con los castigos bíblicos, como el diluvio, las plagas y el fuego. La casa se nos dibuja entonces como ruina, como cenizas, y es al finalizar el poema que podemos quizá respirar por fin esa liberación anhelada de cuerpo y alma:

So later they went out. Left the house open.

On the path through the fields alone together

they’d live forever with the amber dragonflies (…)

They’d walk with their absent friends

alone together

trying to open,

each in the house of a body

that would be all doors.

The New Measures de Albert Moritz es, en suma, un poemario que retrata con intensidad y furia la sutileza de las cosas simples y bellas, mediante una profusión de imágenes, metáforas y sensaciones que, al concluir la lectura, nos invitan a pensar que hemos llevado a cabo un largo viaje al centro de todas las cosas que laten en uno, y que es gracias al lenguaje de Moritz que podemos descubrirlas. Su lenguaje explora numerosos registros y crea atmósferas verbales de espacios detenidos en el tiempo: invita a la contemplación y al azoro siempre de la mano de la palabra.

 

 

 

The New Measures (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2012); 80 pp.; $19.95 Cdn

Available also as ebook/ También disponible como ebook: www.houseofanansi.com