BIG BAD ASTERISK* by Carlo Matos
(BlazeVOX [books], Buffalo, N.Y., 2013)
I first encountered Carlo Matos' poems through his witty "asterisk poems" in ARSENIC LOBSTER (which I reviewed for GR #20). In my review of the journal edited by Susan Yountz, I said I'd love to see, if it ever came to pass, a manuscript of Matos' asterisk poems as I much appreciated their "funny deadpan-ness."
Well, BlazeVOX [books] rose to the challenge and wisely published such a manuscript, and it offers as pleasing a read as I anticipated. Aptly entitled BIG BAD ASTERISK*, the offer poems in the form of prose paragraphs and end with asterisked footnotes. Many display the deadpan wit that charmed me from the sample in ARSENIC LOBSTER, for instance
She loves Yetis. They hate time machines nearly as much as she does, have no interest in loops, meeting themselves, or catastrophic butterfly flaps. They don’t care much for looking back at all. And forward, forward is just a hairy step in the snow out of the weather and into each other’s laps or on the trail looking for a tasty meal. They are terrific hunters—not many people know this. And they have—ironically—a highly overdeveloped sense of time. Have you ever met a Yeti who was late? … or who didn’t show up when he said he was going to? They are always five minutes early and never make you wait, sweating those ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty minutes out in the cold wondering why you don’t matter.*
* Several studies in the 1970s concluded that Yeti timeliness had decreased, but many contemporary researchers question the data-gathering methods and find the conclusions dubious. See, for example, Bob Dixon-Kolar’s Philosophical Ideas and Artistic Pursuits in the Traditions of the Himalayan Yeti.
While the form of using an asterisk is effective, several of the poems succeed even without asterisked footnotes. Here's an example, which also raises the question—without compelling one to lose sleep over the answer—as to whether these are short shorts vs. poems:
For example, everyone around him—and this seemed to have happened only very recently but so slowly as to feel like it had always been there—had developed a pathological need to blow their noses. He did not witness—initially—the act itself; what he found was the evidence, the aftermath. In every bathroom, those little plastic canisters that passed for trashcans were over flowing with used Kleenex. It was not his practice to use other people’s bathrooms or public restrooms. It wasn’t the national-brand hypochondria either; he didn’t care about germs. It was a leftover from a childhood of visiting people who lived in small apartments, whose bathrooms were always perilously close to the parlor where the entertaining was happening. There was simply no way to go about one’s business without everyone being audience to it. But he didn’t want to pass up the opportunity … It was important not to exaggerate, not to make a claim based on too small a sample. The world did not need another metaphor. What was needed here was cold observation if such a thing was still possible: the facts and then some viable conclusions if they could be drawn.
Because I anticipated the wit and humor in Matos’ poems (as a result of what I read earlier in ARSENIC LOBSTER), I was pleasantly surprised by the book's "Epilogue" section that offers (to me) non-ironic and lyrical qualities. These are poems that Matos apparently translated and composed anew from the Portuguese poems of Manuel dos Santos Pavao Matos (if the poets are related, this only makes this section even more moving). Here's a wonderful example [I’m incompetent at putting accent marks so they’re missing in the Portuguese below—sorry…]
One day I left you, my home, travelled far, so far that it should be measured in infinities. But there is something that cries out in my heart, a terrible saudade. If life then was leaving, this one has me marching after something new, adventure perhaps. Who knows, dear god, if I was hasty, if this one is worth the leaving. To leave is to know what was unknown—a better life, a mysterious land. Life is strong in this new world, but the longing is stronger still. What I wouldn’t give to return to you my green, green island.*
UM DIA EU TE DEIXEI O MINHA TERRA
PARTIU LA PARA LONGE
TAO LONGE AONDE A DISTANCIAE TAO INIFINITA
MAS A ALGO QUE GRITA EM MEU CORACAO
E A SAUDADE
SE PARTIU FOI A VIDA
ESTA ME FES MARCHAR
ATRAS DE ALGO NOVO DUMA AVENTURA TALVES
QUEM SABE MUE DEUS
SE FOI ALGO PRECIPITADO
SE VALEU A PENA ESTA SIM MAS PARTIR
E DESCROBRIR O QUE NOS E OCULTO
UMA VIDA MELHOR UM MUNDO DESCONHECIDO
A VIDA E BELA NESTE NOVO MUNDO
MAS A SAUDADE E MAIS FORTE
E QUEM ME DERA VOLTAR
PARA TI O ILHA VERDE
What a smart and lovely technique by Matos to take some beloved poems, then translate them and configure them into the form(at) of his asterisk poems. It’s a loving homage.
There's much wit in contemporary poetry. While I'm glad to see it in BIG BAD ASTERISK*, I find that my favorite ended up simply what manifests love. Here's my favorite (absent the asterisked footnote of a Portuguese 5-part poem by Manuel dos Santos Pavao Matos)—no doubt it's relevant, though not necessarily to the enjoyment of its reading, that Carlo Matos describes himself as an "Azorean American" poet:
I see my land blooming near the sea, beautiful, enchanted with longings that can kill like a siren on its rock, but to have a life I had to let you go Mosteiros, beloved land where I began my life—the crib that rocked me. With what sorrows did you watch your beloved sons leave, smiling through tears, saying farewell to those you raised? It pains me to write of this tiny land whose beauty is a portion of my heart, a garden I planted—and even fell in love with—where my heart is buried still. The streets are small and straight, but I loved them well. It was there that I left memories of my past, memories that became engraved in the very paving stones in the square where I once fought. Rua do Castelo place of my birth, it was there that I first understood that life was hard, but I am always there, remembering the window where I first saw the light of day and the night drawing the ocean near.*
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. But she is also pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books. Her 2013 book, THE AWAKENING was reviewed by Aileen Ibardaloza at OurOwnVoice; and her 2004 book MENAGE A TROIS IN THE 21ST CENTURY, was reviewed (along with Joi Barrios' poetry) through the essay "The Self Revolution of Radical Love--Externalizing Internal Worlds of Freedon in Filipina Poetry" by Michaela Spangenburg at OurOwnVoice. Eileen invites you to her new blog, EILEEN VERBS BOOKS; poets are invited to participate in three of its features: "Poetry and Money," "What Are You Reading?" and "What Do You Re-Read?"