The Pink by Jared Schickling
(BlazeVOX Books, Buffalo, 2012)
Jared Schickling’s collection of poems, The Pink, is written about domesticity from a deeply felt--and perhaps sacred--perspective, and it is an experimental rendering of family life through words with a cubist perspective as I see and read the book. I realize that I will never fully understand the narrative in Schickling’s poems. Rather, he will show me many different angles and I might find words or lines or images that help guide me through the poems. However, the poems throw me off balance so much that I have to re-read and re-think what the poems are not doing—and through that, what I may find in the poem. Schickling’s poetry takes me into unfamiliar terrain with possibilities of understanding where each poem might be leading me, but I am always unbalanced with his images, ideas, and words that lead me to think that I am onto something but then finding myself lost again in his poetic narrative. He also works against narrative in most of his poems. As I write these thoughts, I am struck by the idea that Schickling needs to use oblique language in order to convey the depth of feeling and perception. The use of matter- of-fact narrative language will not convey what Schickling is working towards in his poetry in The Pink. However, through his use of objectivity and then juxtaposing it with a subjective use of feeling, he opens up more possibilities of complex emotion in his poems. This is not a criticism; it’s simply an observation of both the enjoyment and the frustration that keeps me reading and re-reading this collection.
To write interesting and experimental poetry of quality, the poetry needs to be associative in image, language, and idea, and dis-associative in the same breath. This is true of Schickling’s poetry, and this is also why it is not an easy read. Instead, the poetry is very challenging, but is also what thrusts the reader into the poem as a participant. In his poem, “4321,” the reader gets a sense of being inside the poem. Rather than being a passive observer, the reader experiences the activity of the poem through the imagery in the poem:
Plastic flesh squat on the ground spits its paper! It chews knowing what to
Do from without! Electricity’s weaving it!
To satellites and back! Bits: Flagged! Each house on the street of thirty
Houses! Spitting its own trees! (11).
Besides word and phrase codes and combinations, the lines have a forward moving energy to them—and a sense of playfulness. The poem also becomes clearer in theme or idea as it reaches its conclusion:
Electricity shines. Screen. Giving it beer. Keys tap.
A jar of pencils is useless. Realize these two together. Organ forgotten.
To see that you see. Pulled the current from the ether.
In this first poem of the collection, Schickling is in the process of informing the reader about a location that is moving in a direction or moving forward. This is happening as a form of consciousness and he is part of the consciousness of the event. He is giving the reader location, and the location is—with logical certainty—whatever that is—the room of his house in which he will write this collection of poems. The reader is entering the wormhole with Schickling and the poems into the skin, the existence, the walls, the life of his house—whether real or virtual, and this is magic that Schickling is sharing with the reader. This is most certainly a collection of poems about domesticity, but without the staid and conservative voice that home and domesticity tend to conjure up, whether in a poem, a novel, or an advertisement that tries to seduce us into its blindness.
The idea of home seems to be part of everyone’s DNA, but home both evokes a feeling and a sense of reality steeped in those feelings. Think of all the pieces of life—ideas, people, objects-- natural objects and unnatural objects that make home distinctive, depending on the people who are members of each home. Schickling returns to his home of origin, giving the reader only small glimpses of his life as a part of an ongoing legacy—and perhaps also a longing for the past. The voice in the poems on page 15—which is without a title—implies the difference between his family of origin and his family that he is creating. He tells the reader about the absent parents. He writes, “Brought up off and on by continuously /absent people, who blames them…because as their boy I knew/how they blamed things” (15). The poem is obviously oblique and vague, and without words that create sharp sensory images; rather, there is a sense that Schickling is using this to create a memory that should not be remembered clearly because there is really nothing but vague loss to remember.
However, his voice sharpens in the longer poems that are full of the life as he is a part of life with a woman and their baby. His baby is leading him—and perhaps the woman—into a more fulfilling and directed life. The language is sharper and more focused:
Speak, baby, speak—and under my adult life, straighten the dull people,
shrieking high and sour, following, without dirtying feet, a harder earth,
underneath my history…
Loud was the wild within—speak, baby, speak (19).
Schickling returns to his computer as his place to meditate, to record the history and the ongoing life in this house of three, and as way to find balance in his new life within the metamorphism of life as it continues. In the untitled poem that begins on page 21, he seems to discover or try to arrive at the ongoing movement of his life through the movement in the poem; in fact, the poem seems to be about the process involved and Schickling is taking the reader of the poem through the process:
Some open air without small shoes
When all but children raise voices:
Some walled space where we
Will never sit apart
Or, complex penpal, you my head
Out of gross isolation will offer: (page 21).
Schickling seems to be choosing his words with great care, and the words that he chooses are somewhat oblique and do not offer many insights into what he is feeling, but he is trying to explain his feelings, nonetheless. In a sense, he is moving carefully through this poem, feeling out the new in a language that is more inward than outward. He is writing the poem for a clearer understanding of what this is about to him, but he is also giving the reader a chance to try to understand and de-code this very intimate part of himself that he is only just beginning to realize. It seems to be a poem in which the poet’s presence is that of meta-thought at its most precise. He is holding this part of himself close to his heart as though there is a sacredness and awe to the feeling. He ends his poem with the line, “We are close to Psyche” ( 22). In other words, we, he, his family, and I, the reader, are feeling something important and complete, as much as our human experience allows us that completion through and in the room in which he writes this poem. The poem is also joined to the computer, and the poem is a “borg” of the computer, an extension of the technology and an extension of his house, which is a sacred place for him. As a poet, I also understand that feeling of finding something deep within myself and trying to find the words to express the most intimate sense of my humanity. Even though I am alone, I feel connected to something much more essential to myself than the surfaces of everyday; although I find it through the everyday and transcending that everyday experience. This is why the language of angle and angels is so necessary in this collection of poems.
A description of family, home, and domesticity can be done very badly or very well in poetry. Schickling does it well through the carefully focused language that he chooses, even though it may feel as though he randomly chooses his language. And through his use of conventional language, he moves us past the conventional surface of everyday experience. However, with Schickling, I need to read his poetry over to understand why he does what he does, and I have found that his poetry is filled with depth that is not obvious on first reading.
In the poem, “4:”, Schickling gives us a poem that contains factual information, with these lines: Through her undeveloped cerebral cortex has/developed to a point she/can remember much…” (31) The poem does not convey a feeling; in fact, at the very end of the poem he tells us that he “had tried to write you something sentimental” (21). The poem does not contain any punctuation and the words are rushing together with facts about the baby, thus disarming the reader with the poet’s candid and/or objective thoughts. He tells the reader that although he tried to be sentimental, the description of his baby came out in the most matter of fact and non-poetic language—just plain prose. However, just telling the reader that he meant to be sentimental gives the reader another interpretation of the poem. What was Schickling trying to tell me, the reader? I suspect that he may be saying that fatherhood and family is a double-edged sword or that the interpretation of love is complex.
The poem, “the pink, B:” is one of the fairy tale poems in the book, which seems very fitting in a collection about family. The poem includes “the many-legged forest when/a wild creature will be kept” (51) and “A queen’s daughter…” (51). There is also “a dungeon upon which her father will have been/released” (52). Fairy tales are an essential part of most young children, giving the unfamiliar, the magical, and the frightening world a sense of order through its disorder. The language in the poem is magical within its own disorder, and not (necessarily) logical in a narrative form. However, there are unexpected angles to the story, and unexpected diversions as the story unfolds. The poem ends, “Here is your mother/in this bottle. Here is the rocking chair/you won’t remember” (page 53), and thus the story/myth is passed on.
One of the last poems that I want to write about is located on page 68. This poem, as many of the other poems in the book, does not have a title. It is written in a “colloquial tongue:” “yeah i’d like to get together soon. tis the season. i’m preoccupied come/night time, in the midst of a learning curve that seems to be magically just/happening.” (68) The poem works with associative ideas—stream of consciousness, I believe. Perhaps this is an informal email reply to a friend, written quickly between daily interactions. Schickling includes these snippets of what his day/night have included, observations about the natural world, and then a very non-dramatic ending about how “we” bought something that most parents needs to function with a small child, “a stroller that’s good for bumpy terrain.” (68) It is a way of stating the obvious, that life has changed with baby and this practical detail is essential to continue to live beyond practical matters. This is an essential detail of how the poet places himself in his life and his poetry—and he is informing the reader that his life is his poetry. However, style is a common language that is deceptively easy to read—so easy that readers who are more connected to a traditional style of poetry would not see it as a poem. However, we have William Carlos Williams to thank for introducing poets and readers to the natural language of poetry.
As I have read and re-read Schickling’s, The Pink, I am struck with the idea that he is giving me fragments and traces of poetry that could be found on pieces (or pages) of a journal found beneath the wallpaper in the parents’ closet, found years later, or in lists that have been scattered over the family lives. Schickling’s poems juxtapose lines of meaning that put together do not appear coherent, or he gives us ideas that contain gaps, and understanding of what is between the gaps is left up to the reader. He also creates lines that lead the reader into a direction of thought, but the idea changes course, and we, the readers, are not always sure of where he is taking us. He explains family domesticity as a non-linear idea that cannot possibly have a coherent plot because each person in this book will interpret the family from a complex view of words, visuals, and unfinished thoughts. If Schickling had created a “coherent” narrative, I would be reading a flattened version of family situation. However, by showing the reader these glimpses of what the poet’s or the poet’s persona is, he is creating that cubist version of art that baffles the reader, but also creates a much more nuanced version of what the poet is creating. In the end, it is more difficult to read, but it is also much more enjoyable to read, and that is why I read poetry—and in my opinion, that is one of the more honest reasons to read poetry.
Mary Kasimor grew up in Minnesota, a state of mind that she lives in even when she isn’t there. She has most recently been published in the following journals: Yew Journal, Big Bridge, Reconfigurations, Moria, Otoliths, Certain Circuits, The Bakery, and Altered Scale. She received a Fellowship from US Poets in Mexico for the 2010 Conference. She was also a Finalist in the 2011 Ahsahta Chapbook Contest. She has had several books of poetry published, most recently The Windows Hallucinate (LRL Textile Series 2013).