The Unfinished: Books I-VI by Mark DuCharme
(BlazeVOX Books, Buffalo, N.Y., 2013)
I think—I mean, I don't know but I suspect—
That's how I began drafting a review of Mark DuCharme's The Unfinished. I want to respond to the book—its urgency that moves me—but I am tentative. Anyway, to continue:
I think—I mean, I don't know but I suspect— that many poets might empathize with Mark DuCharme's The Unfinished. For its concern ultimately is poetry, which is to say, not just how to say something but to still present the unsayable. And in this journey that one calls poetry-making, the word often betrays or the poet often betrays the word.
And I—or DuCharme—are not suggesting the above only in terms of language's limits. We are in "the age of Guantanamo" and he rightly asks us ALL since we are all implicated: "Are there fingertips after the age of Guantanamo"? I question the "after" but don't read it as a definitive position that the age of Guantanamo is over. I think even time—viz whatever effect experience is supposed to affect in us all—is being questioned:
Plunge my heart into that river
Which is the river in the movie in the dreams we aren’t having
In the age of Guantanamo, at which we aren’t culpable
Lacking historical evidence in the poem which does not say anything
But drowns out the conventions of speechlessness
Where we still aren’t implicated because this is too private
&Lyrical, in the at-risk noise
At the dearth of night where everything’s teeming
& We still aren’t here—& there were never feelings
Implicated our session is over
In the historic silence lost against noise
At which everything we need is lost, but touch, which has not lasted.
The above ends "Book I" and so we are positioned with a certain despair as we continue on to the other "Books". The above excerpt did make me wonder, What else can one say? It's a mark of DuCharme's poetic mastery that he energizes the beginning of Book 2 so that whatever else one can say, one continues with the sense that there's still something to say and/or there’s still value in speaking. Which is to say: despair is not synonymous with giving up. Book II begins:
No, that is not it all. What we hunger for is rapture.
and continues in this one-paragraph opening to say
A sad passage equally delayed. Who are fools inside the knowing without rupture. Without understanding what our heirs suspect. That every portion of a dream carries equal weight. That only fools renounce their birthright windlessly. That only real poets are so foolish to suspend a birthright which carries the weight of kings. That I am/ am not a real poet. That you are not here to reason with this. And that we are both fools.
I am reviewing or engaging this book concurrently with first reading through it. So I can say, suggest, that so far I also glean a manifestation here of King Lear's “Fool”—someone, as those who know that Shakespeare play might realize, is not so foolish underneath his capers. And so the ensuing poems, as I read them, embody a constant questioning of one's self, of the world, of one's self in the world ... as well as, as ever, the role of poetry therein. How sad that Book 2 ends with
Goodbye, Dear Almost
My most cutting equation
Still, Book III perseveres:
To keep going as a means
It is the ongoingness which catches / Me
or, as (perhaps) regards poetry's role
To have no vocabulary for this hunger
Makes it unsayable? What is sayable?
And the significance of perseverance is (partly)
...if you say anything, it implicates passage—
The specific positions of animals,
& We in our animal bodies.
As it should be. For while the collection is bursting with ideas, there are enough citations of the physical: "swoon," "whispers," "Here you are with your face at the door," "your tongue on fire," "Language, which bears / Fruit."
The poems persevere, continue to unfold. The book continues to present pages which are not blank but written upon. In such perseverance, one senses the edge of madness and it's the poet's mastery that presents the edge as something to see (to ponder) versus something to cross over.
For madness (the genuine foolishness versus the King Lear version of the fool) would negate what must happen in "this age of Guantanamo." Now, there are no specifics (or overt specifics) about the referenced Guantanamoic age. For this collection, too, is primarily an ars poetica work. Thus, one aspect of "unfinished" here is the encouragement to look at the poet's other works—such as Answer, his 2001 BlazeVox book and which was reviewed earlier by Galatea Resurrects; I cite this, too, since it is presented in The Unfinished's back cover with reviewer Tom Hibbard's thought:
"Like Whitman, DuCharme might hear Amnerica singing; he might hear America marching, but what he's particularly good at hearing is America gone offkey and become unconsciously discouraged .... What he hears is America too put upon and embroiled in irrelevance to bother trying to say anything worthwhile at all, which is a bad thing in a society that is fueled by dissenting opinion."
Entonces, ars poetica. We should be aware (and more) of what's going on in a world that's spawned Guantanamo. And with such awareness can come action.
As for the poet—or DuCharme the poet—
The world goes on outside usfor much of these poems are gorgeous. Ravishing. That they pay attention to the world doesn’t mean the poet allowed the world to diminish the poem’s possibilities. Hence, there are in these poems numerous moments of rapture despite the many ruptures surrounding their creations. They sing. And they illuminate.
Then we go on
Until it is song
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?"