JON CURLEY Reviews
War, and After by Joel Chace
(BlazeVOX [books], Kenmore, NY, 2016)
Some poets can try their tricks and gimmicks (in a good way, after all, that’s all we got, along with a few fibers of truth, testing grounds that trump so many other methods and modes of consideration, and a ready wish to seek the plenitude of new attitudes and arrivals when it comes to what we see, think, know, and don’t know), regardless of reputation or rank, and acquire a steady acknowledgement of their name. Hail, Name! However, these folks—and I won’t even name one name lest the Devil of Ignominy stir me from my cardboard bed of basement prestige—play it safe or same, their tricks and gimmicks same-old, same-old. They might be popular and prolific, ready to embrace trends or drink the fruit punch of group think of group design, and all kudos to them. But then you have a torrent of talent ripping into the village of the tribe and convention, set design, stagecraft, and whatnot, and you have to make a place for them too.
One such poet is Joel Chace. For decades, he has been producing formally divergent poetic experiments, building and breaking blocks of concrete poetry, ripping away syntax and narrative into weird fragments of uncertain meaning and, in doing so, helping us to understand how language is a ghost that haunts and hovers, steering us into settled orientations to a world of signs and substance that will always exasperate us—unless we are complicit in the fogging of clarity, forging easy patterns, or withstanding—because it’s easier to cope with what otherwise would deplete or destroy one’s serenity—the vast data banks arriving through language and perception by ignoring them or refusing to take on their complex characters. To a certain extent, Chace’s work is menacing because it performs an opposition to the fluid and easy coherence we come to assume about language and life.
War, and After comprises four volumes actually, two of which have been previously published. In their current state, they are arranged as sections intent on enacting linguistic skepticism by producing fragments, clots of words, and lines dispersed Mallarme-like across pages which seem to share the text and texture of ancient, shredded, and semi-complete ancient papyrus leavings. Chace is not a blasé bard of the avant garde with hoaxes and hocus pocus preciousness; no, he’s “defining the line between confusion and near confusion.” His poems are policing the districts where we assume meaning, incorporate meaning, and embellish our notions of veracity, finding the thresholds where we might else be pushed back into uncertainty and confusion or else move forward and through as
after question / are always
That the sequence of questions is given the weight of a plural construction (“question after question …are”) reflects Chace’s assumption of poetry as being primarily an interrogatory apparatus, sifting through the “motes notes figments grasping clefts” that come to shape communication and the intellectual trajectories of our devising, “ each rudeness every grace.” Poetry is an inexact science and classification of poets is even more inexact, but I would wager that Joel Chace’s lifelong project, particularly exemplified in War, and After, is a highly successful and meaningful one, and that his reputation will stand as a courageous and enduring one. Amen.
Jon Curley's most recent book of poems is Hybrid Moments (2015). With Burt Kimmelman, he co-edited The Poetry and Poetics of Michael Heller: A Nomad Memory (2015). He teaches in Newark and lives in New York.