Presenting engagements (including reviews) of poetry books & projects. Occasionally there will be Featured Poets, as well as offerings from "The Critic Writes Poems" series. Deadline is ongoing: reviews will be posted as submitted and accepted. Please engage!
Is the author Angelo V.
Suárez sheepish? If so, I’m happy to “buy” his epigraphs that
intellectualize his version of the Harlequin Romance, his new book-length poem Conflict.Said epigraphs say
Debord: [I]t sometimes happens that the
transition to the media provides the cover for several different enterprises,
officially independent but in fact secretly linked by various ad hoc networks. With
the result that occasionally the social division of labor, along with the
foreseeable unity of its application, reappears in quite new forms: for
example, one can now publish a novel in order to arrange an assassination.
Lazzarato: [I]t is never an individual
who thinks, never an individual who creates. An individual who thinks and
creates does so within a network of institutions (schools, theaters, museums,
libraries, etc.), technologies (books, electronic networks, computers, etc.),
and sources of public and private financing; an individual immersed in
traditions of thought and aesthetic practices—engulfed in a circulation of
signs, ideas, and tasks—that force him or her to think and create.
Marxist theorist Guy Debord.
Philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato. Suárez need not have quoted them to make his
point about how he created Conflict.
But it helps bolster his, what, … reputation? creds? our (if not his) sanity? …
for what we will read when we get to his poem. Sure, to be fair, the epigraphs
are appropriate given how Suarez made Conflict.
Briefly, Suárez's day job is in marketing and Conflict is a poem that resulted from his presenting various drafts
of a serial novella to market cheese. He describes all this in a foreword
entitled “I did it for the money” since the project was a freelance gig.
There are other serious
matters raised by the project, as described in Suárez’s foreword, and if you
want to be serious go ahead and read it for yourself. I, for one, having just
read his poem before beginning this review, am instead compelled to go directly
to the poem. I call it his version of a Harlequin Romance because of such
indeed it’s love what these pancakes are ready for, plump and fluffy right out
of the pan, their surface like skin begging for contact. He touches one, his
fingers sliding across its warmth, smooth like thighs waiting to be parted. He
pokes, pushing his finger further in till he feels the fervid flesh of its
interior—hot. Soft. Damp. Then with a quick flick of the wrist he flips each of
them to a plate, lying flat on the porcelain, like a body preparing itself for
a lover’s ministrations. He defiles the pristine brown of its surface, smearing
it with whipped cream, and beside it readies the compote.
takes over, as well the imagined scent of a kitchen brimming with romance. He
recalls her emerging from the shower in a bathrobe, catching him make his
compote, bringing to a simmer some wine, some vanilla, some anise, some salt
and pepper—then sugar, pears, and water. A mixture as syrupy as the song on the
vinyl player then—“Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys—as sweet as how he had wanted
their day to start. Separately, he combined milk, melted butter, egg. In her
gaze, the ingredients crashed into each other like bodies under the blanket,
the bowl a bed of excitement.
Or (it’s hard to stop
readies his pastry sheets with more melted butter into a baking pan, and spoons
in the spinach filling. He spoons with much generosity, every spoonful
brimming; he spoons with much love, every spoonful flowing. In his mind he
spoons with Isabel on the kitchen counter in the afternoon swelter, as they had
been wont to do as well when they felt like being naughty but didn’t feel like
anything more than a clothed snuggle. He folds in the edges of pastry, tucks in
the edges of another sheet he folds and presses on top, sealing the romance
within. As he waits for it to bake, he hopes to pull out of the oven not just
food but a key to her acceptance of him. This pie was key: this was her key
pie, awaiting a mouth to savor it—nibble by moist nibble, chomp by sticky
(a sample Harlequin Romance book cover)
Here’s an excerpt that’s not
related to cuisine but which I’m compelled—compelled!—to include just for that
phrase about the 24 inches of maleness:
opening it, Cristiano finds the remains of an old relationship, now moved on to
an afterlife, after love: a pile of love letters, yellowed mildly by the years,
compiled by thin rope; a teddy bear the size of a toddler, patches of it now
going bald; a 24-inch toy replica of the human anatomy, male, with felt-tip
scribbling on the thigh, “hug this if you miss me,” barely legible; some
clothes, all his; a variety of books, from novels to gonzo journalism, some
comics, mostly cookbooks; even a small desk fan, of which he has fond memories,
once providing what little breeze it could muster, aimed at the heated
ministrations taking place in bed.
Are we having a good time
yet? More, you ask, nay, plead? I’m compassionate. Here:
the skillet of her mouth his tongue melts like so much butter.
As well, this which,
bluntly, will never again make me take lasagna for granted:
he pulls the lasagna out of the oven, a fog of excitement hijacks his senses.
The exuberance of hot cheese, delightfully burnt in patches, emits a fragrance
he can almost taste. His grasp firm around the handle of the knife, he carves
into his creation deep—its flesh parting succulent- ly as his pointed implement
penetrates, further and further, an endless penetration—till its opening lets
out a moist sigh, fragrant steam, juice of meat crashing with the juice of
melted cheese. Layers upon layers of cheese.
One should say that an
Oulipian constraint (as Suárez aptly notes) is the necessary incorporation of
the merits of cheese into the ad copy/serial marketing novella turned poem.
Thus, passages swim to the top of this overheated stew like
recalls his arm brushing against Isabel’s, and proceeds to brush the flesh side
of the fish with oil. He presses a cheese mixture onto the salmon—a combination
of Perfect Italiano Romano, thyme, paprika, and seasoning—the way he had wished
he could press his body against hers once again.
as well as this passage I
highlight because I’m quite charmed by the reference to those al dente arms:
Cristiano takes some, he notices the firmness of the noodles. Not bad, he tells
his friend. Al dente like his arms, like his conviction to get Isabel back into
his life. But his satisfaction breaks when he tastes it—Okay, he continues
telling Pocholo, it’s not bad, but it needs more cheese. Do you still have some
of that Parmesan I recommended to you? I knew you’d say that, Pocholo replies,
so I made sure to have it ready. He walks to the kitchen, then comes back
holding a bag of Perfect Italiano Parmesan.
Similarly, and elsewhere,
this sentence about the protagonist’s desire to get the girl Isabel:
conviction, like noodles, is once again as it should be—al dente.
which moves me to this
aside: great palates understand that the best noodles are al dente, a balancing act whose nuance might escape those boors preferring meat to be well-done (don’t tell Drumpf). Anyway, …
Anyway, actually: now that I
got those excerpts out of my now over-heated and starving system, I’ll revert
to some seriousness. Behind the laughter, the project does pose important
questions about labor, authorship, the degradation of language, reductive assessments for audience (something also applicable to the Harlequin Romance series), and how not to die from soul-pinching jobs,
among others. Here, Suárez shows where his loyalty lies (pun intended) when
faced with Money Vs. Poetry. (Laying himself open to risks related to repurposing
intellectual property hopefully will not end up burning him like hot cheese
against the palate). Conflict, here, is not only what happens as Cristiano attempts to win over Isabel. Conflict arises from a capitalist greed that goes well beyond the glutton's desire for the Perfect Italiano Parmesan. For the fortitude
of his convictions, Suárez deserves a party.
Specifically, there should
be a party where much cheese in its many forms is served and where the
partygoers take turns reading from Suárez’s poem.The latter will ensure there’ll be no
conflict about whether folks will have had a fun time. Until such time, go read
what this poet wrote for money.It’s serious,
and a serious hoot!Conflict is one reason Suárez is among my favorite contemporary
P.S. Wait, wait!One more excerpt:
morning is tender as the onions Cristiano cooks and pours the egg- and-cheese
Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea Resurrects. Her 2017 poetry releases include four books, two booklets and six poetry chaps. Most recently, she releasedMANHATTAN: An Archaeology (Paloma Press) and Love in a Time of Belligerence (Editions du Cygne/SWAN World).She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere for recent reviews of her work: T.C.. Marshall reviews MANHATTAN for The FilAm Magazine while Joey Madia reviews it for New Mystics Reviews.Her books have been released in nine countries and cyberspace. More info about her work at http://eileenrtabios.com