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Albert Mobilio, Touch Wood, Black Square Editions, $14 (paper)
As a writer, critic, and editor, Albert Mobilio has represented some of the best tendencies in experimental poetry over the past twenty years. Author of three previous books of poems, in his latest he pares down his chiseled writing style to bare essentials that at the same time function as gleaming ornaments. Primarily consisting of short, lyric poems whose dense surfaces are generated through accretion (“wheel’s teeth per inch; / wordage over blood pressure; / speed at which cylinders spin; / or nickels enough to fill / his fist”), the work in Touch Wood resembles a precisely sewn patchwork with edges both frayed and razor sharp. The poetic fragment arose in response to the twentieth century’s fundamental brokenness, and there is a sense of the bruised, of the suffering stapled to every happiness, pervading Mobilio’s poems: “My lovely intricacies dying / on a soiled vine; my bleak worm eating // away at life. Such vaporous declension / from the normative.” Thus, the book tips between contrasts: “the wrong way of thinking // is always next to the right one.” This isn’t the same as the struggle between beauty and art also waged in these pages. Like in a good film noir, a dangerous seduction duels with a clumsily frank masculinity: Mobilio knows the way a person wears ill-fitting and scratchy clothes—reluctantly, resignedly, and preferably not all day. Because deeper than any gender or even sex is the pulsing animal body beneath. The brain’s attempt to make sense of this unruly material world is a form of disfigurement called art, or as Mobilio perfectly terms it, “these bleary weirds.”
Alan Gilbert is the author of two books of poetry, Late in the Antenna Fields and The Treatment of Monuments, as well as a collection of essays, articles, and reviews entitled Another Future: Poetry and Art in a Postmodern Twilight.
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