2 BOOKS by PAOLO JAVIERJOYELLE MCSWEENEY Reviews
*the time at the end of this writing* by Paolo Javier
*60 lv bo(e)mbs* by Paolo Javier
(O Books, 2005)
[First published in Rain Taxi Review of Books, Vol. 11, Spring 2006. Ed. Eric Lorberer]
How many Paolo Javiers populate these two volumes by Paolo Javier? In the first volume alone, he appears as the young man that he is, as an aging and even posthumous poet, as the second Secret Asian Man, as the skeptic, the sentimentalist, the hubristic, the humbled, and more. However he appears, he seems always to be made of language, both a typographical and syntactical illusion of the page and a multilingual voice hurtling out of it. Take this early passage in *The Time at the End of This Writing*:
It's 825 pm &
the name as it appears on my death certificate
Paolo Rafael Santos Javier.
That's *PJ* to you if you're K.O.,
Pao to my kamag-anak in Toronto,
*Lu Pao* if you're Papa,
*Paowie* if you're Tita Eva, &
always *Kuya*, of course
to Eric & Patricia.
Rene—pare, if you can hear me, talaga
*pogi* pricks my ears up.
But if it's you, Cacay, hollering, then
by all means, please holla
*pangit, MB,* or, even better, *OBB—*
yours alone & short for the
*Original Brown Boy.*
Part of the irony of this final appellation is that the poems in this first volume are always acknowledging fore-fathers and -mothers, older brothers and sisters, from Filipino/a poets and artists like Manuel Ocampo, Nick Carbo, and Eileen Tabios, to canonical masters like Rilke, Neruda, and Vallejo.
The title of *The Time at the End of this Writing* is like a rhetorical burning fuse, signaling the poems' urgency to get written and get read. In service of this urgency, Javier fills up rhetorical and lyric form with lashings of popping, aurally kinetic language. This makes for a various collection, by turns sentimental and syntactically experimental, gestural and thinky. So flexible are Javier's stylings that sometimes all these modes appear in sequence, as in the poem "Crumpets for breakfast," in which the imagistic:
Out of a rose
forests of pear trees
fortress of bats
gives way to the snappy and playful:
Tear bra strap for
pat art or
only to conclude with the direct and sentimental:
On top of its gestural variety within a single poem, this volume is by turns ekphrastic, decadent, diaristic, and descriptive. It also embarks on significant experimentation with typography and the page-as-field, including one poem which breaks down and explodes a one-page lyric by Tabios into a 30-page tour de force. In this poem and throughout the volume itself, a thread of emotional directness establishes unity in the midst of entropy. Yet this would-be ingenuousness could as easily be a product of lyric convention, or even quotation, as of the naked soul of the poet Paolo Javier.
It seems worthwhile to pause and ponder this point upon completing *The Time at the End of this Writing*, because *60 lv bo(e)mbs* leaves its reader no room to take a breath. In his second book, all of Javier's literary and intellectual power sources, private and public languages, political stances and pop references are fused into one relentless, brilliant material which stretches unabated for 84 pages:
Crescendo Subic Destitute Alma
Il Duce in the highest hassle warp speed sever my Alma
Hosannas sickest the tone of gearing up against the Taliban into Alma
Abeyance bilang zoom bus inebriated emailing my Alma
Abeyance bilang access own zombies emailing Alma
In five lines, we get at least two millennia of politics, religion, history, militarism, technology, global exchange and catastrophe as well as Tagalog, English, Hebrew, and Italian, with none of the clarifying syntaxes or structures that separated languages and fields of reference in *The Time.* Instead, this collision of dictions and references creates a flexing, smoking field, at once political, plaintive, angry, funny, pointed and obscure. Unity here is provided by a recycling of lines and phrases, a consistent density and speed, and a tic of populating the poems with many, many Paolos, plus personages such as DJ Cam1, Kai, Bruna, Alma, Trysteaser, and Villa, who serve as avatars, foils, and lovers:
persevere counter ardor mystic parables
today Paolo occupies you, today Paolo occupies you
The gallows humor of placing the 'Paolo' figure in the position of occupier, and then locating this conceit in an amorous couplet, is typical of the prestidigitations of this book. At other moments, the book seems content with the contorted verbal mouthfuls it concocts: "Yummy value all of it I do."
Ultimately, it is the interrogative habit that makes a text of these various textures, pulling in all the referents and paradigms to a single but fractalling, not-quite-paraphrasable question:
come lost Pinoys why come lost domiciles
come Angel Island ears alter why taciturn
why enter trysts prone to, come Villa
Corregidor come Villa as Cam1
thee plebian echoes why voices nostalgic
your desperate why a vices immigrant
perjure Kai dormant unto Alma
In this passage, Javier can barely summon his avatars before he interrogates their, and thus his own, actions, moods, and motives. This is a productive tension for a text which questions imperialism but is made of its languages and products, which mimics imperialism's scope but not its homogenizing energies. On the sonic level, one can also hear the first-person pronoun in all these interrogatives. Javier's first book ended with the phrase "Me too"; it is fitting that his signature appears chimerically all through his second, that it says "I" in the same breath that it says "why." Why should "I" be located in this battlefield of language? Why come? Why speak? As the glyph-like title of *60 lv bo(e)mbs* suggests, this text writes the hell out of this question, writes it inside out.
Joyelle McSweeney is the co-founder of Action Books and Action, Yes, a press and web-quarterly for international writing and hybrid forms. She teaches at the University of Notre Dame and writes reviews for Rain Taxi, The Boston Review, The Constant Critic, and Zoland Poetry.