I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO GET THROUGH TO EVERYONE by ANNA MOSCHOVAKISCRAIG SANTOS PEREZ Reviews
I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone by Anna Moschovakis
(Turtle Point Press, N.Y., 2006)
Better, isn’t it?
Now that we’re on heightened
I’d like to review [...] (25)
Anna Moschovakis’s first book, I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone, relentlessly keeps the reader on heightened alert, foregrounding the continuous present of reading and the presence of the reading moment.
Moschovakis skillfully manages a breadth of style and a depth of thought to create a thoroughly engaging first book. The collection is divided into seven titled sections; each section explores different formal strategies and contentual themes (combining the sensibilities of OBERIU, the NY School, and the post-avant).
On the acknowledgments page, we learn that some of the poems were published in the anthology 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11th. Since I first began writing this review on 9/11, the title acquired the mournful tone of phone messages from 9/11 victims, their families, and those inside the city without phone service.
The title also suggests O’Hara’s “Personism,” a desire to establish an intimate, manic connection with the reader (the desire to “get through to everyone”). In turn, this creates a particular ethic: the poet has a message and (to push the analogy to its conclusion) the book becomes the carrier.
At the same time, the title cuts through its ethical and elegiac tone with an ironic humor: the absurdly utopian idea that contemporary poetry can get through to everyone:
Thinking I might like to write*
An optimistic poem
I loaded a font called
It crashed my computer [...] (68)
The collection opens with an untitled, preface poem that immediately establishes Moschovakis’s voice:
I can’t remember what it is I’m supposed to be doing.
I can’t think of anything but lists I’ve made, lists I’ve broken
the spirit of. It’s always a fine time for breaking
things, like plastic forks and poetic trends [...] (1)
The voice -- intimate and playful -- pulls me into its world where plastic forks and poetic trends have equal fragility, a world both absurd and memorable:
[...] I don’t remember my grammar
rules. I don’t think English is very good
for a certain kind of inventioning. I gather
some readers don’t like being
confronted with the language in every word.
I want to be a word. I would be abstract
with an inscrutable ending. (1)
Throughout the poems that follow, Moschovakis breaks the rules, forces English into new kinds of “inventioning,” confronts the reader with the language of and in every word, and inscrutably embodies the poems with an alluring abstraction.
The first section, “Thought Experiments,” consists of poems with obliquely footnoted titles, followed by three mostly paratactically arranged paragraphs. Yes, the poems are as interesting as they sound:
Thought Experiment: The Ring of Gyges*
Someone is probably reading over somebody’s shoulder. The train is probably running late; the content leaves something to be desired, but nobody knows what it is. Instead, they all know each blade of grass, how a criminal’s made, what constitutes grief and how it’s removed. In addition, they (kind of) know Kung Fu, Swahili, and the waltz.
One of them -- probably the shoulder -- knows that the Greeks gave women nine-tenths of sex (isn’t that who was meant by the unmoved mover, producing motion through being loved?) The other one thinks he’s invisible.
Somehow, these accidents rattle the car. Bodies bruise bodies, shoes pierce shoes. Up on the roof, two rows of handles rock noiselessly back and forth. Nobody uses them; nobody reaches up there. (7)
* In which one who previously swallowed invisible desserts happens upon a weapon with which to conquer the tyranny of consequences.
This work is difficult to paraphrase, forcing me to stop reading in any conservative sense and to pay attention to the way Moschovakis experiments with my ideas of reading. The content, abandoning narrative, leaves an absence and a desire to constitute that absence. This does not mean that these poems “leave something to be desired.” On the contrary, these poems “conquer the tyranny” of desire and allow the production of further narrative movements.
To describe the joy of the second section, “The Match,” I need only quote one sentence: “Filip told me that my desire to pair George Herbert with Jack Spicer was based on an unconscious link between herbs and spices” (14).
“Preparations,” the third section, uses narrative itself as a narrative vehicle. Moschovakis’s storytelling resists the traditional and allows for absurdist shifts to emerge and erupt:
Because the man felt narrative that day
and walked around town breaking language with itself
and because the woman felt
manly that day and walked around breaking herself
with language [..] (21)
In these poems, the reader lets go of expectation to follow other suggested avenues of discovery:
If you can’t find a concrete block, find a door.
If you can’t find a door, find a heavy table.
If you can’t find a heavy table, find a piece of glass. (30)
It is easy enough to surrender to these shifts because they are seamlessly woven into the narrative. The reader never finds what is usually sought after because something new is found around each turn:
One says listen and the other says*
I’ve given up the ghost.
There are no constructions in the river.
There are no drawers in the tent.
At this point the river assumed the narrative
Because it was not a real river
Let go (30)
My favorite section is titled “The Blue Book” (perhaps a reference to Daniil Kharms’s The Blue Notebook, published by Ugly Duckling Presse). The speaker meditates on experience, language, narrative, meaning, naming, history, sex, love, etc. The poems are constructed of one stanza, about 27 lines each, each line ending in a period. Besides the thoughtful playfulness of this section, I’m also impressed that they maintain a propulsive rhythm even though each line is end-stopped:
Name is a word that can be both active and descriptive.
Like many people, I like hearing my name spoken during sex.
A feeling of intimacy after sex can often be mutual and sincere.
This can be true even in a setting of filtered sunlight.
Intimacy is only possible because people are seen as different.
My name comes from my father’s side of the family.
I sometimes wish I had a different name, or no name at all.
I sometimes imagine what sex would be like in a world without names. (35-6)
The movement of thought and syntax allows the reader to get lost in the “streams-of-consciousness.” Furthermore, the speaker is never pedantic, never boring, never shrewd:
The title of the book is Letting go of the Past.
The past is often said to be seen through a window.
Use of this metaphor is common in books and conversation.
A metaphor, when common, can ten toward cliché.
With overuse, it loses its character of irony.
In some languages the past tense is known as the imperfect.
The present perfect and future perfect also exist in these languages.
I wonder if this is a commentary on progress.
The irony is that with perfection, progress ends.
The book’s subtitle is and learning to live in the present.
I wonder if the woman has learned from the book.
I believe there is a past perfect tense I’ve forgotten.
Its existence would discredit my theory.
The woman looks up to examine me between passages.
When the lights flicker off the window disappears. (45-6)
I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone progresses through various forms and contents, tones and textures. This book teaches the reader to “live in the present” by continually re-imagining the construction of narrative memory. The reader never knows if the next word, line, image, metaphor, statement, or sentence will build upon the one that came before, or will completely redefine the moment. Although I haven’t been able to capture every joy of this collection (the last 3 sections are equally engaging), I hope I’ve been able to get through to everyone that this book makes the present moment of poetry a little more perfect.
A native of the Pacific island of Gua’han (Guam), Craig Perez immigrated to California in 1995. He recently completed his MFA at the University of San Francisco. He is an assistant fiction editor for Pleiades literary journal, and a poetry editor for the online journal, Switchback. His work has appeared in Watchword, the Redlands Review, Quercus, Galatea Resurrects, Facetime, and String of Small Machines. Visit his blog at www.blindelephant.blogspot.com.