Stranger in Town
Cedar Sigo
City Lights Publishers ($13.95)
by Bethany Prosseda

John Wieners, in “A Poem for Record Players,” states, “The scene changes”; it is more than just a matter of coincidence that this line should so aptly describe Cedar Sigo’s collection Stranger in Town. Sigo, whose work is in conversation with poets such as Wieners, Jack Spicer, and Eileen Myles, as well as an array of visual artists and musicians, succeeds in creating an intertextual collection that is as rich as the many sources of inspiration from which it draws.

In this collection, the scenes are ever changing and never fixed. Sigo’s prominent use of reference to location creates a feeling of perpetual movement through the text, and this movement bears strong associations to that of a road trip. In this sense, the reader and his movement through the text can be likened to watching a fixed point through a car window: a never-ending state of approach and departure from a series of objects.

Sigo achieves this state of fluid movement through his distinct use of enjambment and punctuation. The collection’s title poem prominently displays Sigo’s use of such devices:

                                                  More than one death

                                   from a square
                                                       bottled ink

                                        The MARVEL brand

               I enjoy reading signs

                                   through the fog—

                         —HOTEL HUNTINGTON—

Then that evening

     and all of

          Fox Plaza was the same white

                                        A permanent

                                        on my blue bike

                                        I raise my hood

                    I think there are other lost men

     in surrounding blocks

                                   alike in their thinking.

In this poem, Sigo rarely uses punctuation, though he capitalizes some words; the lack of punctuation combined with the use of capitalization allows one line to flow seamlessly into the next, creating a constant state of approach and departure in which we find ourselves looking outward to worldly things—approaching the Hotel Huntington while the Marvel sign is waning in our rearview mirror but is not yet out of sight.

On a larger scale, the collection as a whole functions in the same manner. We may approach and depart from one poem, but we encounter elements of that same poem again at a different point in the collection. One example of this phenomenon occurs in “The Emerald Tablet,” in which Sigo writes, “What I was seeing was half a hotel / so I wrote that down to see the picture better.” Here, we again approach the Hotel Huntington; the effect of this cyclical reference brings to mind driving scenes from old movies in which the background plays on a loop. At times, the cyclical nature of the text can become hypnotizing, perhaps suggesting a commentary on the planned uniformity that characterizes so much urban life.

In this sense Sigo’s Stranger in Town also reflects on queer identity. While the jacket copy states that this theme plays a prominent role in the collection, queer identity is barely visible within the poems themselves. This lack of visibility is in conversation with the uniformity of urbanity. While queer identity is, to a certain extent, visible in contemporary culture, it is not nearly as visible as heterosexual identity. In this manner, Sigo’s collection creates a cyclical, hypnotizing, and planned landscape that mimics the uniformity of our culture. Within this landscape, Sigo’s poems function in a manner similar to graffiti; the text, in its constant state of approach and departure, aims to disrupt its surrounding landscape and thereby dispose of the order upon which it stands.

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