Edge Books ($12)
by Karl Kraus
Haze, a collection of variations on poetics by Mark Wallace, takes its title from a semi-deconstructionist conceit of "how words go on where discourse breaks down, splits apart, no longer recognizes itself as discourse." To cover his bases, Wallace writes though various topics and forms to present an inquisitive view of organizational and individual elements of poetry and expression. Haze, Elegy, Genre, Marketing, Lyric, and Rimbaud are all treated to Wallace's tuned investigation in this terrifically mindful composition of poetry and essays.
Wallace's widespread speculations on the organizational dynamics (institutional, economic, even conversational) of the avant-garde cover an impressive range, extending from the poet laureate to the most basic concerns of the smallest publishers. Extensively questioning the motivations, limitations, and dangers of institutional art, Wallace does not sink teeth into these ideas so much as he pulls teeth from them, leaving as clear a view of the "meat" as possible. "Does the unestablished writer remain free of complicity? To what extent are you trying (or not) to sell your poetry? To whom and for what reasons?" To ignore these questions, Wallace contends, is a youthful effort to defy reality.
As subject to his questions and declarations as anyone's, Wallace's art, suitably, offers its own argument—or may be the argument itself. When Haze deploys a disagreeable or controversial statement on the dangers of poetry's organization, it returns with humor, respect for the past, and even wonder: "How can it be that, writing this in a reflective moment, I am still immersed in those experiences I am trying to write about? How can it be that having experienced what I have and knowing what I know of it, that I am still unprepared for experiences that may be readying themselves even at this instant?" Wallace's honest humility, whether in pieces such as the whimsically allegorical "Avant-Garde Deodorant" ("I'm proud to wear Avant Garde, and I hope you are too") or in the book's more sober discussions, leave liberty to shape a whole perspective, rather than simply weighing this perspective down.
The fruit of Wallace's confrontation with the problems of the avant-garde are poems that provide imagining room for his ideas. These are firm, extensive poems, often with sharp stylistic changes across clearly defined sections. Essays in tow, the poems are firmly linked to Wallace's arguments: "My Xmas Poem," for example, follows the essay "On Genre as a Conversion Experience," which links the institutional mechanisms of poetry to the religious practice of the rejection of non-believers. With such concrete anchors, the poems will not fly away.
While celebrating the reality of magic, that "undeniable mystery that the world exists," Wallace veers to arguing "not how to destroy superstition in the name of material reform but how to expose false magicians in hope of making magic live." Magic and argument arrive arm in arm in Haze, and Wallace's top hat stays firmly attached to his head during the performance.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Fall 2004 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2004