by José Angel Araguz
…Some crazy guy told me. His mother was beautiful. And perhaps I should have listened. To him. Perhaps. I was his mother. Just then. In a way.
As I read through MRB Chelko’s chapbook Songs & Yes, I kept thinking in terms of weather: the weather of details, the weather of personal perceptions. The poems here keep the reader in close contact with the materials of the poet’s world. As can be seen in the short excerpt above, the poetic experience is guided by distinct choices in phrasing. By varying the length and duration of sentences, the poet is able to place emotional emphasis on each movement of the poem. In doing so, the poems enact a logic and aesthetic similar to modern dance.
When asked what inspired this chapbook, Chelko writes:
“…in an effort to purge myself of ingrained habits/constructions/aesthetics/themes, I decided to write one new sequence per month for a year, shifting the formal constraints each month to force myself into new aesthetic and thematic territory. I’d never written prose poems before, so that’s where I started: prose poems of approximately 100 words, comprised of sentence fragments, with the refrains rest and silence.”
This impetus towards using formal constraints to work into a “new aesthetic and thematic territory” pays off in this project in pieces like the one below, where narrative detail is lyrically conveyed by voice and image:
With the dark jars of her eyes the pharmacist disapproves. Silence. No doctor signed this. But look at me. I am dragging the trash bags of my feet up the stairs. The jars empty. Pharmacist. Look up. I am hanging a shirt. Light blue and wrinkled. Single dangling ballerina of thread. I am pouring. Black. The coffee’s heart out. Time. Prescription. Rest. Which arrived earlier. Like a decent book in the mail. Silence and a pack of smokes. And the pink depths of the book’s cover. And the purples. Rest. I got tired. Rest. Unwrapped a secret. Wrapped it again.
I like how the repetition of silence and rest hold the poem’s mood together while coloring what comes before and after. The pharmacist’s disapproval is made more emphatic; later, several levels of fatigue are implied. Here also, Chelko’s formal vision plays out in aesthetically and emotionally stunning ways. The juxtaposition, for example, of: “ …I am hanging a shirt. Light blue and wrinkled. Single dangling ballerina of thread. I am pouring. Black. The coffee’s heart out.” streams together perception and sentiment, using the sentence form in a way that gathers lyric momentum.
About this particular piece, Chelko shared:
“Around the time I was writing these I had a series of abscessed root canals, which resulted in quite a bit of pain and ultimately the removal of four of my upper molars. So, I was walking around the city with these deep, aching holes in my face that only I knew were there. It felt like I was holding a secret in my mouth. The loss of my teeth—they’re still missing—was a tender experience and deeply personal. I smiled tightly, or not at all, for years. On one rainy, metal grey December afternoon, I received a package containing Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s New and Selected Poems,Reliquary Fever. An almost glowing pinkish red, the book’s cover depicts fingers reaching, tentative, for a soap bubble. There’s a specter of violence even in the gentleness of the image. The bubble, if touched, would of course disappear. I love that book. It was a kind of medicine.”
This recognition of “a kind of medicine” in the day-to-day details makes up much of the engine driving this chapbook.
Buy it from sunnyoutside: $12.
Make sure to check out MRB Chelko’s poem “Snow Be” in issue 12.2!
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