Saturday, October 5, 2013

Lacking Lips of Time: A Book Review

I read this book back in August and I have waited several weeks to review it. That should give you some taste of the problems with this work, since it would require me to revisit its horrors. Who knew 86 pages could make one doubt the entire enterprise of verse so mercilessly? I have managed to resist the philistine machinations of the invisible hand so far but Shaghayegh Farsijani makes me really doubt the purpose and presentation of poetry in a world gone prose.

But for your sake, dear readers, I have finally worked up enough courage and boredom to share a warning about this work with the rest of the world. But first, I think it is important to summarize all the things I did instead of writing this review. First, I worked for a company processing insurance claims on behalf of colleges and universities. Then I wrote a novel. It’s only 68,000 words long, but that is decent. The Great Gatsby only clocks in at 48,000 words. After that I got drunk a few times, mailed biohazardous materials through the mail, read want-ads, chained myself to the endless ride of the Red Line, got a haircut, clipped my nails, harassed Tea Party congressmen on Facebook, applied to a job at Simon and Schuster, froze on top of a pizzeria in Adams Morgan, and looked at paintings with proto-hipstersin them and others ripping off Michelangelo in the National Gallery of Art. All of these were infinitely better than reading and trying to review Lacking Lips of Time.

I do not believe in Cartesian dualism and all subsequent theories of the soul, but if there is any argument for a mind-body distinction, this book is evidence for it. Something inside me was crushed while trying to read the lines poetess Shaghayegh Farsijani assembled. It obviously was not my body which was harmed, since my skin seems pretty good. Irish Spring fresh and clean and all that. Maybe I incurred irreparable damage to my liver and brain cells while trying to assimilate these words. It is entirely possible. In which case I deserve more free drinks from all poets everywhere. I read this collection while riding the subterranean rails of DC and after every enjambment, I felt like hurling the thin volume across the train. Thankfully I had the restraint to keep from injuring poor taxpaying commuters who would be furloughed soon enough. If the work was any longer though, I would not have had the temptation at flinging it. The book would have been too heavy to toss.  A real tome. It would have just been an anchor around my neck and sunk me to the bottom of the burnt orange carpets of the Great Society-inspired train.

I would advise the purchase of this novel for educational purposes only, which of course is no endorsement at all. A person should just read better books and assimilate lessons about writing that way. But I am trying to be kind here and come up with some redeemable feature so we can go on with the illusion that all will be saved in this universe. That Pelagian dream: all will be repackaged and no feelings will be hurt. So sayeth me. I guess I just feel bad for the trees involved in making this book. I wonder if any chipmunks or other woodlandcreatures lost their abodes over these poems. Their blood in on Shaghayegh Farsijani’s hands. I say that in all seriousness because these poems are a blight that only needs curious hands to open the pages and reproduce.  

I should have realized I was in trouble right from the start. You cannot judge a poetry book by its cover, but an obscurantist dedication is a warning sign of future horrors. When the author writes “Dedicated to the natural jewels of love in my life: H2O and the Emperor, AKA my Mother and Father,” you can be sure you are dealing with someone who has no regard for the reader, and who thinks their parents are too dull for simple names. There must be a whole mythology built out of them, least the poet be seen as dull by extension through some kind of genetic fallacy. Decent poets do not do this. I should say, confident poets do not do this. They do not mention their parents at all and if they do, they state it in direct terms. Mother. Father. Mom. Dad. Perhaps they go into ethnic territory, Madre. Padre. Valide. But that is it.

I could have realized I was in trouble when I read the biography on the last page as well. Shaghayegh Farsijani is a Persian American, which is no trouble in and of itself. But then the bio states she decided to embark on a journey to “write with a deeper focus.” Anyone who declares they have to do anything for the sake of focus, especially poetry writing, only admits they need to focus some more. And what does this poet need to focus on? It is hard to say, I suppose everything except symbolism. That could use less focus in this work. There is nothing but symbolism. There are symbols within symbols and when you open them up to find another meaning or some kind of reference to the outside world, guess what? There is another symbol sending you back to your search on wobbling ground.

Poetry can be divided into the good, the bad, and the ugly. One thing that can be said in the favor of ugly poetry is its honesty. You look at it on the page and itjust falls apart. It is nasty. It is not composed. It is even beyond simple defenses like “raw,” “primal,” and “experimental.” Ugly poetry has no direction, no music, no understanding of how to handle the page. The lines have just gotten out of bed and beg for forgiveness. But ugly poems rarely band together and form books. That is another one of their redeemable qualities. An editor is not lead astray and given the illusion of a possibly decent work. They see a wreck for what it is right up front. Bad poetry like this Lacking Lips of Time is different. Bad poetry makes you hope for some pay off at the end. It leads you to believe some kind of subversion is in store. Irony will come raining down and the previous problems will be washed away through a clever twist and radical subversion. In the end though, there is no twist. There is no salvation. There is no subversion.

Bad poetry turns you, the experienced reader of poetry, into the average person encountering modern poetry for the first time. You begin asking yourself all kinds of tenth-grade falling asleep in the back of English class questions. What is this? A poem? Why does this stuff not rhyme? What is going on here? Why is this line written that way? Why is this so strange? What does this mean? Bad poetry’s chief sin is pretension and the chief sin of pretension is it makes the audience see the strings holding up the actor pretending to be an angel. Bad contemporary poetry like Lacking Lips of Time, tries to imitate Rilke and Ginsberg to poor affect. Everything is murky. The poems make vague comparisons and its images fail to advance anything. There is no depth and not enough framing before descriptions get surreal.

Here is some evidence of the crimes which Shaghayegh Farsijani’s work embiggens:

She speaks of a “Mango time” which has a “spell” that can be “unlocked.” I am not sure what this tie might be. Letting my powers of free association roam, I know that Seinfeld showed us how Mangos can cause erections and that there is a house on a Mango Street. I suppose erections are a kind of spell and that houses on Mango Street can indeed, be unlocked.  Farsijani mentions “The geranium ocean of your hips,” which I have nothing for. Or “Here your cardamom sonnets have no shouts.” I have mixed cardamom with tea, which is good. That is all I can grasp here. Why the sonnets should or should not have shouts because of the cardamom is not clear. This onslaught of reason continues onward and produces monsters which bring forth such phrases as “The Bohemian moon passes through your cellar of pregnant sadness.” WTF was invented for these kinds of turn of phrase, first to express shock and then to condense it without wasting more time.

At other moments, the book gives the reader, that is me, lines like “The justice of pocket love” which has a very different meaning for me than I think she, the author, intends. In addition there are neologisms which are completely unnecessary. “De-clothes,” is an instance of this. We already have undress and disrobe, which were probably radical words when lazy monks churned them out in medieval monasteries. At this point they suffice without any need for further fruitless experimentation. This of course, only applies to Farsijani’s work when she is experimenting. When Farsijani is clear, she is dull. Overall the work is monotone in mood with no variation in perspective or energy. The line breaks and line breaks show very little difference. I am willing to entertain the idea this might be the fault of a printer who has taken liberties to double space everything.  

Besides the images in the poems which are confused and tired like a typical Tea Party voter, there are actual images in the book to contend with. These just might be the worst thing about this collection. They come in three colors: black and white and blurry. They just sit there across from the poorly crafted lines without adding anything. The poor things. They were born from an earnest pen, and then copied for the public to see despite being obvious and clich├ęd. Eyes, roses, and bottles of wine predominate. Each illustration raises an important question. Who really needs pictures in a poetry book? These images belong in a high school art show, especially after a lesson on Magritte.  

How the hell did this get an ISBN?

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