A Poem, and a Prose Poem Novel
By DeWitt Henry, Prose Editor
Here is a timely, post-Ukraine/post-apocalyptic poem from Marc Vincenz’s 21st collection, There Might be a Moon or a Dog (Gazebo Books/Life Before Man, 2022):
Above the Rubble
……………….Let me introduce you.
Let me implore you
……………….To look upon your weakness—
……………….Does anyone laugh at us anymore?
Everyone scarcely remembers the source:
……………….Some kind of radio signal high above
……………….The sonics of the human ear, a funnel,
……………….if you will,
A hear-it-to-believe-it. Yes, all the peace
Was lost and the melancholy of living
……………….Who judges now?
A prolific poet, translator, novelist and the publisher of Mad Hat Press (now in its twelfth year) and founder of Lit Balm: An Interactive Livestream Reading Series (an online reading series now at over 100 shows), Marc Vincenz’s works demonstrate energy, ambition, wit, tenderness, mysticism, and formal range.
A cosmopolitan, he was born in Hong Kong into a manufacturing and export business family, travelled the world, lived in Switzerland and Iceland, and recently settled in Western Massachusetts. Though supportive of a wide spectrum of contemporary American poets—many of whom are connected with the so-called MFA/AWP “poetry mafia”—he himself doesn’t teach and his affinities remain global.
His variety is impressive. For instance, The Syndicate of Water & Light (2018) was a philosophical and lyrical epic reminiscent both of Eliot’s “Four Quartets” and Kubrick’s sci-fi film, 2001. More recent collections draw inspiration from the traditions of prose poetry and the surreal, going back to Baudelaire and the French post-Romantics.
His work is always musically enticing, rich in allusion, visionary, and often cryptic, and suggests the atonalities of Schoenberg and Weber, “where a hierarchy of harmonies focusing on a single, central thread is not used, and the notes of the chromatic scale function independently of one another” (Wikipedia). Still, he is haunted by personal as well as global history (including the ecological) and celebrates the kinship of creatures great, small, and non-human, along with love, partnership, and the chain of being. In many poems, there is an engaging, if ironic, speaker, a fellow-traveler and companion East of Eden, who instructs and asks questions, teases affectionately, and points out mistakes and dangers as well as wonders—almost a tour guide to a fallen world.
Last spring he sent me a digital galley of a “prose poem novel” (can there be such a thing?)—which by the time I had absorbed it and written a review, he had decided not to publish after all, but rather to expand it into a three-part novel-in-progress, Age of Occasions.
However, let me end this feature with my “Preview”:
Vincenz’s latest project is a lyrical short novel, The City of Lemons, which serves as a legend, a dream skeptical of dreaming, and a dystopian utopia.
The unnamed poet-narrator and their wife go on a state-sponsored holiday in the physical prime of their lives—age thirty-four—while knowingly sentenced to termination at age thirty-six. Though they refer frequently to the Good Mother (“a girl general”) as the ultimate creator of this system and to her Great Ultimatum (delivered only to their generation), the Ultimatum is enforced and followed without being fully spelled out, much like the laws in Kafka’s The Trial. [That said, in a recent interview, Vincenz has described the Ultimatum as a political solution for overpopulation (perhaps suggestive both of Mao’s single-child per couple edict in Communist China and Hitler’s extermination camps)].
Vincenz’s themes are tyranny, brainwashing, materialism, and the natural resistances of sensory delight, individuality, love, family, wit and imagination. Since Vincenz’s poet-narrator relates their journey in the past tense, we know that at least they survived, presumably with lessons worth learning.
The story is divided into five sections and thirteen “prose poem” chapters varying in length from single paragraphs to several pages to a single sentence.
At first the couple is carried on the back of a giant to the City of Lemons (“lemons, lemons everywhere, as far the nose can see”…. the place of our fearless leader’s birth…here on the outskirts of the earth, on that island of perfect tranquility”); and while within the Lemon dome, for a diversion they visit a lesser dome dedicated to apricots:
It was smaller than our hotel, but in the stark sunlight it shone like oyster shell—a hue two degrees more beautiful. And there, out there, in between the cacti and the wiry brush, a bluebird danced, singing merrily from spine to spine. She sang, rose and hovered, wavered, darted here and there, and when she landed, she sang again. All this for an apricot, I thought. My sweet tooth must have gotten the better of me.
They meet the Director of Growth, who offers them brandy and tells them in a masterful Vincenz riff:
“Can you imagine how we created our apricot paradise here in the armpit of the earth?” and handed us a flute of apricot brandy. Even existence was unsure of this: the flavors were weightless, at least winged; it was as if my tongue were not my own, but another unearthly tongue of unknown origin; a generation of tongue doctors would never know; it was a savor that would remain with you for life; truly original in all things. Apricot, was, in certainty, one of the main spices for the most radiant creatures. A bumblebee the size of a vigorous small bird passed by, a goat cleaned the earth free of weeds; I knew tomorrow a bird would devour the bumblebee, but she too would be caught in the devices of the hairy tree crab who would rise to the very tip of the tallest tree, devour her meal and deposit a layer of guano that would raise the tree further toward the light; which, then, consumed the light; and at night, when she-the-tree exhaled for an instant, the world’s pupils opened and the tentacle of a dream wormed in.”
Having discovered apricots to be more enticing than lemons, they next enter a nearby City of Lambs for flesh eaters. Although the poet has been a vegetarian since childhood, they indulge, apparently with the Good Mother’s blessing, and when they return to the City of Lemons, the poet is met by a uniformed, high official, Curliecue, who soon becomes their guide, and who, with portentous illogic, insists they visit “the meat processing facility,” and offers to add an extra year to their life-term as an incentive. They accept, etc., etc.
This is all managed by Vincenz with lyricism and absurdist brilliance. The delight is in the details and a self-mocking pretense to meaning that nonetheless proves urgent and sincere. “The Book of Good Mother tells of how stories mingle over time,” comments the narrator, “how words always wield power, how every struggle is one within oneself.”
As we are told that they are tempted by a “woman in red,” then divorce their wife, then remarries her and has a baby daughter, we suspect that the wife is greater than a sum of these identities: “you,” “Sibling,” “woman in red” (“You, the real you, the true you, you, I mean the real you. The you I have known all my life, all my eternity on earth; the you I knew too, the you inside the you, that ever-faithful-citrus-you, that finely sliced you”). Not only will they have a daughter, but at the wife’s insistence they also later adopt a foundling girl. From this point on, nuclear family is at stake.
In the meantime, they have their taste of lamb, then tour “the blood-letting chambers—the abattoir of the old world.” I won’t spoil the rest, which includes the destruction of these domed/doomed worlds, cryogenics for the poet-narrator and his family and 796 others (thanks to Curlicue), and their reawakening into a seemingly better future, where they serve as elder councilors to a Chairman, and the poet-narrator’s remaining concern is for the truths and beauties of an art that survives and connects generations: a shard of pottery, legends (however preposterous), language, and poetry itself. Attention must be paid.
Recommended reading for Vincenz’s background, philosophy, aesthetic credo, and inspirations: https://www.ragazine.cc/marc-vincenzinterview/
His most recent poetry collections include:
39 Wonders and Other Management Issues, Spuyten Duyvil Publishing, 2022
There Might Be A Moon or a Dog, Life Before Man/Gazebo Books, 2022
A Brief Conversation With Consciousness, Unlikely Books, 2021
The Little Book of Earthly Delights, Spuyten Duyvil Publishing, 2021
The Syndicate of Water & Light, Station Hill Press, 2018
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