Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Maintain (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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“I am the dog named Jackie who died of something,” writes Paul Suntup, in a poem that nods to
Whitman, only with an electric organ humming, and Led Zeppelin cover art, avocado sandwiches, orange marmalade.
Of that dog, Jackie, who this narrative voice also, in his multitude, is: whatever it died of “you
don’t remember. All you do remember is the blood / in the yard.”
A reader could catch whiplash from Suntup’s imagery, its wild speed, the beasts and foods and temples and pipe bombs pitched, one after another, a menagerie in montage. “Words on bumper stickers became / wild dogs,” the poet writes at one point, which could be true of his own words, his own lines, yapping and snapping and hunting in motley and terrifying packs.
There is fantasy and frustration, poems about the process of producing poetry, poems about dreams of destroying the world, poems about both things, not that they need be separate things at all:
There are times when Paul can’t help but burst with love
for this world and other times he’d like to fill the rain clouds
with kerosene then burn a candle
and hold it up to the beautiful sky.
One real pleasure of this book is the switch from incantations—erasing the world, bone by bone—to
narratives, studded with such striking and unexpected gems, implying volumes, like the single line, in a poem
about a suicide, “There were no tears because of the new law about that, and you never knew when they might
He can do weather and he can do deserts, epistolary riffs, cosmic chronology, but he also gives us “Sunday is pudding day,” or “The seal in this poem has been clubbed.” He gives us goat hair and goat blood, oilive oil and olives, in drinks of used as punctuation. Death tastes like licorice in one line and is just death in another, sending forth a flock of birds. The poetic voice seamlessly stretches from a point about being too lazy to vacuum to an extended riff about a paleontological expedition into his ribs, or can go from saying, on one page, slightly tongue-in-cheek but with a real slumbering growl: “I want to be original so bad sometimes I can feel it in my chest like a grizzly bear just curled up in there for the winter. But everywhere I turn, everything I see if just something else reused over and over and over.” to putting down, in twenty words, a whole world of vacillation, longing, denial, distance, and blank mask: “I’ve not necessarily missed you, / it’s more the seeing you again and the memories, / that make it feel like missing.” Burlesque and grotesque, eros and earnestness, poignancy and pudding, all mixed together, or in the process, as it is read, of being blended.
This is a delicious and urgent book. After I read it, I read it again. Every page is quotable, but, spinning from it, I can only quote so much. Consider the line of movement here, from the physical to language, through haphazard but seemingly essential associations, back to the necessary moment, the room and the body and the undeniable, fiery emotion, framed, via absurd juxtaposition, by objectivity:
Watching you sleep, I consider how many times
in the last eight minutes the words Mandarin Duck have
been uttered across the globe. If I knew this, I’d multiply
it by the number of gondolas in Venice at noon on a
Sunday and then again by the different positions into which
you can bend a wooden artist’s mannequin;
and as I travel from the sparseness of this bedroom
over fields and rivers to the curved plateau of your
lower back, I cannot help but stumble through the
math to this formula for how I love you.