by: Chuck Carlise
Bateau Press | 2011
Chuck Carlise writes of moments. Each line of his second chapbook, winner of Bateau Press’ 2011 BOOM Chapbook Contest, is filled with such acute observation and detail that the images on the page, that emerge from the page, take precedence over the emotions of the instances, which are part of the image, if not the entirety. In the chapbook’s first poem, “Proximity to What Comes Next”, “imagined futures” quickly transform into “the inescapable” and one Friday becomes the next, “a dozen years later” (3). The narrator is remembering a conversation on a greyhound bus. Though he doesn’t remember the girl’s name, he remembers where she was going, or where she claimed to be going, or where she thought she was going, or meant to be. She says it is so strange “‘that you can meet someone...& then that’s just it’” (4). He wonders who those people were at the station, waiting for their futures to meet them at the curb. He is first an adolescent and then an adult, and there are “images everywhere” (4). They live in the memory, and the interpretation, and the interpretations become the poems.
A cast of characters is introduced. Less important are the characters themselves than that they are given names. Instead of she, she is Sarah, or Katie, or Lisa. Instead, he is Ivan. The names exist so that correlations may be made, immediate identification. Aside from Carlise’s language, using these names, whether or not they are those of the people who exist in the “reality” of the poems, allude that the narrator(s) of the poems are intimate with these women, and that man, even briefly, even ever physically, and the intimacy breathes into the language and in turn, the reader. Aside from names, few other details are provided, not explicitly. The reader is left to search and fill in the blanks.
Carlise writes in “Katie Calls On An Evening I am Not Expecting” that “Every instant this wish becomes more concept than thing” (6). The wish of the narrator is for “a need he has come to know as light” (6), though more important is the wish of the reader, and what created their need, and what could replace or destroy that need? Throughout the chapbook, Carlise’s poems are attempting to make sense of the difference between abstract and concrete, to answer that question, alternating between more complex, imagery-laden language, and lines that read like confessions, such as “I want to be honest with you but I can’t remember / why” (20). The reader is as frequently given vague descriptions as they are tangible moments, so vivid they can be heard, and the effect is that the reader swallows the poems and carries them for days, or longer, allowing them to sit, and stir, and settle.
In thirty-five pages, Carlise accomplishes, or inspires the reader to accomplish, more than many writers do in entire collections by experimenting with form in poems such as “Street Ghazal” and “Where We Are, Where We Are Not” without compromising impact, among other qualities. Recurring throughout the poems are the images of light, fluorescence, and the flickering of each—and darkness, and even the flickering of that. The reader becomes the casual insomniac, one of those “who dare to sit alone at our kitchen tables & breathe” (10), but it is a mindset or way of being that exists in a person times other than “nearly midnight” (10). Carlise challenges the reader to articulate and decipher the line between concept and solidity.
In these twenty poems, Carlise manages to encompass innocence, and then the loss of innocence, and then the loss of each relationship, and the self attached to them, including those that are internal. In “The Certainty of Repetition”, he writes of 11th grade and CPR and a “limbless rubber torso” and also Lisa, “a photograph of motion/suspended” (13). Each of the memory documented in these poems is a photograph, but the memories continue to shift, whereas the pictures do not, and the narrators remain fixated on those photographs as time passes, refusing to accept the truth of the moments and instead see the perception.
For each casual insomniac, and for each person, as Carlise writes in “The Edge of Sleep”, there are moments in which all seems to slide into place, and fit in harmony, but then the next morning comes, and the shift reverses, or moves further down the line, and the process is continued the following night, though the progress is maintained. The narrators of Carlise’s poems are both nostalgic and anticipatory, hopeful, and healing. The final poem of the chapbook is titled “What Follows”, and the final line is better. Casual Insomniac is brimming and beautiful; Chuck Carlise is bursting with talent.
Review by Robby Auld