DANA WILDE Reviews
Vanishing Act: Poems by Bruce Holsapple
(La Alameda Press, Albuquerque, N.M., 2010)
[Previously published in House Organ, No. 78 Spring 2012, Ed. Kenneth Warren. A slightly shorter version also appeared first in the Bangor (Maine) Daily News on May 11, 2011.]
A Poetry of Life as It's Actually Experienced
To call Bruce Holsapple’s latest book Vanishing Act “introspective” would be sort of like calling the sky “high.” This is less a collection of poems than the adaptation of what used to be called “stream of consciousness” into contemporary verse. It is a minutely detailed autobiography of the everyday.
By that I do not mean occasional poems about saltwater bays or daydreams on photos of long-lost ancestors, but instead poems that move with almost fictional profluence head-on through the ways the mind receives and shapes the world from one moment to the next. Every twist and turn of experience, for better, worse and neither of the above, is examined here for what it is: life, thought and emotion as actually experienced.
This means everything from the disgruntlements of car repair (“fixing the truck glug glug (oil) / adjusting screws banged knuckles”), to sudden onslaughts of memory:
I see a woman who reminds me
Swoosh, I’m 10 years old
a secret crush on Mary
14, glossy black hair
a friend’s sister,
go there & hang out
What reopens that account?
Man, it’s got thick
“If proof were needed”
In other words, the natural question that might arise from a sudden recollection of a long-ago time is not merely rhetorical – it’s part of what happens in the remembering.
This gets complicated because the mind is totally enwebbed with things as they are, and that means moods and emotions are indelibly tangled into what takes place outside, for better and worse:
these dumb, belligerent responses
get out of my way, sleazebag!
rising from that place I rise from
the material I’m formed by
the same fabric as “me”
There are points in most of these poems where consciousness becomes so foamy the expression becomes just lists of words, indicating the feel rather than the thoughts of the moment which presumably have taken David Byrne’s advice and stopped making sense (“spits dodge mysterious / middle rat manufacture”).
These approaches to poetry have their roots in decades-long study of the verse and poetics of William Carlos Williams and to some extent the L*A*N*G*U*A*G*E* poets, though the poet himself has, like we say, issues with the latter. In a way Holsapple’s project has involved consubstantiating Williams’ earthy insistence on the autonomous reality of poetic experience – earthy in its grounded concreteness, and autonomous in its assumption that poetry creates rather than imitates experience – with the sometimes ozone-testing disassembly of natural American syntax and idiom practiced by Charles Bernstein, et. al., for other purposes. Holsapple is interested in what, exactly, can be generated by words when they jump the boundaries of syntactic and denotative conventions, but embraces connections between voice and speech, which the Asterisked Ones reject. This is a human voice, not an unnamable anti-being dangling by its head in the neck of a bottle and spouting quirky disconnectivities. Holsapple, by insisting on the humanity of language (unasterisked) and playing on the margins of the marginal, approaches like Zeno’s arrow the vanishing point where experience lives.
It’s not light reading, but it is fascinating. If you give yourself to the verse of Vanishing Act, it starts pulling you along to find out what happens next, what extraordinary desert vista from New Mexico (where the author now lives) or woods or street scene from Maine (where he grew up) triggers what response, reaction, reflection or reverberation. This is poetry at its most imagistically philosophic, or philosophy at its most poetically imagistic, or images at their most philosophically poetic – pick your poison, as the book directs.
Bruce Holsapple grew up in Dexter, Maine, and attended the University of Maine in the late 1960s. In the early ’70s he co-founded Contraband magazine, which operated out of Portland for about fifteen years as Maine’s first well-known contribution to the underground literary scenes of the era. He later moved to Burlington, Vt., then Seattle and then Buffalo, N.Y., where he earned a doctorate at SUNY-Buffalo. He now works as a speech-language pathologist in New Mexico and runs Contraband’s offshoot, Vox Audio, which offers recordings of Maine, New Mexico and New York based writers.
Vanishing Act, Holsapple’s eighth book of verse, is available from http://www.laalamedapress.com/ and www.amazon.com. Vox Audio’s extensive list is at http://theshop.free-jazz.net/vox-audio/shop/audio-poetry/.
Dana Wilde is a columnist, book reviewer and editor for the Bangor (Maine) Daily News. His writings have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Studies in the Humanities, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and many other places. His collection of essays on the natural world, The Other End of the Driveway, is available from Booklocker.com.