Friday, September 10, 2004

NEW! Review of Chad Davidson's Consolation Miracle

Consolation Miracle by Chad Davidson. Southern Illinois University Press, $12.95.

Reviewed by Carrie Adams

If we depend on the fleshy zero
of their caps, so much is nothing

more than beauty wrapped
in night’s clothes.

In the preceding lines, Chad Davidson is describing a mushroom. This image is characteristic of Davidson’s ability to carefully excavate the often pretermitted, to invigorate the common, and to conjure the extraordinary. These astonishing and unusual images shape his first collection of poems, Consolation Miracle. In Davidson’s attentive and inventive eyes a mushroom becomes “the closest thing we have / to edible encomium,” and a match is Prometheus “come as a toothpick.” Davidson gives the reader the gift of transformation. While some poets confirm one’s view of the world, others like Davidson construct new worlds out of the old. After reading Consolation Miracle, some objects can never be viewed as being as dull and commonplace as they once were.

In Davidson’s work all events, as well as objects, are equally revealing. He achieves an overwhelming sense of balance: the large and small receive the same interest and meticulous notice, so that witnessing a fatal car accident and feeling the sensation of a hand falling asleep in the middle of the night possess equal poetic potential. Consequently, it is difficult to accept the poem’s assertion in “The Contents of Abraham Lincoln’s Pockets,” “This / is why we love spectacles. / The better to see ourselves.” For these poems reveal just the opposite--spectacles are unnecessary, for we come to understand as much if not more about ourselves from attentive meditation on the small, the everyday, the unassuming. If a starfish can be “such brilliant boredom under the sun,” then there is no need for anything more spectacular.

This is most clear in Davidson’s long poem “Space,” about the California businessman who paid the Russian government for travel to the space station. Despite the intense curiosities regarding the countless mysteries the expanse might contain, space is “well, / mostly boring.” And as some of the great science fiction movies, like “Solaris” and “2001,” attest, space can teach us more about life on earth and human nature than it reveals about itself. Therefore, the speaker wonders less about whether the American space tourist has come to learn anything about the science of space than whether he has become indoctrinated into Russian culture:

But, I’ve come to enjoy his Russian
three-day growth, ask myself under

my breath if he’s learned any Russian,
if he’s eating borscht, and if they’d had
more space, and they’d asked, would I have gone.

Space, which has the potential for the excitement of a spectacle, is, in the end, defined in earthly, domestic terms. It may be the great unknown, but space, Davidson tells us, is simply a “matter of perception.” And our perception is limited by the events and objects that permeate and shape our day to day lives.

Elsewhere, the transformative contemplation of objects allows Davidson to puzzle the line between sex and art, or to question if such a line even exists. In his observation, the sensual and sexual become inherently connected to the impulse of art, as in this description of a pear:

Or as their profile
imitates a lover’s pendant
breasts, we take them in

as we do our own bodies,
as infants do, wanting anything
to give our wanting form.

The desire for form and the need to give our longing shape in language is at the center of Davidson’s project and his talent for close inspection of the small. In the opening poem, “A,” Davidson turns his eye to the composite structure of words: letters. He examines them as though they were ideographs, as if their shape could endow them with meaning: “the pouting y, the disconcerted r, the liquids caught inside the concave u.” Is this perspective, this skill of perception, the “consolation miracle” of the book’s title? The term is taken from a Garcia Marquez story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” in which the miracles performed are more absurdly ironic than useful, never curing the original ailment. But perhaps this too is simply a matter of perception. And the consolation is that the ordinary and the quotidian are miraculous if properly seen.

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