Tuesday, October 17, 2006

NEW! Review of Tony Tost

World Jelly by Tony Tost. Effing Press, $7.

Reviewed by Ezekiel Black

Many book reviews and blurbs enjoy describing a book in its own words. They use a quote from the book, for example, to derive some convenient insight. This method might be considered empty, equivalent to the pandering spiel found on a Historical Romance’s back cover, but it could also be considered profound. Many editions of the Bible, for example, include the section “What the Bible says about itself,” where a collection of scripture outlines the Bible’s divine authority. Although World Jelly’s introspection does not offer the word of God, it does provide a glimpse into the book’s overall project:
Words are magic
because they hang
one mystical experience
away from a crisis

Words can separate the crisis, the fight-or-flight immediacy, from a mystical experience, so one can examine the poetry held within. If words did not remove the crisis, one could not digest the situation’s poetry, like someone unable to think “I can’t wait to tell my friends about this high-speed chase” because he or she is too busy getting out of the way. Essentially, words distill the everyday into poetry, and one can see the everyday in World Jelly, as in this stanza:
Rhetorical answers
to actual headlights
in the unbroken slowing
too cold for the animals
to decompose

The headlights answer the speaker’s rhetorical question about what is in the road, and the speaker must abruptly decelerate to avoid the roadkill. The speaker would not initially think “I could make this into a great stanza” because he or she is taken by the situation’s urgency, but once the speaker and the incident have some distance, the possibility for poetry becomes apparent. Maybe this interpretation--the reformation of the everyday into verse--is coincidental, but World Jelly does paraphrase its mission again and again, like in the stanza “Small bag of the present / at the mercy of the sentence.”

The fun of World Jelly emerges from the surprising range of the everyday. The book is not through-and-through white-knuckle crisis. Although it can be heavy, some of the crisis is lighthearted: “Buoys and gulls / the rhetoric of inevitability / hits its spot every time.” If the “buoys and gulls” reference seems opaque, World Jelly does provide an insert to clarify some of the pop culture allusions, like Bob Dylan, Charlton Heston, and The Band. These notes also reveal how esoteric the book is, how some poems employ anecdotes that only Tost and his company would know. For example, one poem includes the stanza “Rett has duende,” which is a game to compose the best three-word poem that Paul White, Robert Bell, and Tost play. The reader could not, prima facie, appreciate that stanza’s depth because its full significance lies hidden inside the notes. As long as the notes are present, though, World Jelly’s impermeability seems insignificant. Fortunately, checking the notes is not a chore because they contain material that is just as entertaining as the book.

World Jelly is a playful book, similar to Invisible Bride, but much less concrete. The book will suspend the reader in a pool of abstract thought, heightened by the lack of punctuation, and the book is self-conscious of this fact, adding some self-deprecating humor:
My blue rags
have some kind of power
smaller than the period
at the end of this sentence

The lack of punctuation allows each thought to bleed into the next line, each line to bleed into the next stanza, and each poem to bleed into the next poem. To aid this movement, the beginning of each poem, except for a modest initial, is indiscernible, containing no title or epigraph. This ebb and flow will lull the reader into the book’s dreamscape, where one-line stanzas, esoteric humor, pop culture, the everyday, and a menagerie of animals rule. Altogether, this book contains a strange but praiseworthy universe.

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