CUTBANK REVIEWS: Throng by Jose Perez Beduya
Reviewed by Diego Báez
Perusing Beduya’s debut, I caught myself doodling wobbly dharmachakras (I didn’t know what they were at the time), tiny spoked ovals that appeared on the pages, like miniature versions of wooden helms or water mills. In part, this was due to the 48 installments of extremely brief poems titled “Inside the Bright Wheel,” which function as a kind of chorus, one of two recurring threads Beduya weaves through the book. Here’s a sampling:
New birds do not fly
But roll like spindles
From the toroids
Of dried navels
Twilight fused to the fur
Of a dead fawn
The truly blessed return as stillborns
These breviloquent bursts remind one of Jorge Carrera Andrade’s Micrograms, the Ecuadorian maestro’s innovative version of short-form Spanish verse. Whereas Andrade’s tiny tercets and quatrains take actual, stand-alone objects as subject matter (oyster, tortoise, seashell, etc.), Beduya’s twisting imagery serves as connective tissue, joining beginnings and endings, new life and passing, glimpses into the Absolute. And this is the second thread Beduya uses to tether the book’s disparate pieces: repeated poems of cyclical renewal, called “Morrow,” as in like “to dawn” or “to be endowed with mornings.” One such passage begins:
In the clearing
In the fragrant heat
I ran my fingers
Through my beloved’s
For lice and daymares
This impassioned calidity haunts the collection, each line exuding the green aura of an alphabet on fire. Beduya prods the gelid medium of language, these alarum bells / And sirens of a stupendous animal, coaxing speech acts of voracious invocation and spirited incantation. “Breathing Exercises” is a series of negations that includes:
Of death whose wings are salt
No scattering of perspective
No horses on fire
In “The Fold,” five pages later, our equine friends have perhaps not fared so well:
Horses before the barn burned down.
Expired lights at night.
A pile of books in the clearing.
Bodies the next day.
In turns desolate and suggestive, Throng moves like a seer distracted by the seemingly endless measure of his task. The speaker of “Whitewater” inquires: What if god / In his wisdom / Were completely insane // Our bodies so clean / They’re smoke? Indeed, the divine manifests not only in the whispery sinews of Throng, but like trumpet blasts outside the city walls, right there in the titles. The Table of Contents reads like John’s Revelation if it were a cable news ticker from our contemporary times (cf. “Theater of Operations” and “The State of the State” with the likes of “Altar Piece,” “The Kingdom,” and “The End, The End”). “State of Emergency” blends Beduya’s eschatological concerns with his skill for disarming imagery:
The sun a yellow
Hammer let go
In the name of god
The sun again
Pissing all day in the snow
Beduya manages to tap the cosmic without the flaky abstractions of horoscopic speculation and plays with the stereotypes of sages sitting cross-legged on turquoise aquaria, puffing blue spirals and stroking white bigotes. Even so, the temptation to describe Beduya’s work as “visionary” presents itself, given all the allusions to god and to Babylon and, like John of Patmos, Beduya’s speakers seem possessed of some hallucinatory spirit. How else can one account for horrid trees / Of smoldering meats?
But perhaps the most apposite figure for deciphering Throng is the holographic: an image described when a beam of concentrated light splits, hits mirrors and objects simultaneously, and reunites on a specially-prepared surface. The resulting picture appears only when viewed from the right angle, and if shattered, each piece contains not one shard or fragment, but a miniature version of the entire whole. And with linguistic idiosyncrasy, Beduya has captured what it’s like to live amidst the throng, all of us analogues of sugar and gristle, ghostly pale, like glass flowers against the green abyss of an immense, metallic sky.
Jose Perez Beduya holds a BFA in Painting from the University of the Philippines and an MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University. He is the recipient of the 2010-2011 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize. Throng is his first full-length poetry collection.
Diego Báez writes for Whole Beast Rag and Booklist. Other work is forthcoming in Hobart, The Review of Higher Education, and Rain Taxi. He lives and teaches in Chicago.
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