Saturday, 4 July 2015

Strange True Places

Reviewing the book for Arc's summer issue, Heather Spears celebrates Jason Guriel's new collection Satisfying Clicking Sound:
For Jason Guriel, chance verbal encounters are a primary source of his inspiration. Here’s an instance where the cliché, tickles his fancy, revives itself: it describes so exactly how this poet works—or rather, plays. He takes a phrase that does just that and runs with it, and the results are wonderful, startling, and unexpected (I am avoiding the book reviewer’s favourite word here, though it would for once be appropriate). In some poems he appends the longer quote after the phrase which delighted him, and the spinning of the poem proceeds.

Guriel would not have left this cliché alone either. Like Robert Lowell (I look, and turn up by chance “as if my hand were at its throat”), Guriel brings outworn phrases to the shining surface of the language, fools around with them, upturns them so a new meaning, a new insight appears. Is this a device and does it have a name? It has a punch that a new image can hardly compete with. A satisfying clicking sound. The first poem’s title “The Buried Hatchet” sounds mundane but comes alive with the first line: “begins to biodegrade,” and ends with another brilliant turnaround—I would add this and more examples, but they should be read where they belong. Otherwise I would be like the reviewer of a comedian who retells all the best jokes and takes the credit.

Guriel’s poems are short, with short lines. His diction in impeccable. He writes tight verse and quatrains as effortlessly as, to name a contemporary, Vikram Seth. Or many an old master—let’s say R. L. Stevenson.

Guriel reinvents the body. In “Claustrophobia” the sense of boundaries is eerily warped:

You step into the plaster
cast of yourself,
the doors close behind,
and everything’s snug;
your penis finds
its sheathe, your lips
their depression

I am always interested in body perception because I teach drawing, and observe firsthand how people’s idea of the named and partitioned body interferes with their ability to draw it.

So I am specially intrigued when I come across the word “sleeve” in two poems, and see how Guriel, again with broken and reassembled clichés, moves our attention away from the hands, into and past the extension of the wrists, the nameless source of gesture. “The trick to writing / well isn’t up / the sleeve. It is / the sleeve that fluffs up / the flourish.” (“John Hancock’s John Hancock”) and (“Hands Playing Haunting Chords”) that “cannot help the soul / that’s up the sleeves, / and cannot help / but fall as fists—off / and on and off / the beat."

I am floored: how does he know stuff like this? What he does is more than playfulness. Reading him is to have your eyes cleared of junk, to be led into strange true places you never noticed before. I am sure that writing is for Jason Guriel “a special kind of happiness.” He was recommended by John Barton and I am grateful. I am delighted to make his acquaintance.

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