The Runaway Spoon Press, 2000
$3.00, ISBN 1-57141-055-4.
Chace constructs o-d-e around the idea contained in the epigraph
taken from Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World,
i.e. that "The best things...are put together of a night and
vanish in the morning." The reader is brought in after the point
of vanishment, when mourning seems natural and obvious. Taking the
word "ode" and splitting it into its constituent parts,
re-pairing it, running it backward and forward, Chace begins by sloughing
off its meaning to reveal its music and the person to whom the ode
is directed: "ed o ed o ed / o you." What he does here and
throughout the sequence on the micro level, Chace will parallel on
the macro level with the form itself, delivering a bi-level attack
on our beliefs about diuturnity. The fleeting pleasure of a night
is the metaphor for a divine season with a lover. Instead of (or in
addition to) grieving over his loss ("your / leaving would /
be madness"), the poet insists on having and holding the chimera
of that experience. By the time Chace is finished, he'll have shown
that mourning is, or should be, a type of celebration.
In addition to directly referencing the floating world (sometimes
as "upper rooms") that he champions, Chace illustrates it
with spatial layoutdisruptive line breaks, excessive white space,
wild arrangement of words on the pagenot simply for rhythm or
(as is too often the case) to create a decorative illusion of poeticness,
but to effectively visualize his theater, open up possibilities, and
lead the eye toward meaning as the words form alliances in all directions.
Distance, proximity, and the confusion of the two form a crucial axis
in this sequence, one that Chace employs an abundance of subtleties
Dreams and visions, for example, are "each a / little / downcurling
wave / not / breaking," the words themselves cascading forward,
held in interminable suspension, until the final "breaking."
In suggesting that those pleasures which Western culture views as
merely meaningless diversions actually help make life not only beautiful
but substantive, the sequence requires a certain suspension of disbelief.
But even when the reader begins to loose faith in Chace, when we stumble
upon the jarring notion of 'goals' among the fleeting ("sum /
of cancelled / goals / would explode the poor") it takes little
effort to see that the abstraction of desire contained in that word
is the thing that floats; the effort toward persistence that becomes
accomplishment, typically failed, is ironically thwarting.
Chace has a wide array of these technical arrows in his quiver. "whose
sleeves"the shell of a person-quickly echoes itself into
"who's leaving." Later, these sleeves and the ghosts they
come to represent have accumulated to such a degree that there are
"canopies" of them to provide safety and comfort. These
kinds of subtle transitions and morphings contain the bulk of the
poem's meaning as Chace continues to blur and then merge seeming dichotomies,
disrupting the oppositions we hold dear: "real snow / imaginary
/ parchment / ...wetted by snow."
Chace will butt "snow" up against "white" in
such an unassuming way that it is surprising when, several pages later,
we encounter "mirror / mirror" and hear the refrain from
the old Grimm tale. If that soundbite is unavoidably Disneyed for
the reader, it is that much more about apparent loss and the lingering
efficacy of the transitory.
As in the opening wail, pieces of the puzzle
recur, recombine ("rainstreets,"
and recur again with escalating urgency
until their complexities are abandoned for
baseline needs spelled phonetically for
their common pronunciation ("gotta",
"wanna"). Finally, refuge is taken
in pure utterance: "shuh," "eeee,"
"ki," "chi," "ku."
Here is the language of infancy-the state
of simultaneous dependence and isolation.
Invoking biblical relationships, Chace layers reversals of opposition.
"something divine / allays / the volcano to a rose" recalls
the prophecy concerning Christ's second coming when the lion will
lie down with the lamb, and this moves into the setting apart of the
unleavened in "who's / leaving this more / than leavening."
The familiar binaries by which we order the world fail to hold as
Chace weds the temporal to the eternal. Are vanished pleasures gone
forever or merely less tangible and requiring of faith?
Chace's gift as a poet, and the thing he endeavors to give in the
o-d-e, is his ability to make the most of the least. The lines
"no more know / more / no / no / no" are tightly ironic.
In that configuration of very few phonemic units with a relatively
wide range of meanings (including the biblical connotation of "know"),
the mourning celebrant will no more know the lover and thereby know
more. This is the grieving "know"the cold snow-that
comes from the floating clouds to wet the parchment and the parched
The question of epistemology is a phoenix in o-d-e, one that
rekindles on internal rhymes: "can we know the / dancer / from
the / glance." Later, "trance" replaces "glance"
to expand the question, and later still, a crescendo of epistemology:
"how can we / know more / suffering how / can we know / our feet / from
the / flower path our / selves from / song / the line from / life / snow on parchment
from / the key / or skill / from the backwards / glance / song / dance."
The poet either wonders how we can avail ourselves of additional suffering
or how we could possibly bear it. And the tropes of the question shapeshift
and multiply as snow on parchment becomes "spirit poured / on flesh."
Finally, Chace gets us to the proof, and
it lies in residue or "reclaimed / al / lu / vi / al"
(also broken apart like 'ode'). Alluvium
is detritus, left by flowing water or waves,
that builds into a rich sustaining sediment.
'Alluvial' also often describes gold-bearing
soil. So, what is worthless and discarded
becomes productive and valuable, even coveted.
In this sense, the lover can return: "those / washed
up in / the parched world / always / with us / to
be / reclaimed."
A trusted arrow in Chace's quiver is association.
Its efficacy is obscured in the first several
pages but as the associative effects pile
they become cumulative and alluvial, building
the richness in which the poem reveals its
truths. In this way, individual words, carefully
placed and repeated, work as dots in a pointillist
painting (Chace does equate the "young / ones / mad
with words" to the "old man / mad / with
o-d-e slyly mirrors its subject. If, like so many relationships,
it seems breezy and effortless, perhaps meaningless, it may be because
we haven't given it enough time, haven't allowed ourselves to see
its sharp edges. If, like a night of revelry, it seems frivolous,
unworthy, or careless, it may in fact be appropriate, even vital.
Chace is patient, orbiting about the nucleus of the inspiration he
refers to in the epigram to tease and coax it out. And once out, readers
should feel not that they have spent time indulging an ephemeral poetic
passion, but that they have experienced something important, as cerebral
as it is sensorial, as effective as it is affectivetime spent
with Chace is not time whose loss should be mourned.