Deformations and Hypothetical Roses : Matthew Cooperman : Review

DaZE by Matthew Cooperman : Salt Publishing : 2006
reviewed by Remy Wilkins

Armed with puns, poetics, and pop culture Matthew Cooperman assaults the modernist agenda that insists on analysis and understanding. It is a mistake to pause too long in the ellipse of his lines & allusions, for all your figuring is wind-herding. Find a way to flow along the daft calendrics and the day’s events like a needle of a spun radio’s dial. The one question you’ll need in reading this book is the one supplied in a poem: is there a rhythm to this madness? O yes, but the facts, as he says, “give way/ in the welter of yearning and ink.”

Puns and the detritus of daily life seem to be at the heart of much tedious and flippant poetry, but Cooperman slips his quips in, offsetting them, so that it is less prating and more nightly news candor; he’s like the Plato of Esquire sprinkling his poems with Eisenhower, Eiffel tower, Bill O’Reilly, Maria Carey, Keanu Reeves, CNN, Compaq, Legos and Mallarme. And while there are places where he is disarmingly funny (“My grandparents died when I was semi-/precious,”), it is without that cloying smartness that often mares humor in poetry.

The chief pun in the book is set up in a quote by Philip Larkin “What are days for? Days are where we live.” The days that we live in, the daze that we live in, catch us careening from moment to moment, object to object, and though we may try to pull things together into a coherent monolithic self the world resists. “I longs to be more defined” he says in the poem “Plot”, which at first I mistook for an enallage, an effective grammatical mistake, before I understood that he was using the first person for the Ego.

Let me put his dilemma this way: what is identity for a body when a trillion trillion atoms replace themselves every hour? What binds them together as a self? Add this to the world outside, its innumerable atoms colliding, and you see the rub. This is why we are “confused with the multiplicity of our lives”. To further illustrate this he has, what he calls, Personations and Deformations, poems which employ or riff upon other texts. This is no new idea of course, but in the context of his book it further blends identity in with others. This theme is drawn together by the long poem “What Comes Between” which cryptically answers the problem but in such dazzling ambiguity that it can only be there for those who wish it to be. Taking the work as a whole, this is the only possibility for resolution.

The book is divided into three large sections titled View, Ink, and Bed. If I were to attempt to shepherd the wind I might posit that the sections move from distant to intimate, looking, communicating, loving, but that is to overlook the blur of words. Rather we should take special delight in the musical qualities of “khaki larks”, “organic embryos” and the “impending loom” and avoid systematizing. In the pretty how town of the book it is said that “in a country of very clear nothing is/ hypothetical roses”.

In “Nanosphere” Cooperman seems to be in dialogue with Walt Whitman’s “A noiseless patient spider”. Where Whitman’s spider is indistinct save for its silence and patience, Cooperman goes to great lengths to develop the scene in rich detail, detailing the actions of the spider:

To every impulse pulse, the maculate spider climbs in diagonal
fashion toward the south rim of the sink. It is nearly the size of #4
bird seed. It is not tenuous, though nearly the shape of a pear. With
its two front legs (to call them legs) it taps for solid purchase–
dried spittle, toothpaste, beard clippings– a blind man whirling
amberite canes. Approaching eighty degrees, it jiggles on little
springs made up to counter gravity. In its gait there’s something
of a spiraling motion sensitive to plumbing sighs.

We are washed away in the deluge of information. In the later half of Whitman’s poem he jumps to the soul, in Cooperman’s the spider takes on personhood becoming a “she”. Whitman’s poem, confident as only Whitman can be, has his spider “ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them” but for Cooperman the world is far too complex to be so compliant as that. The poem concludes:

She becomes a part of the architecture, a
ductile need engaging migration. My moving up the plumb line
involves the same design. There’s eye stitch working the needle
through. Here is where the cameling reaches a kind of strain.

The answers are difficult despite the architecture; easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for us to find this kingdom. The best advice is stated in the book’s second poem “By juxtaposing the figure with the town we learn to inhabit/ the sky which embraces both.”

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