Poets often wear their language and knowledge on their sleeve—it’s just the nature of the beast. But in This Wasted Land, Marc Vincenz and his annotator partner in crime, Tom Bradley, use both to build their house, drive their car and butter their toast at breakfast. And it is poetry, although poetry put through a Wizards Brew: there are poems and commentary, fragments and notes on literature and history and a cast of thousands—both high and low (how does riffing on Mina Loy and Linda Loveless grab you?) And at 250 pages there’s plenty of people to name and situations to dissect and contemplate—an endless cosmos. There’s even an Afterword after the long title poem, but well before the close of the Book—an Afterword in which a Siegfried Tolliot writes about our author’s talent for shenanigans. It’s tongue-in-cheek and a hoot, and though Bradley gets the worst (or the best) of it—one can never be sure where Marc Vincenz begins and Tom Bradley ends, and vice versa. Let’s take a breath and look at some examples:
From the beginning of Part III of the title poem:
“This is the propensity of getting old, walking
the river bank alone as last leaves mold
in gutters, and scaffolding sagging
under planks and tents of tarpaulin.”
Nice, and then we get a bit later on:
“Cannon-fodder blasting and the alchemist’s blue flame
in your night eye as the ancient chant
tolling for who-only-knows,
like a mantra for the inner world, a sky within a skull,
Brahmin mahapuranas and the patha of “Om.”
The flame in your night eye will get you every time.
And as for the notes that take up the majority of the book, let’s take a look at this one:
“Einstein’s stubborn illusion of tenseful time (see note 18) and
the re-reader’s redefinition of prepositions of space in temporal
terms (see note 1 and passim) are climaxed by our poem coming
to its resounding close several cantos before it actually ends. The re-reader is launched into a strange limbo as with the virtuous pagans—but not before having his face shoved into the belly of the most horrifying creature in the entire Vincenzian oeuvre.
(See line 423 and subtended annotation.)”
Vincenzian oeuvre, indeed.
This is what Borges might have written if he were less conservative and a little more hip. And it sure shows its Pound and Bolano—not to mention a host of language poets who seem tame by comparison.
This Wasted Land will frustrate some readers, madden some, and cause some to close the book and run for the hills—this is definitely not your grandfather or grandmother’s kind of book. Yes, not everything works: not every note comes up to the best—a better pruning job would have cut the slackers. But with so much flaccid writing in poetry and prose these days, it’s good to see extravagance and joyful weirdness come to the fore. The Republic will still be standing.
Let’s give Vincenz and Bradley the last word:
“Finally, at the end of This Wasted Land, the fair and glorious ladies, the pole-star nymphs, the Erythraean sybils, the Blessed Virgins and the rock-a-by-baby mothers are permitted to strip-tease away pretense and become frank Jocasta.”
About the reviewer:
Tim Suermondt is the author of two full-length collections of poems: TRYING TO HELP THE ELEPHANT MAN DANCE (The Backwaters Press, 2007) and JUST BEAUTIFUL (New York Quarterly Books, 2010.) He has poems published and forthcoming in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Blackbird, Able Muse, Prairie Schooner, PANK, Bellevue Literary Review, Plume Poetry Journal, North Dakota Quarterly, Mudlark, december magazine, Ploughshares, and Stand Magazine in England. He lives in Cambridge (MA) with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.