Sunday, August 30, 2009


This is one of the most interesting books of poetry I have read in months. I picked it up blind off the shelf at Elliott Bay Books last week. I had never heard of it, don't know who Ted Mathys is (though the name seemed vaguely familiar), had not read a review. I just peeked at a couple poems and thought they looked interesting, so bought it. This is one of my favorite ways to "discover" a new book of poems.

According to the back matter, The Spoils is three long poem series, one about Henry Kissinger and a soccer ball, one about the environment/environmental degradation, and one about a "transformative road trip through the Deep South." I think the language is amazing: a mix of political verbiage, lyric/philosophical musing, dead-pan humor, word lists and mash-ups (sports and politics have an amazing amount in common). Perhaps the coolest part (for me) was in the first section where the shape of some of the poems is similar to a World Cup Soccer bracket (the sports geek in me really liked this): there are 4 groups, with two stanzas of four lines giving way to two stanzas of two lines, giving way to two stanzas of one line, giving way to a single line. These four single lines then would be like the four finalists.

Here is a sample from the Henry Kissinger/World Cup Soccer section. I love what is going on here with the riffing on a basic sentence structure, using word and phrase substitutions. It's very musical, very jazzy, a little flarfy. And I think it says some interesting things about politics and power and the individual-- "the poem must reclaim the nature of surveillance.":

The National Interest

We are interested in long criminal histories
because we've never bedded down in a cellblock.
With the sibilance of wind through the swaying
spires of skyscrapers as my witness. When I say
cover your grenades I mean it's going to rain I mean
there is mischief in every filibuster of sun.

We are interested in rigorously arranging
emotions by color as we've never been fully
divested of blues. With drinking till my fingernails
hurt as my witness, with hurt as my witness.
When I say be demanding I mean be fully
individual while dissolving in the crowd.

We are interested in characters who murder
because we've never committed it or to it.
With an origami frog in a vellum crown spinning
on a fishing line from the ceiling as my witness.
When I say please kneel with me I mean between
every shadow and sad lack falls a word.

We are interested in ceaselessly setting floor joists
because we've never pulled a pole barn spike
from a foot. With bowing to soap your ankles
in the shower as my witness, lather as my witness.
When I say did you see the freckle in her iris I mean
the poem must reclaim the nature of surveillance.

We are interested in possessing others who possess
that which we possess but fear losing in the future.
With a fork as my witness. A dollop of ketchup,
hash brown, motion, with teeth as my witness.
When I say you I don't mean me I don't mean
an exact you I mean a composite you I mean God.

We are interested in God because we can't
possess God, because we can't possess you.
With a scrum of meatheads in IZOD ogling iPods
as my witness, technological progress as my witness.
When I say no such thing as progress in art I mean
"These fragments I have shored against my ruins"

We are interested in ambivalence as ribcages
resist being down when down, up when up.
With the swell of the argument and the moment
before forgiveness as my witness. When I say power
is exclusion I mean a box of rocks we don't
desire to deduce I mean knowing is never enough.

*

2 comments:

Collin Kelley said...

Never heard of him, but I do like this poem. Might have to check him out.

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