Review of ( ), by Jeremy Slater. Red Temple Press, 2019
by Penelope Fate
For two and one-half millennia, we have been fed our share of epic poetry with its epic heroes and their epic adventures and it has all been told in the most epic of tongue twisting prose and marching band meter and dactyls and barely a moment to breathe, and 20 years into a new millennium we are still asking, is this all there is? Isn’t it time for a new kind of poem and hero?
What does the new hero look like and who will she fight and how will she win? Maybe, just maybe, the new hero (correction: heroine) will not be as shifty and shitty as Odysseus, and perhaps not as arrogant as Gilgamesh, nor the class A tour guide that Virgil was, nor as badass as Beowulf and Siegried, nor will her story be wrapped into an epic fascist bow by Ezra Pound. No, it won’t be like that.
I’m not saying that ( ) is the answer, however it may well eliminate the question because it gives us something new and something important and most of all it gives us poems that look like literary sculptures, not just on the page, where they allow the page (and us) to breathe, but like four dimensional sculptures that bend through time in a kind of minimalist beauty.
Slater’s collection begins with the void, but not all is formless and void, as there is very much a form, and the void betrays an ontology, sometimes between parentheses, but most importantly laying a poetic foundation for the rest of the collection. Spare, but necessary. Beautiful and rare.
The subsequent poems leave the void behind, not entirely though, as there is always empty space on the page reminding us of the void even as the new ontology and new meter slowly takes form.
What kind of hero would be suited for such meter and ontology? According to Slater it needs to be someone who can and should be fighting for the Oglala tribe, climate justice and human connection. Or perhaps this literary sculpture format channels the voice of the antihero who is helpless and paranoid and whose enemy is the surveillance state, out there in that van watching all of us.
Perhaps the new weapons are not swords and arrows, but pens and poems and prose. The new heroes may be well fraught, as they remind themselves to turn the gun around and keep writing. Good advice there. Very good advice.
Slater’s collection ends with a Buddhist prayer and a catalogue of things in three columns, all of them important, all of them framing the day, and the end. However, this can also herald the beginning of a new age of poetry that breathes and that lets us breathe (and think) and gives us heroes that are weak and full of self-doubt, perhaps true heroes for our age. They don’t wreak mead benches; they write suicide notes to themselves each night and each morning tear them up and then make lists for the new day.
About the author:
Penelope Fate is a salonista, an impresaria, a muse, and the driving force behind the Hysterical Surrealist prosetry movement in the United States. Lately she has taken to traveling far and wide, seeking the others, and dancing to vallenato music in the mountain valleys of Colombia.