Thursday, May 01, 2014

David Stone, The Crystal Prism

Cover art: Guido Vermeulen

David Stone’s new collection The Crystal Prism is published by Giant Steps Press. I wrote the Preface, which I reproduce below in hopes that it will spur you to consider buying the book itself:


A new book from David Stone is a notable event. Stone’s poetry is anomalous. He is “experimental” in style but cannot be classified with any particular faction of the present avant-garde. In fact, his work is eminently accessible in that it often resembles straightforward prose. There is a subject, a verb, an object — the suggestion of some narrative. This is deceiving. Like in Samuel Beckett, the narrative never really quite happens. The false satisfaction of “closure” fails to come about. Stone’s art is realist in technique, in its construction, like Dalí’s paintings are realist in technique. It is the elements that Stone, like Dalí, renders, the unexpected juxtapositions he creates in his work, that lead to cognitive strangeness. Suddenly we notice that this is nowhere close to prose; it is always poetry (the short, enjambed lines should have given this away in the first place!), but poetry of a heretofore unimagined sort.

The Crystal Prism combines aspects of myth and history in a contemporary context. The Minotaur, Pegasus, Anubis are all here. What do they signify? Often death, or the ways that people deal with death, or the ways in which they seek to access the other world. But this is not some Romantic recapitulation of the old myths.  These are figures transported to twentieth- and twenty-first-century landscapes ravaged by war and thus transformed. Time and culture are blurred. A desolate Chicago in “Transportation” (and throughout this collection) at times bears a resemblance to Nazi concentration camps or Soviet gulags. A pterodactyl (an extinct species) in “Travelers” flies from Russia to New York City tenements, retracing the journey of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. In poems like “The Jazz Mind” and “The Crystal Band,” the personage who listens to “jazz” (which oddly emphasizes woodwinds and xylophones and at times alludes to “the Danube”) seems actually to inhabit a dream-like land of the dead.

This is highly political poetry. It is (among other things) about the ways in which oppressors destroy culture and human feeling in order to impose their own rule. In “The Prism,” there are “Ordinary citizens arrested / in public places” — not very much different from what is happening today, if we observe the recent goings-on in Zuccotti Park, Taksim Park, Tahrir Square, etc. “The Kaliningrad Depository” highlights an analogous dynamic in the history of that city, which as a spoil of war was transformed from a center of culture into a toxic waste-infested fortress of unlivable concrete blocks. The poem “The Jackal” begins with the ominous lines, “In the shelled library. . . .” Stone in The Crystal Prism (and for that matter in all of his work) reflects the psychological position of the oppressed, but resists oppression by positing the values of art and knowledge. For example, in “The Vision of the Dunes,” though “capital ISMS,” a “chemical processing plant,” and a Holocaust survivor’s tattooed number all suggest the threat of ugliness and death, “The transposited earth / felt the fire / of Rothko’s huge, black canvas.” Now feel the fire of poetry.

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