The Sensory Cabinet, by Mark DuCharme
(BlazeVOX [Books], Kenmore, NY, 2007)
A cabinet of curiosity displays artifacts as variety, displacing the context of categorical distinctions in favor of a glowing interrogatory light. Fish next to rock next to bug next to man-made tool. In The Sensory Cabinet, Mark DuCharme seems to be doing something similar, hand picking odd turns of phrase and fragments for illumination.
But he is doing something weirder. Consider: ''The output / in the clothes that you aren't wearing,'' (36) “'On a starry night, with so many fat tickets'' (80). We can recognize our own tones of conversation in ''Unspeakable'': ''Serious stuff, I'm like / Whatever, her navigator / A really good / Politically correct/ Villain, we're gonna / Take it so / Hard,...''(57)
All of these scan familiarly but quickly break down into non-sense, albeit a nonsense aligned with familiar syntax. DuCharme melts rhetorical structures, splicing anachronistic word choices into familiar descriptive and argumentative frames.
In FOOTNOTE TO SUDDEN we see:
in bundles, slumping
to sputter, cruelly representative
Driven toward, in various incidents
what used to be viable (-torched-)
Much of what couldn't not be heard
or written in, brand-
New: I know ( 63)
If these poems have a motion it is streaming: water running off interlocking shingles, or rubble falling over armored plates. They resist, with the chilling effect of maintaining a political and argumentative air without-saying-shit. Oh, so relevant. These are the mechanisms of rhetoric itself, the function of argument in an era of surplus opinion, that we are forced to focus on.
Look at this poem that seems to be concerned, sort of, with the noises we make about the war we are in:
an axis of the 'sneak' retaliate
in adversaries to have spawned
a 'homeland' & the threat-based
they need a smaller version of a
friends attack friends sample
deterrent to a scrawl
in this wage while clanging
about the potential this
cut-out spoils, this reeling
my judgment is that we should wander
in torsion to the scrawl
toward minimum zero
nuke you leer
posture shifts in plummeting
allies with range or
in them slowly
for offense; this new
-credible military potency
approach of the need
Look at this poem about the noise we make about the noise the news makes about these things:
I Am Wolf Blitzen & This Is Dinner
It's a little bit weak but it
Levitates. It's not the same tomorrow,
Or next Tuesday. It
Is often the same
Thing as we. How do you
Arrange this. It
Or this. Some real fine trail
Going on here. Singing,
''Often, graceful esplanade''
While flared. It's True
Anachronism by shutting down
(Please sign off)
In the future, there will be some trafficking.
Other poems turn away to address the question of reading and attention drift, as when we are told,
''Don't throw away this screwed up batch
Contingent like the subheadings
Under guns which could only be skewed
Conditions for a short hike'' (16)
The book is structured in three parts – Outside Matters, The Betweens, and The Matter Outside – and clustered in theme and sound in a complicated structure. News casters and current-events language buzzes throughout. The focal point rests just-distant – the space directly beyond the lyric subject, the language static surrounding an issue. Disjointed serial lists and obsessive redundancy contribute to a kind of idea-enjambment that distracts and scatters the readers attention. They seem to deploy an obnoxious political vaguery:
Hallmarks to my
Fishsick gimmik random
The stanza reads like an argument, but what does it argue? Rachel Levitsky's blurb describes this antagonism well: ''DuCharme seems to be about to define his project, but as you eagerly slide into a suggested narrowing, reader beware you are about to widen (yes you yourself) far before you hit the ground . . . ''
It is when the foggy technique addresses personal subject matter that the structures can be seen most clearly, growing within the constraints. In ''CREATURE, SORT OF HUMMING'' and the ''Deviant Winebagos'' poems, life detail made sparse and strange in its transformation to sound byte gives a dimension of panic to gesture within the natural.
Information twirling by
Rote, we can't
inform all the people
the time-- just twitter &
Range plans your escapisms
One other thing becomes transparent
''One other thing becomes transparent'' is a hilarious line that cuts cleanly – anything close to ''apparent'' in this book evaporates away before it hits the page, and these poems have me simultaneously frustrated and elated by their sequences of elision. I am indebted to the strange distance of DuCharme's language casting me out and directing me away. It’s certainly relevant at a time when such huge things are building themselves on similar gestures of avoidance.
Denise Dooley lives in Rogers Park, Chicago. She writes poetry and fiction and works in science education outreach at Northwestern.