Carey Scott Wilkerson

A Review of Joel Chace's War, and After
[Blaze Vox [Books], 2015]

Let me propose here that a book by the always surprising and courageous Joel Chace is both an occasion for celebration and a project for investigation. Indeed, linguistic daring and formal adventure are essential to his remarkable new book’s success as an objet d'art and central for our understanding of Chace’s poetico-philosophical commitments. I find War, and After arresting in its ambitious scope and singularly elegant in its achievement. What we have here, friends, is a beautiful and important book.

Divided into four sections, the text is a kind of narrative-by-poetic proxy, moving from possibly loosely(?) autobiographical prose-poems in “Sharpsburg” to phase-shifting tableaux of epigrammatical threads in “Script.” With this pattern as an expressive motif, Chace loops through the cycle again, only this time cutting across the history of literary tradition with “Blake’s Tree” and searching for ever more exotic linguistic fault lines until, at last, there emerges the “Scaffold.”

We move effortlessly, persuasively from the declarative certainty of “Syntax can be as lonely as anything you’ll ever see.” to the apostrophic cry of “(a) life’s simulacra” “bone ladders…ribboned bags…of the heart” without losing the sense of the book’s inner tensions: aesthetic/political; public/private; intuition/instrumentality; war (of all kinds)/peace.

Consider the rhythmic torque in this extraordinary passage, collapsed here from its original format in order to make, more clearly, my point about Chace’s gift for lyrical collage:
“medicine war mixing something replacing another sickness invading health place becoming a different place new words covering old / to touch and stumble over other things being contained in the same rooms during all the short short times mixing / where there has been blood there has been spirit where land a presence still contained remaining some river moving hill rising pines terracing upwards road also rising then falling winding down into a town / all still there but mixed with a different air one flowing into flowing through another these strange short times.”
In these moments, I am struck not only by Chace’s social acumen but, more importantly, the rich beauty of these images and the delicate tilt of his line. To be sure, this is true of Chace’s work in general. But in this book the poetic artifice opens to a deeper sense of risk and, thus, a more sophisticated vision of the possibilities for the page. And he has never failed to explore and extend our understanding of radical poetic topographies.

Withal, this is a book addressed to the complex puzzle of our daily sensibilities. Chace’s solution to the accretion of problems plaguing post-modernity (and whatever comes (will come, (has come; after))) is a true aesthetic solution: art, language, the transformative power of poetry itself. Moreover, I welcome the dual style of street-wise critique and reflexive optimism implicit in Chace’s work.

War, and After resists our attempts to collect and catalog its core samples, but its fearless approach to the remotest structures in language is beguiling and sincere. We need this right now. And I suspect that this book will prepare the attentive reader for the kind of text which must necessarily be read after the After.

Carey Scott Wilkerson is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Columbus State University. He is the author of numerous plays, including Seven Dreams of Falling, and opera libretti including Eddie's Stone Song:Odyssey of the First Pasaquoyan; two poetry collections including Threading Stone, short fictions, and a novel forthcoming in late 2018.
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