dan raphael

A review of Joel Chace's fata morgana


fata morgana
Joel Chace
Unlikely Books
80 pages
Available through Amazon

      Sophia Santos’ cover art for Joel Chace’s fata morgana is misty illusion itself, with its pastel wash showing shapes of various clarities.
      The poems in fata morgana are crisply marshalled into two columns, but with a line from the last word in a left column stanza to the first word in a right column stanza. The lines imply a connection—or maybe just something to guide the eye—but these connections (if any) are far from explicit. Chace says the second column (printed in italics) is “riffing off the seed words” from a visual arts project, which he found on slips of paper in his copy of Jack Spicer’s My Vocabulary Did This to Me. But what are those seed words and does it matter? Chace gives this explanation in a separate piece, “From Mars,” followed by the 14 page “Seeds” (also the title of the book’s first section.)
      It was “Seeds” that sent me riffing forth a 3 page poem, still being revised, that began more as the possibility of a review than a poem
as I can’t simultaneously read two text streams that have their own flows, as if in separate places as each track can itself be cut, leap and pasted I unconsciously want the two flows to interact, second to react to the first, what the first had been. assume a direction and feel a change in reactors    actors        a traction fractions of friction

      I don’t know if those lines will stay in the poem or not. But the poem is a testament to the wonderful energy in this book, with the two columns working at times like an electronic capacitor, energy building until it can leap the gap
      What I love most in any artistic endeavor is creativity, including poems that unlock the powers of language and my mind. That opening to new possibilities and connections is very prevalent and powerful in this book. But the structure caused me to be wary, self-conscious and de-liberate. I kept puzzling about the two column set up, how the words flow and what they and their ‘wake’ do to my mind and perception, with less attention to the subjects/contents of the poems.
      In these times where so much emphasis is put on content/stories and so little on what language can do inside of and with the reader, I find this book exciting and laudatory. Poems that are an experience in themselves, rather than recreating (or transferring a parallel of) the poet’s experiences and intentions.
      There’s one interactive dynamic in the 14 page “Seeds,” and something totally different, but strongly related, in the book’s 3rd & final section, “the plague year,” which consists of 14 1-5 page individually titled poems. [The book’s middle section, “fata morgana,” treads a middle ground/breadth between the two.] The shorter poems put a strong light on Chace’s word choices and twists, his exquisitely unmeasurable degrees of pivot.
“opening up a door for the word”

  “This is the story . . .in
   a cave. . . .head
   encased in concrete”

      The shorter poems make it easier to surrender to the temptation to read each column separately, and I enjoyed bouncing between reading strategies. The left hand columns are single poems in themselves, though not fully linear, taking leaps and circling back around. The right column stanzas are, for the most part, individual pieces. In them I receive pieces of a holistic, spatial, language-driven experience. The creativity and strength of the individual words, the phrases, provide so much to marvel at.
      The experiences one draws from pieces and poems in fata morgana are not illusions, but they can be hard to explain, to sum up words, as all encounters that can lead to growth and questioning usually are.

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