Breath(e)scapes

 

Review: Psycho-motor Breathscapes, poems by John Nòto, Vatic Hum Press, San Francisco, $7.95, ISNB: 9654877-0-9.

 

You just have to admire a poet who lays everything out for you at the beginning, no evasion, no gimmicks, no teasing hints toward hidden meaning. “I’m writing you from below the belt,” begins John Nòto’s Psycho-motor Breathscapes. It is for you to add, “But they come into me through the chest, the lungs & heart, through the eyes, ears, throat. Mind.” This is total assault poetry.

As this country staggers and rocks to the second millennium, many books will be proclaimed as the ones that lay claim to the future. This is my annunciation: Psycho-motor Breathscapes. And it is not just post-post-modern, post-TV-generation, post-Exxon Valdez, post-O. J., post-Shell oil execution of Ken Sara Wiwa, it is poetry alive with a clarity I never thought to see as we all labor for our bearings while in the throes of Bill-Clinton-Gates capitalism. Search as you might, you’ll not find as clear of a description of our plight as in this first poem, “Jar of Respiration”:

A deep river is

the perfect frozen asset to be thawed

in a climate of wealth without pride

uncorked for summer by the cartel

and spread across the kitchen table

left for the baby to die slowly

in the Sudan

“Have a Blood Light”                with motor oil

and barbs in its broken jaw.

 

And the warning later:

If you are to survive

you must make of your lungs forever-pumps,

clear the register.

 

This is the only book of poetry I know of that clearly presents the plight of post-industrial America, the country whose only growth industry not likely to move south of the border is prisons.

On the book jacket is an accurate and helpful statement about Nòto’s poetry by Stephen-Paul Martin:

The visceral trajectories of Nòto’s writing take mainstream technoppression and turn it into drivetrain music, filling constructivist lattices with unmeasured gardens of passion.

 

This particular book, however, is even more: it contains a unique structure that makes of it a real book not just a collection of miscellany. The first section, “Compaction,” is just that, compacted breath poems that through their intense phrasing make it nearly impossible to read without gasping, without bringing into the poetic activity not just breath but the whole body itself moving into and out of the reading experience: this is Charles Olson merging with a vengeance with reader-response theory.

 

The second section called “Density” is marked less by breath than a monological weaving that illustrates a mastery of poetic line. Take as representative the first poem in this section “Structural Blood-Collapse Firestorm”:

I’m flapping in the breeze like a ripped textbook

and a makeshift rain

is tearing at the seams

of complete ideas

I thought I had

been exposed to enough unfiltered sludge

 

Each line makes syntactical links with the next forcing the reader to pause, move tentatively into the mental emotional terrain established by the next image, then retreat a bit while the mind establishes the new connection through a seeming ambiguity forced by the double reading. It looks easy, and perhaps it is for this poet, but it is anything but when this line linking is also pulled tight into the reader’s psyche through the apt imagery. This is poetry that can rescue beauty from the post-Gulf Video War apocalisp interrupted by commercial messages from Bosnia. These are the beginning three lines to “A Machine-Woman Appears Wet From Within Screens (Nightly)”:

Rippling on magnetic snow, I see her tongue disappear

into the ear of a late afternoon storm with the taste of

tea and venom: Zagreb in a rain of bullets.

 

The third section is “Eruption.” And, surprisingly, the poetry erupts into lyricism, but it is a lyricism that challenges all of our previous ideas of the lyric. This section begins with “Folds” that starts:

Don’t write me long smooth spires of sunrise.

I live to pluck raw gender

flexed like a drying fig in the wind.

 

I’m convinced that anything this poet writes will interest me. His “From Sidewalk to Back Fence: Infant Neuromuscular TimeCrescents” is one of the sweetest sad poems I’ve read in years. And “Embrace (Vaginimus)” is one of the best heterosexual love poems, challenging the belief that it is not possible to write tender poems with tough language from an awareness that doesn’t deny the state of post-Industrial America. Imagine fucking while driving a fast car through rush-hour traffic that is being waved through the urban wasteland by maniacal traffic cops.

An early poem in the collection “Robotic” ends: “Your voiceprint on my lips / disassembles me.” Amen. But the sprit that drives these poems puts me back together again. And because of this man’s faith in language to document the state of affairs as it is and the inward state this awareness makes on his condition, on ours as readers, this is poetry of faith and celebration. Honest poetry, the most honest book of poems in many a year.