October 22, 2007

Review: Disclamor


Boa Editions, Ltd., $16 paperback

“In time of war the poets turn to war/ each in his best manner,” writes G. C. Waldrep, quoting Thomas McGrath, in his second full-length collection, a book held together by “The Batteries,” a superb nine-sequence poem inspired by the historic sea-coast fortifications in the Marin Headlands along the California coast. Long demilitarized or decommissioned, these batteries have undergone transformations into places of seemingly peaceful recreation, but the echoes of their past functions (“What is defense without a pretty view?”) seep through as the vocabulary of warfare becomes relevant again:


—This is not quite right. The weapons came first,
mass, the destruction; then
picnic table.
Indeed, for this poet, invested in excavating the layers beneath disguise, “every copse hides/ its adder,” but so too comes the discovery of the smaller, overlooked inhabitants that preceded the invasive technology and artificial boundaries of man:
The grass sings in the parity of its consumption.
The lupine,

the sea-fig are singing,

even the Scotch broom is singing
its barbarian song.
The growths on the ground, “the mustard, the tansy,” and “the wither-itch, alfalfa & wild garlic” are the true survivors, and the poet takes note, directing his contemplative mood toward the roots, the true origins and antithesis to the chaos and din of modern politics, the “dis-clamor” of modern-day society.

But, the poet posits, have we contaminated the natural world irreversibly? In the poem “Ode to the Hottentot Fig,” the speaker struggles unsuccessfully to move away from the symbols and metaphors of the corrupt human world:

If you listen closely you can hear the scuffle of each ant:
they’re all Calvinists, they are the architects of small melodies

that flash and tremble in the afternoon sun. Like us,

they demand a more generous explanation.
Waldrep’s preoccupation is the affliction of invasion, and the damage of human greed—authority over environment and declarations of territory: “West, east, the longitudes of war./ This is no place for monuments.”

Bridging “The Batteries” are poems attesting to Waldrep’s skill at crafting similes that are characteristically playful and startling. A sampling of lines:
The dead stood in their corners like silver telescopes.
The bees ferried hunger to their hive.

(from “Soldier Pass”)

I will never achieve a nuclear family. Beneath a distant sunrise
my peccadilloes huddle like sheep.

(from “Retroactive”)

the nape of that moment
set like a sapphire into the scepter
of incident, smooth and cool.

(from “Titus at Lystra”)
Disclamor is a gorgeous collection from a citizen poet in search of the truths beneath the imperialist imagery of the times. Waldrep sifts through its rubble and gives meaning to the numbing aftermath—“the aftersilence”—of illusion and deceit. And the anxiety of that mission is best articulated in the poem “Battery Bravo”:
I will be the poet of broken things.
But what claim have I trampled

into these bare hills?

What fragment have I prised?
by Rigoberto González