Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wolfgang Carstens' crudely mistaken for life by David McLean (Book Review)

Wolfgang Carstens' crudely mistaken for life
Reviewed by David McLean

This is the first poetry collection by Wolfgang Carstens, and it presents a consistent and well-balanced entry into the sort of poetry that interrogates life and the world. It holds to the human side of that which presents itself to the observer, and it correctly identifies it as that which is supposed to enjoy a special relationship with Being, but can only do so by being a stranger by itself not fully possessing being.

Here the feet of man walk dead roads without knowing the direction in which they are going or being fully aware of their intentions.

when i was younger i stuffed some clothes
into a backpack and boarded a Greyhound bus
with a rail pass and no particular destination.

i didn't tell anyone that i was leaving;
i had no intention of returning – i wanted
to disappear.
(from missing in Canada)

In this collection everybody is missing, bodies are not anchored in a world and the focus of obsession is mortality and death. With most poets, this is a cliché, poetically speaking, and misses the vital point, philosophically, but with Carstens it is not presented as a childish remark, as if we learned something when a poet says that we live three score and ten or even less, with the air of having made a great discovery. But Carstens knows the point of this awareness of mortality -

only the dead celebrate
every sunrise,
every kiss,
every hug,
every orgasm
(from only the dead)

Instead of turning to the darkness to embrace it like a spoilt child, this book tells us to turn to embrace loved ones and children, to not forget the being with in the name of a pretentious acting out of the role of an ill-mannered ghoul rattling chains

hell is not remembering the sound
of her laughter,
the warmth of her flesh,
the smell of her perfume,
the taste of her lips,
or how much she loved me,
how much i loved her,
or the many reasons why
we loved each other
(from on not being able to see her face in my mind)

The Victorians were obsessed with death and mourning, didn't like fucking. Nowadays we like to pull on our dicks before our monitors, but not remember that the weak meat of the body will rot soon enough. We do not like to be reminded of mortality nowadays, and there is a tendency to distance oneself from mourning and remembrance. Carstens deplores this tendency.

to help our children understand death
my wife and i started visiting cemeteries
to make tombstone etchings.

an elderly man laying flowers
upon the grave of his beloved wife
shouted at us this afternoon words
like "disrespectful" and "sacrilegious" –

as if the dead were displeased that children
still laugh and play on the green grass above
or were angry that tombstones, the final wisps
of humanity, are admired for their beauty.
(from tombstones)

Carstens, in his poems, shows us the path to freedom that lies in kicking away from boundaries and borders and limitations, in the risk of a breakneck uncontrolled gallop on a mad horse. Because sometimes reckless endangerment is the only way to live, the only salvation open to us. Ultimately the danger is that awareness of our fragility leads us to wrap ourselves in cotton wool, cut away our ties to the dead, and pretend that we are immortal by living like corpses, to escape the perils of emotional collapse by not feeling. These poems, especially the poems of remembrance, nostalgia and mourning about Thelma and Annie, teach the reader how to live and feel.

And, among the many uses suggested for poetry, that's as good a one as any.

Buy this book here: Small Books Distribution.

Author bio:

Up-to-date details of McLean's publications and several available books and chapbooks, including two print full lengths and two free electronic chapbooks are at his blog at Mourning Abortion. A new chapbook hellbound is on sale from Epic Rites Press. A third full length, Laughing at Funerals is out in March 2010 from Epic Rites where he edits the book series and has a "virtual office." A novel is coming in 2011.

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