Wednesday, July 11, 2012

child made of sand (thomas lux)

(poet thomas lux)

the second book i read / pondered during my trip back to mississippi was the advance reading copy of thomas lux's child made of sand. first off, it's a handsome book:

a lovely yellow / red / white colour scheme with a chunky sans serif. nice. now, let's talk about the 65 pages of poetry between those yellow covers.

what i noticed, reading the collection through from cover to cover for the first time, was a recurring image: a handless god. a god who is either literally or symbolically handless - possibly indifferent, possibly impotent, possibly resentful.

From Whom all Blessings Flow 
Nobody ever sees Whom around.
Whom gets credit
for what Whom never lifted a pinky
to do, or not to do.
Whom doesn't have, I think, a pinky.

the speaker of "every time someone masturbates god kills a kitten" gives god a proper talking-to: after a list of alternatives (why not kill rats, snakes, clams instead?) he demands, "how 'bout a little less hard-ass?"

kittens are not the only ones faced with death in this collection. there is a horse that drops dead, there is the thought of death in general, death by hanging, suicide, one's own mortality. there's "a frozen ball of rattlesnakes" we cannot be sure are dead or alive.

many of the poems in child made of sand are at the same time funny and disturbing, such as "ermine noose" and "graves rented by the hour". other poems are simply beautiful, like "not the same mud as in 'two tramps in mud time'"or "the drunken forest" or "the moths who come in the night to drink our tears". their strengths lie in the well-crafted images that suggest lux is an observer with attention to detail:
[...] the fog of mud, what first
grips your ankle so whisperly, a little warmer
than the water above it, a satiny sock [...]
(from: "not the same kind of mud")

images of illness go hand in hand with the theme of death, and there is illness in this book: leprosy, nervous breakdowns, birth defects: "boy born with small knife in his head". in "rue de la vieille laterne", lux eulogizes the french writer gerard de nerval (1808-1855) who had the endearing habit of taking his pet lobster for walks on a silk leash. de nerval, after three mental breakdowns, took his own life in 1855 (wiki).

then again, there are a few poems i find it hard to warm up to - the "elegy" for cesar vallejo, "the queen of truth", "madsong", and most of all, "the riverine farmers" - the ending in particular feels, to me, rather heavy-handed, possibly because of the dominant end-rhymes and a tone that - again, to me - sounds too educational, too intent. however, that's a matter of taste.

overall this is a lovely collection. when it comes out in november, you might want to check it out!

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