Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Disinformation Phase by Chris Toll

Publishing Genius, 2011. Chris Toll has built a book of machines called The Disinformation Phase. By Chris Toll I mean an alien who filters his dreams through vampire movies and writes encrypted letters about his own past and future hearts. By machines I mean that these poems are always eating their own parts, reinventing their own uses. This is because Toll uses words like they’re little piƱatas, beating them with a metaphysical wiffle bat until praying mantises and algebra fall out. “I made my head and now I’ll weep into it,” Toll writes in “The Third Station of the Double-Crossed,” foregrounding emotional confetti over the dull armchair of coherence, putting semantics in the cathedral and letting it light the fuse. “Why is dent in resplendent?” he asks, and “Who pays the rent / in incoherent?” and it is good that Chris Toll is asking these questions because words are keeping all kinds of secrets. Like, when “a cheetah sleeps on an adverb,” (from “I Can’t Stand Along the Watchtower”) I totally understand because there is a modification taking place, which is part of the rule (an adverb is a word that modifies a verb), and I am also feeling partially rewired, epistemologically thawed, because few poems are willing to dive off their own cliffs into the accumulative, spaceship-colored, mysterious soup that builds our souls, or what’s left of them.

One of the most electric things about The Disinformation Phase are the “translations” of canonical poets spread throughout the collection. Each translation is paired with a short paragraph explaining the imagined discovery and history of the particular poem. Trying to summarize these narratives doesn’t do them justice: just know that Edgar Allen Poe’s step-mother goes skiing in Colorado and that John Keats believes in the force, like The Force. Here’s a stanza from one of Toll’s translations of an Emily Dickinson poem, “My Ruby Hat,” written in French and then hidden in a cupboard:

"I have the Gift of Second Sight –
Despair guzzles Gin’s Alphabet.
A Spider kneads a throne on the Moon.
The snoozing Singer writhes."

Indeed, Chris Toll’s irreverent imagination is a weird holy light in these poems. This is one of those books that you leave out on your desk, a thing you keep in reach, not only because its incredible cover (one of Toll’s own collages) refuses to be hidden on a bookshelf, but because these poems are irreducible, subversive fun. “You can see / as well with the heart / as with the eyes,” he writes in “Why Is Try in Poetry?” and that’s what’s at the riotous heart of this book, a rare, illimitable faith in internal wonder.

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