Friday, January 30, 2009

A Review of Prau by Jean Vengua (Meritage Press, 2007, www.meritagepress.com/)

Winner of the The Filamore Tabios, Sr. Memorial Poetry prize, for which Filipino poets from around the world are eligible, Jean Vengua’s Prau is a fascinating journey in the often stormy seas of nontraditional poetry. It takes as its overarching theme images of boats and boating, bracketing its interior selection of poems with a beginning quote by Herman Melville and an ending quote from The Dhammapada. The quotes served, for me, a navigational purpose, functioning as the start and end points on a map or as the buoys that mark a channel or inlet, calling to mind the mnemonic device of “Red, Right, Return” that I learned as a teenager living near the ocean and learning to sail.

Such anchors, if you will, are an essential part of any nontraditional writing, as they clue the reader to the fact that the author is not working randomly, or haphazardly, just putting words, phrases, and constructs on the page, but that the collection holds in important, vital ways.

In reading Prau, I often thought of poets such as Mark Sonnenfeld, Vernon Frazer, and Ric Carfagna. Their works—whether they be fractal, language poetry, vispo, or other experimental/nontraditional forms—have thematic, stylistic, and structural coherence. There is order in the presentation, the language, and the thought, no matter how random and stream of consciousness it all may seem at first glance.

As Sonnenfeld often says, in defense of his work (and it’s unfortunate that he even has to), “If you change or move a single word, the whole structure falls apart.”

I thought of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings as well, and how he famously said, "I don't use the accident. I deny the accident."

Poetry such as that offered in Prau highlights, for me, the strengths of Stream of Consciousness writing. Far from just “verbal vomit,” as some critics and editors suggest, I believe that S of C writing works with the same binding principles as our Dreams—within the turbulent sea, the crucial images and symbols have a buoyancy that makes them easily discernible.

To keep with the boating theme of Prau, the poems offered work like a seining net—though they have gaps and holes, there is a well-woven structure that allows much to flow.

Prau begs multiple reads—it is my sense that depending on one’s mood, the time of day, the season of the year, what is buoyant and what flows through the poetic net will morph and change. This in and of itself makes this volume notable and easy to recommend.

I’d like to leave the reader with a selection of lines from Prau that further articulate what I’ve chosen to focus upon in this short review:
“…bad content can penetrate deeply into the wandering habits of the writer, could upset the sacredness of the journey” (“Migration Busting,” p. 20)

“if only/to communicate/to you my inability/to communicate/without interruptions/in sense, in flow … how I stutter/between facades” (“Abilidad,” p. 67)

“in/the sentence/there is breathing … beauty/depends upon/a broken sentence” (“Loophole,” p. 71)

The reader will notice that “Loophole” consists of tercets of one, two, and three words, a form called “hay(na)ku” developed by Eileen Tabios and the focus of The First Hay(na)ku Anthology, which Jean Vengua co-edited. It is an efficient, intriguing form with its roots in the tercet of the haiku.

“I barely know what I’m writing; it’s true. … Some letters, something is missing, and we know it.” (“The Problems (2),” p. 82)

Vengua’s style and technique are further capsulated in the poem “The Conditions” (p. 85).

1 comment:

Ed Baker said...

this paragraph/observation really "grabbed" me!

In reading Prau, I often thought of poets such as Mark Sonnenfeld, Vernon Frazer, and Ric Carfagna. Their works—whether they be fractal, language poetry, vispo,
or other experimental/nontraditional forms—have thematic, stylistic, and structural coherence. There is order in the presentation, the language, and the thought, no matter how random and stream of consciousness it all may seem at first glance.


and this ...


“in/the sentence/there is breathing … beauty/depends upon/a broken sentence” (“Loophole,” p. 71)

no 'crutch' here.... no matter the point (of view)