Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review and Reflection on John Vick's Chaperons of a Lost Poet

There is something about a long poem that refers to one's youth and coming of age in Oklahoma that evokes pain, longing, nostalgia, and a bimodal innocence/experience tension.

Norman often becomes the epicenter of awakenings and self-awareness. The reason for it is often attributed to the fact that the state's largest university is located in Norman, but I think it's much more than that. After all, Norman is the convergence point of disparate but all equally emotionally destabilizing realities: Tribal autonomy, yet betrayal (Potawatomi, Chickasaw, Absentee Shawnee nations within 20 miles), the Oklahoma's largest mental health complex (not the university, as the wags would have it), the National Severe Storms Lab (with its legions of tornado-chasers), the site of the great Land Rush / Land Run, just to name a few.

Oklahoma is fond of the spectacle. Of all the states of the Union, it is probably the most theatrical -- after all, who else has a Broadway show tune as their official State Anthem?

But, I digress.

John Vick's Lost Chaperons of a Lost Poet is a long poem shot through with Oklahoma consciousness.

What does that mean? For one, it incorporates a deep, solid appreciation for all things passionate, showy, even destructive. There are tornadoes so intense they pull the grass up from the medians, reduce shopping malls to bare concrete slabs.

On another level, there is the longing and the frisson of drag. The glossy and brittle stylings of a Tulsa art deco soiree; but the 2-hour drive to Norman, where the stylings meet hot sweat and tears and awakenings -- this is what surges from John Vick's writing.

Vick's voice is decidedly phlegmatic; it refuses to pander, and nor does it whine. This is surprising, since so many of Oklahoma childhoods become hyper-aware of the unstated desires of those who surround them -- especially those who are off-limits.

There is something very compelling about the journey of memory and time; revisiting the gritty beer, pizza margarita & garlic hand-tossed or the college joints. It is a plunge into recently converted dive bar squeaky clean exotic dancer alleyways, flowering in response to the "must-do du jour" energies of the state's largest and most prestigious university and all its hangers-on...

Vick may write of other places, and his narrative takes the shape of a collage of scraps of paper, text-messages, emails, updates and feeds, "tweets.” He writes of things happening 25 years ago, but he uses the latest technologies. The reader understands that he’s using whatever it takes to have a revisited birth of consciousness.

As such, the awakening is surprising, even upsetting.

There is a sweetness about Vick's narrative, even when he is instructing the reader how to be hard; how to confront one's sweet-sad past. The sweetness tears at one's heart, and it causes the reader to understand / relate to / validate one's own experiences. There is a sadness in it. There is also a profound, inescapable euphoria. Which one will you have? Which one will have you?

Vick's long poem causes one to realize that one must confront the layered nature of reality, and how it intercalates concrete memory markers, emotions, and flashes of ambivalence and perceptual perturbation.

Lost Chaperons takes the reader into images, and burrows into the edgy, unresolved tensions between memory and the ideal.

John Vick. 2009. Chaperons of a Lost Poet. Buffalo, NY: BlazeVOX. ISBN: 9781935402459.

Check out Rina Terry's review:

The Psychic Sponge's Guide to Zeitgeistland