Sunday, January 08, 2017

James Meetze, Phantom Hour

You can continue. You can make the distinction between familial and familiar. Your questions disorient you. You may distinguish between knowing and not having forgotten how to write the numerals and knowing the faces and numerals are forgotten. You are feeling your normal self. This is the case. You know you don’t know but make a joke so we think maybe you do know. It is frustrating for everyone. Stet. It is frustrating you. I remember you telling me, while we watched your mother forget, that you did not want this. You did not want to be consigned to the tomb of the Capulets to be entombed before everything you know is darkness. If this be choice, then it is yours. If name, then given. If memory, then. (“PHANTOM HOUR”)

The third full-length poetry collection by Los Angeles/San Diego poet and editor James Meetze is Phantom Hour (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2016), a book that follows his earlier collections Dayglo (Ahsahta, 2011) and I Have Designed This for You (Editions Assemblage, 2007). Set in five sections, what appeals about Meetze’s Phantom Hour is the way in which his sketched-out sentences and notes accumulate and cohere into larger structures, writing a fairly large canvas via a montage of seemingly (at first) unconnected lines. Phantom Hour is a book about memory, including what happens when memory fails, the tenuous connections between people, ideas and being, and the nature of abstract thought versus reality. As he writes in the title section: “These memories comprise my council.”

While there is something in the twelve “Dark Arts” poems that seem different (dare I say: less interesting) than the rest of the collection, I’m not sure if this comes more from what I’m missing due to my own limitations rather than from what the author is doing. Either way, Meetze’s book is a marvel of subtlety, powerful images and collage, from the striking single poem-section “YOUTHFULNESS” (a poem that can be seen as carrying the weight of the entire book) to the title section, a suite of nearly seventy pages composed through the extended lyric fragment. As he writes, further on, in the title section: “Even in a poem, one forgets the real world. If myth is invented, this / sentence could be made god.”


You make a habit of remembering
what mothers prescribe:
to do or not to do.

It is the theory and praxis of keepsakery.
Someone leaves a candle burning,
burns everything to the ground.

None of us are younger now
than we ever were; we still mistake
fire for fire.

It burns inside, this collection
of doodads, the list of them,
the juxtaposition of memory and thing.

I remember things.
The emulsion of the picture
I am standing in, like

the man in the wall
between this world
and this other world over here.

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