Sunday, June 27, 2021

Ian Dreiblatt, forget thee


Julius Caesar enters
the room ancestral
spirits bending the

window’s light like
a pool, linen meshed

with metals, and then
gravely speaks, I was a

swinger of metals and
a bender of spirts I

killed so many people
they named a

month after me

my city outlast the earth
my every war sacred
my will the partition

of bounded from

From Brooklyn poet and editor Ian Dreiblatt comes the full-length debut forget thee (Brooklyn NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021), a poetry collection comprised of what are essentially three poems: the opening eight-page “dunjaluče,” an untitled sixty-four page sequence, and the closing six-page “postscript to some of the preliminaries.” The opening piece explores a conversational tone, with the narrator thinking and meandering through ideas around his local New York City, dance music, how different languages speak, the structure of poetry, emigration and war.

this weekend Ada said to us you’d be good to be friends with in a genocide

she remembered passing into north american life as the phrase ethnic cleansing was passing into english

and how during that war the litanies of strife summoned danger and you might swap your coffee with someone in case it was poisoned

not because you more deserved it, but to lay a claim on the power of allocation

decide to share even violence

which is everywhere losing its shame

there are minor poetries but as Daŝa Drndić says there are no minor fascisms

or there is minor art but no minor politics

The main body of the collection is set in a sequence of dialogues with historical and mythological figures, from Cleopatra, Augustus I and Julius Caesar to Puabi, Hathor, Geshitinanna, Chaon and Thoth. Writing on Thoth, Dreiblatt’s narrator offers: “I will be honest, he / tells me, because that’s / how I am I have read / what you’re doing / it doesn’t make / sense to me [.]” A couple of pages later: “we look back / over the hills / and Thoth gets / sad, in a way, he / says, this is all / my fault, writing / is the gift you / didn’t survive [.]”Even more basic, it would seem, than suggesting this an exploration of history and the lessons of history that bear repeating, forget thee seems an exploration of memory itself. How are we to properly move through the present and into the future if we don’t bother remembering the past, let alone attempting to comprehend any of it?

There is some ambitious big-canvas thinking and structure in this work, and Dreiblatt doesn’t seem afraid of touching on contemporary politics, and issues of environmental and social justice: “& the time I birth will / eat the color out of / ruins, she answers, & mummify / your seas in plastics. it will / coat your science in oil in a / field of writing storks. it will / say knock you out, bowl / you under, unmoor medicine / from its diseases, it will not / even burp after absorbing the / totality of what has / happened [.]” Dreiblatt works through memory, citing the opportunities that history and writing allow, presenting a rhythm of line-breaks and continuous speech that moves almost at a conversational pace. As the narrator speaks to Hathor “in a cruddy / diner in new jersey,” offering: “I want another kind / of language, I say, houses / have eyes and I don’t / understand how anything / means anything at all – [.]”

There are elements throughout the collection that feel performance-oriented, set as a type of monologue that could just as easily be staged as set on the printed page. Dreiblatt blends and weaves in lines and quotes and conversation from a multitude of personalities, working across world histories from ancient times to more contemporary interactions with literary personalities. As his narrator speaks to Cleopatra, the last of the Egyptian Pharaohs, he writes: “at least we both lived while the / pyramids stood, I say, and had / no idea what existence is // and Cleopatra scowls, what’s / all this we stuff you // mortal motherfucker [.]” Dreiblatt explores what history offers and teaches, what history misunderstands, misremembers and outright ignores or forgets. Such willful ignorance has consequences, after all, although “you can only mourn,” he writes, later on in the main body of the collection, “things one at a time / you cannot mourn an / entire world at once [.]”

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