Monday, July 24, 2023

Dan Kaplan, 2.4.18



a visitor can imagine spring,
the arcades discolored
and sun-roasted, some bread
and a mushroom, heavy and round,
birdsong a hole in the middle
where dampness came,
whispered and curled
atop a spare tire,
a table set with thick plates
and a chalky white bone.
I stuck a point in time
to a gum drop and other bits,
one mysterious form of faith
tucked against the other.

I was curious to see Portland, Oregon writer Dan Kaplan’s latest, 2.4.18 (Spuyten Duyvil, 2023), following the bilingual chapbook SKIN (Red Hydra Press, 2005), and full-length collections Bill’s Formal Complaint (The National Poetry Review Press, 2008) and Instant Killer Wig (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018). 2.4.18 is an erasure of the February 4, 2018 issue of The New York Times, a conceptual framework reminiscent, somewhat, of Derek Beaulieu’s conceptual project painting a day’s newspaper via “The Newspaper,” but Kaplan’s project seeks lyric meaning out of a particular flavour of narrative reportage. Instead of seeking a kind of randomness for his poems, he selects narratives out of a wide selection of found language, attempting to answer, in a roundabout way, the question of what might emerge from a single day’s edition of that particular newspaper. As the poem “Every Act” ends: “changing the location at least, / expanded yards and irises // in composite, small and perfected, / a kitchen smoking on the grounds, // sweeping other parts in circles and soft steps, / the children vibrant and shaky in a long line // hard to separate, the sketch narrowing, / clear sequence nudged ahead.”

In certain ways, these are poems untethered from their source (ie: a book of “just” lyric first-person narrative poems), composed as poems by Dan Kaplan. Whereas they may contain a language that shifts from his previous published work (which I am unfamiliar with), but otherwise, a project that advertises itself thusly on the opening page as a conceptual project makes me immediately wonder: how has this project changed or altered Kaplan’s lyric, if at all? What has the language offered or made possible that wouldn’t have emerged otherwise? Otherwise, why advertise the project as such a strong header? Either way, the results make for a worthy collection of poems, striking in their use of silence, shape, hesitations and presence. Beyond the conceptual framework, these are poems that appear composed from within moments, attending to pure attention, meditative calm and a curiosity about the world. Certainly, poems can be excised, created, found or built from just about any language, but there seems little reference to the source material that I can discern. There are certainly, as Suzanne Buffam writes on the back cover, “glimmers of hope among the ruins,” but this lovely and sharp collection of immediate lyrics doesn’t require the distraction of its compositional framework to be thoroughly enjoyed.


standing barefoot
parts the language.

emotion is outsize,
the kind of primer

a love song roughly
doubled from the tumult.

it would not be

the first time
a line shrugged

and stumbled
from the stereo,

listening for
the others.


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