NEIL LEADBEATER Reviews
In The Weaver’s Valley by William Allegrezza
(Blue Lion Books, Espoo, Finland / West Hartford, Connecticut, 2006)
Fragile Replacements by William Allegrezza
(Meritage Press, San Francisco & St Helena, 2007)
Having reviewed William Allegrezza’s Port Light (Galatea Resurrects # 24), I was intrigued to review some more of his books and to become further acquainted with his work. The two books under review were both published a while back but also within a year of each other in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
All we are told about In The Weaver’s Valley is that the governing rule in writing the collection was time. Allegrezza set out to write five poems a day for over fifty days. With that in mind, he leaves no titles, just numbers and dates. In an interview with Tom Beckett, Allegrezza adds that he included all the poems in the book in the order that they were written in and that, during the process of writing the poems, a theme began to emerge which he did not fully expand upon until writing the final section of his next book, Fragile Replacements.
Reading the two books together, that is, one after the other, has proved to be a fruitful exercise because connections between the two soon become apparent, especially in relation to thematic elements and keywords that recur throughout the text, as well as a certain degree of experimentation with the layout on the page. The series of poems that read as statements (I am referring here largely but not exclusively to the “candy” poems) act as markers to help readers find their way through the text. Essentially, there is a narrative overlay to this book. In a previous review, Eileen Tabios suggests that this may have to do with the futility – but a worthwhile futility – to poem-making. To me, it is as if Allegrezza is trying to tear up all the old rules to do with writing (or maybe they have been torn up already) in order to come up with a new means of expression:
His hope is:
to begin in destruction and
end in an aesthetic
Near the end of the book, he says:
i chose to throw the library into
for it was time to start anew
The effort of reconstruction will be worth it in the end:
i am placing fragments together
as a guiding beacon of rocks on a path
through rough woods
the view from the promontory
is enough for the trip.
He builds structures for us. These take varying forms such as the repetition of keywords like signal (discussed in more detail in my review of Fragile replacements below), and “handle” –
very often a handle that is being turned. This may be a handle that opens doors onto new vistas or a handle that is used as a device to set something in motion. Additionally, it may be the means for us, the readers, to get a handle on an idea. There is also a recurring phrase that is clearly important if only because of the number of times it is repeated throughout the text: “true utterance lost”. The weavers are weaving a narrative:
they are stationed around
scratching at stone tablets
leaving them in caves
writing on leaves
we are not losing tradition
just burrowing within.
The work of restoration is being achieved in a new way:
“to just put down
what is there
without trying to
running of one
The brain, nonetheless, tries to process it all, to make sense of it all, by piecing together the missing links (that which is not stated between one line and the next). Sometimes, one can spot the connections, the thought-processes, that spark off one line of thought from another, which is rewarding in itself. An elementary example of this is to be found in the section beginning:
do not touch the space in-between the letters
which illustrates, through a series of repeats in which specific letters go missing, how easy it is, at times, for the eye to guess the identity of a missing letter in a sentence. It is somewhat akin to finding the missing piece in a jig-saw puzzle and having the satisfaction of slotting it into its rightful place.
In some places, however, the connections (if they are there) are hard to find. It is possible that Allegrezza does not want his readers to make any connections. The whole point of the book may be to do with the fact that, for the poet, language just cannot be trusted to convey with any precision, whatever it is that the he wishes to communicate with us…but this is not to say that we should all stop writing…poetry is still worthwhile.
Three reviews of Fragile Replacements have already been published in Galatea Resurrects. Each of them made fascinating reading and helped to inform and enrich my own reading of the book. Tom Hibbard draws on political analogy as an aid to understanding the text, Allen Bramhall “favours the idea that poets are not so much experts in their craft as conduits” and sees “constant experiment, in the sense of tendering possibilities [as supplying] the causal motivation for what poetry is.” Thomas Fink, on the other hand, concentrates on the link with Dante and gives a useful insight into section XXVI.
A word about the title first of all. “Fragile” introduces a note of uncertainty about permanence. It suggests something that is vulnerable, something that can easily be broken. “Replacements” tells us that something that previously existed has been lost or destroyed. The act of replacement is not always an instant thing. In crystallography, for example, it is the process by which one mineral gradually forms from another in crystalline form by solution and redeposition. The emphasis is on the word “gradual” here.
I read the book as one long poem in three related but distinct sections. The first section, Go-Between, consists of a single, long poem in 42 parts numbered in roman numerals that, according to the author’s note, corresponds with sections of Dante’s Vita Nuova by reacting to, or including, part of Dante’s text. The second section, “Under Clear Fields” is a sequence of 42 one-page, titled, poems. The final section, “Gathering Forces” comprises a number of pieces which are untitled and unnumbered.
Two words recur frequently throughout the text: “signal” and “dream”. The first is used in the sense of an intimation, e.g. of warning, conveyed over a distance; the moment for action, an initial impulse. It is both the green light and the red light. Freedom and restraint. The words that surround the passages in speech marks, frequently disjunctive, fragmented and aleatory, are signal-to-noise ratios: in acoustical terms, the relationship, usually expressed in decibels, between the wanted signal and the unwanted background noise. On a universal level, it is the birthing of a new world order “out of long unused space.” The second is used to convey the sense of a vision, a distant hope or ideal that may or may not be attainable.
Go-Between opens with these lines:
in the middle to restart the system
with flags full in breeze and handles turned
It could only begin in the middle, because that is what a person who acts as a go-between is: a middle man who makes it his business to go between A and B.
Allegrezza uses various devices to indicate the substance out of which he hopes to find a voice “that repeats in clear rhyme and reason”. In places, for example, phrases are “glued together” like cells which have not yet divided to reveal their true identity. They have yet to be
What is required is a cohesive wholeness, a restoration to order because, as things stand:
fragments scattered along wood
floors do not constitute a story…
XXVIII makes mention of “flashcards : memory exercises as a means of learning a language. Here, Allegrezza pours a jumble of words into a structure that resembles a funnel or a sieve and the word that comes out (each letter being scattered across the space of the next page) in XXIX is “reasons.” These are the words in XXX that slip / half used/ near tree roots/ and out into the valley.
In the middle section, titles hint at things that are vulnerable, random and in a constant state of flux. Inside the poems, there are “splinters thrown over a page”, “a polluted beach”, “leaves thrown to the wind”, “the last survivors of the great war on park benches discussing the end of human life”, “a burning city”, “strong winds” and “lovers gathering words for a coming storm”. At one point we are told “Here, utter chaos abounds”. In common with the beginning of Haydn’s Creation, there is a “Representation of Chaos”:
i stopped near a fence
reached into my coat
and pulled out oblivion
There are some lovely lyrics in this section, too. I am thinking in particular of night river love and surface:
i imagine your skin
as fire crackles
and lights dim
The final section, “Gathering Forces” portends of something that is yet to come. What eventually transpires in this section is art. Graphic displays of words, sentences and phrases that are presented to the reader in a very visual manner. Early on in this section a page of text is almost obliterated by a superimposed bold three inch “V”. The “V” denotes the word “Voice” and is linked to the phrase “the voice returning”. Here, the voice is seen as an intrusion. It is not, in my view, a resolution; instead, it is the beginning of a work in progress. There is tension here: the tension between an artist being given free rein to express the self and that of the voice of authority with words like “control”, “system”, “factory” (conveying the idea of an assembly line for massed-produced goods, perhaps) and the discipline inherent in the phrase “stand in line” as an attempt to shape the outcome.
The note on the back of the book cover says that “Fragile Replacements explores the way we live through language, experiencing births, deaths and rebirths through it, but the book also examines how our language is filled, controlled, and crafted by our societies.” Language is always changing, like life, it is always in a state of flux. This is why the forces are always gathering but never gathered. This is why there is no resolution at the end of the book. This much is clear:
-a word becomes a way through language
-poetry “is a way of saying, of noting how to become and unbecome”
-to write is to engage with an agenda.
Meritage Press is to be congratulated on the presentation of the text, especially the visual graphics in Part III.
Neil Leadbeater is an editor, author, essayist and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His most recent books are Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, Scotland, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus Press, England, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, England, 2014) and The Fragility of Moths (Bibliotheca Universalis, Romania, 2015). His website is at www.poetrypf.co.uk/neilleadbeaterpage.shtml.