Autopsy Turvy by Thomas Fink and Maya Diablo Mason
(Meritage Press, San Franciso & St. Helena, CA, 2010)
Collaboration by two poets defies mathematical formulation: the dyad is neither duality, pas de deux, nor the textual meeting of two minds. The resultant poems generate a voice melding consciences into an emergent third. The triangulation of the two poets with the poem therefore proliferates an aggregate of sensibilities attributable to each voice and yet with space opening into an ineffable extension of each. The signature of the two poets fusing and coalescing becomes a script whose text vexes any reduction to individual subjectivities.
Often, onto the collaborative poem is conferred the peculiar conjunctive and disjunctive designs of minds in simpatico however their modes of poetic construction diverge. Yet the possibilities of filial poetry—generationally vertical or horizontal—remain under-studied. The poems in Autopsy Turvy are written by a father and daughter duo, noted poet and critic Thomas Fink and his daughter, Maya Diablo Mason. How do biology and poetry relate? Does a share of DNA render a certain kind of amalgamated style? Does the reproduction and production of poems and bodies anthropologically and poetically in relation determine the eventual ends of such art? These are certainly questions that come to mind while reading this accomplished collection.
Inevitably, clever schtick and loosey-goosey jokiness will obtain in the closeness of family and, indeed, familiarity. A few poems suffer “[a] strip of gibberish,” however, in general these poems successfully merge controlled chaos with an enriching, lively attitude to myriad subjects and interests. The Bee poem sequence showcases riddles and narratives mostly attentive to financial and family concerns. Roving across the terrain of shared and separate domains, the poems allow glimmers and insinuations of whose voice is being voiced: father? daughter? Fortunately, none of the poems are schematic or so mechanically rendered as to illuminate which lines were written by each poet or whether even individual lines were micro-collaborations. The mystery of paternity or daughterly exchange remains undecoded, arguably granting anonymity to the poems despite their acknowledged sources. The two poets become one shining, unbreakable Poet-maker and the actual strategies of collaboration left unknown. Such mystery in poetry is much needed and welcome.
Autopsy Turvy commendably brandishes a whole range of moods, rhetorical dispensations, and narrative directions. “Preshrunk Oaf Offense” prances giddily through puns and stunning disarrangements of semantic structures and appropriated text:
sway. I will
faithfully excrete the
offense of present
starkness of ambush,
and will prescribe,
the consternation (constipation)
of the unkempt
statesman. Go help
Here the mild naughtiness of scatological humor domestically emplaced joins with a larger political/historical commentary, the “offense of present.” It is a playful riff that speaks to localized and more generalized territory. The playful reserves exemplified here can also be trained into tender expressions which underscore familial bonds with crafty poetic license. “Inheritance” is a strong case in point:
You left your body at home
when you headed for college.
It would have been vestigial there.
It was July,
so I was naked.
I tried it on,
Wanting to know what it felt like
to dance in it.
The animation of relationship here foregrounds the possession and dispossession of family in its developments and dispersals. Absence and presence are tethered to a ghostliness underscored by the ghosts of the poets themselves for whom a precise marker of identity cannot be ascribed. So again, multiple perspectives fly from the two unstably paired poetic voices and the poem-as-experiment (after all, collaboration pressurizes the experimental energies of poetry-making) confirms the unflagging creative energies of these two poets.
As mentioned, we can never perform an autopsy on Autopsy Turvy to extract determinate identities. I know and admire Fink’s individually-written poems. This is the first occasion I have enjoyed Maya Diablo Mason’s work. Who is who, which is which, and who is the better maker? Impossible, qualitatively, to say. As Stephen Dedalus insists in Ulysses: “Paternity is legal fiction.” So perhaps daughter has outrun father or father still guides the poetic path. The point, all in all, is moot. Assured poems rely on mastery and not justifications and novelties: Autopsy Turvy is a volume of fully-fledged, trickster-spirited verse regardless of the author’s origins and relations. Collectively and/or separately, the poems of Fink and Diablo Mason will be very welcome in the future.
Jon Curley's first collection, New Shadows, was released last year by Dos Madres Press. His critical study, Poets and Partitions: Confronting Communal Identities in Northern Ireland, will be published next year. He lives in New Jersey, where he teaches in the Humanities Department of New Jersey Insitute of Technology.