Deep Code by John Coletti
City Lights, 2014; 93 pp
Reviewed by Davy Knittle


The Long:

Let’s say it’s the project of many poets to write poems that make sensory information more careful and generous than it is in daily life. One gift of poems like this, then, is synthesis. The gift of the poems in John Coletti’s most recent collection Deep Code is a synthesis with a light touch and a wide margin. Nearly everything is in the soup, here. Coletti opens the poem “Dana @ Denny’s” with the line: “I don’t want much, but I want ALLLLLLL the experience” (9) and he does, and he wants you to have it too.

While Deep Code is touched by nostalgia for the big-hearted irreverence of the New York School, it’s a book of and for this moment. It delights in people and streets, objects and apartments, and versions of those things on the internet, even though a lot of its encounters are tinted by feeling bad or by the sense of something ominous. Some of its loveliest moments come when Coletti is really enjoying something, even if it also makes him nervous. In “Sealing Tape Bundles,” Coletti writes:

Walk around Venice all day Google Earth. Pretty satisfying.
this street that one
each place I know knew
time travel exists
in yr mind w/a crutch (84)

The poems in Deep Code document relentlessness. They’re driven by a speaker sped up and slowed down to extremes by his object world. The poems are a barrage of depressions and expansions. At their most frenetic, they break into lovely, spazzy lists. For instance, in “Country Strong”:

Major World
Bucket List Chart of
Extreme Ambivalence
1921: Duchamp
U.S. Open’s for you
in slight rain hieratic
emerald white (32)

The same poem loses its frenetic pace in its final lines:

…being unemployed’s
kind of like
Sunday morning
every day
grasping, sighing, overthinking. (32-33)

If ever in the book I feel like Coletti has left me to suffer alone in the soup of his big heart and rangy object world, moments like this that slow down make me feel looked after. Coletti’s endlessness is a kind of invitation. And when the fullness of the poems is uncomfortable because it’s too much, it retreats and opens up, which is a brilliance of extremes like a heartbeat he reconfigures in an ongoing and delicate balance throughout the book.

Deep Code is a generous thing, unforthcoming about where its speaker stops. “I Am Not Myself” begins “I’m severely everyone / & it hurts” (31). The book is full of moments of clarity, when it comes up for air. The final poem, “Get Up. You Always Do.” includes the lines: “just be okay for me tonight / East River’s strung out headlights / still pushing through” (92). New York, in the poems, starts to be Coletti’s proxy, as he populates it with what he feels and sees, where the book is in the city’s landscape and then out of it, where Coletti himself is the book’s constant locus.

Deep Code reads as part of the family of recent books of poems that use a tornado of sensory information to put pressure on what the objectless object world of Twitter, etc. might be doing to our ability to attend to the features of our humanness. What’s impressive to me about Deep Code is that the speaker’s work to parse that virtual world and make space for it all maintains itself within the emotional core of the book. It’s a book that documents the process of fighting to feel like a person and to understand what that could look like and mean. If it’s a book full of stuff and virtual stuff, it’s also a book full of feelings and ideas, one inextricable from the next.

The Short:

  1. I learned in Deep Code that loving hurts and being a self hurts, and that it’s easy for there to be too much of everything, but nothing is ever enough of what it is.
  2. Deep Code is a catalogue of anxious empathy.
  3. The book comes up for air just about as often as I run out of places in my brain to file all of the information it spins through.
  4. It’s like watching ballet: the more I know about how it fits together, the more mystified I am at how all of its elements converge.
  5. It’s also a little like watching my laundry in the wash: what’s familiar is hypnotic and distorted, and I can’t look away.