Post Subject: A Fable by Oliver de la Paz
The University of Akron Press, 2014; 107 pp
Reviewed by Wesley Rothman
“The whole of creation will be consumed, and appear infinite and holy, whereas it now appears finite and corrupt.
This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment[…]
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to [humans] as it is, infinite.”
—William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”
Who is an Empire; what is the Empire? Not emperor, but empire, though most emperors or empresses have little hesitance to claim s/he is the empire. Oliver de la Paz’s Post Subject: A Fable dares us to pin down who and what the Empire is, at the same time allowing this sovereignty to escape our forced manacles—every poem, prosed, addresses this elusive entity: “Dear Empire,
Meanwhile, from inside the hulls of the boats, the ocean sounds like a child’s stomach. So many hungers fill the open seas.
—from “These are your docks”
As each of the five section titles (“Address,” “Atlas,” “Ledger,” “Zoo,” & “Zygote”), and the series of poems within each section, make their way through the alphabet—each poem holds up a noun of the Empire’s for examination—we experience the seeming infinitude of this Empire, its cyclic compulsion, its reign over all things. It’s often easy to believe the Empire is a god, but these poems certainly don’t address a singular deity, otherwise these poems would call out, “Dear Emperor/Empress”—instead the Empire seems to be a smoke-like entity, a conglomeration of entities that “own” and “govern” themselves—an elusive (?) unity of humanity, all that is natural, the physical and nonphysical. The formal and alphabetical choices for the poems’ and book’s construction, and the universality of its content, push a reader to wonder: How does the poetic mode, the act of the poem interrupt or harmonize with the Empire? Perhaps the Empire is the realm of the poem, of language and perception?
This is your aftermath. You were alive after the aftershocks. The long coastal land uncoiled as a rope does when pulled too taut[…]
Listen, the masses are disconsolate. Comets have foretold your doom. They blaze through evenings like fireflies. We’ve found you and lost you again, coin of our dwellings—jars of no wheat. Rise…rise and shift. Shift and blossom.
—from “This is your aftermath”
Roaming and likened to Whitman’s grandeur (by Rick Barot), Post Subject: A Fable consumes the whole of creation, or at least a representative smattering, gobbles the world—its ashes, boardwalks, capitals, holy places, its inquests, purview, radio towers, sanitarium, its beasts, hagiographers, percussionists, and scholars—cleansing the doors of perception to an extent, making the Empire appear infinite and holy, as it is. These poems pause these places, people, perceptions, dig around in them, hold them up to the light, and keep us guessing. The world of Post Subject: A Fable is terribly familiar yet intensely foreign—as poems, perhaps, should be.