Monday, July 19, 2010

Collapsible Poetics Theater

Toscano, Rodrigo. Collapsible Poetics Theater. Albany, NY: Fence Books, 2008.

In the back matter for Toscano's collection of theatrical poems, readers are informed that his “Poetics Theater is a test of poetry” that “brings an entirely new set of possibilities” to the poem, but, concomitantly, “fits into the poetry scene as a baby does in itchy burlap” (155), in that the rigidity of poetic discourse confines, irritates, and suffocates. To wit, conceptualizing Toscano's Collapsible Poetics Theater as simply a book of genre-bending poems proves reductive. In fact, both the artifact and the text within the artifact are merely potential poems; the poems, in all reality, are the actualized performances of the pieces. The dialogue, stage directions, and diagrams therein merely “Circumscrib[e] a zone of action” (3) in order foster a “more textured...proclamation,” or, in a very literal manner, “architectural thought” (5). For Collapsible Poetics Theater is “poetry for the movement” (31), and the movement from the page to the stage activates the movement from the head to the entire body, wherein the “ears,” as well as the head's other component parts (i.e. eyes/mouth/mind), “detach and take flight in different directions” (130). Furthermore, with this detachment, the poems “conjure up a volatile space...where signs shake off their 'natural selves'” (138) within the signifying system and re-adjust their modus operandi: “words and phrases” achieve “variating intensities and affects” (121) in service of, for, and from the body that the two-dimensional space of the page and well-worn theories of signification cannot achieve. Indeed, Toscano creates an embodied poetics, or in his words, “Body-body-centric” (2) poems of performance, action, and movement. But the connotations of the word “movement” are not limited to the aforementioned spaces; “movement” also refers to social and cultural movements, whether they be the “Movimiento Al Socialismo” (19), “Movimiento a la poesia translinguistica” (20), or “Movimiento a la construccion de bombas poeticas efectivas para explotar la direccion general de Bechtel” (22). Two of the more overt manners in which the poet enacts a culturally engaged poetic is through 1) direct treatment of economic and social issues, particularly in relation to border-politics and immigration, and 2) by writing multi-lingual texts. In the case of the former, speakers in “Truax Inimical” make polemic statements, such as “We once were intimidated by the words 'vagrant' 'fugitive' 'illegal'” (22), “Your weapon of choice...U.S. Dollar” (7), and “At the core of the Empire is an authentic voice that sounds like a controlling sleazy son of a—” (5) that clearly support a progressive, “counter-capitalistic” (4) stance and declare “complete independence from...Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.” (22). In the case of the latter, speakers in “Pig Angels of the Americlypse” code-switch from English to Spanish, more often than not employing colloquial phrases and regional dialects. To wit, stage directions inform us that “Players should take special care in emphasizing where the accent falls on each” version of the word “Dario” (43). But perhaps more importantly than all other concerns, Toscano does not want the Collapsible Poetics Theater to collapse into a “perennially open-ended poetics and/or border crossing aesthetics sans actual bodies moving freely” (24); his collection allows bodies to move “freely” on stage, but bodies must be able to move “freely” across border as well. While the speakers in the closing performance concede “it's only poetic theater's faux duress,” there is hope that “It's a vantage point nonetheless” (153), and from that “vantage point” and “through simple love,” all will have an opportunity to “roll over—to the other side” (70) freely.

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