Shattered Wig #28

Shattered Wig #28
Coming In November!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"The We in Weep": Chris Toll Calls for Revolutionary Love

 Well, the danger in saying yes to writing a book review for a magazine you've never heard of by a guy you've never seen or heard from before is that you'll write the review and never hear back from the editor ever again.  The upside - especially if you knew you loved the book anyway - is that you write a book review and force your (my) feeble brain into forming some kind of passing logic for why you love what you love.

"The We in Weep": Chris Toll Calls For Revolutionary Love in his The Disinformation Phase


  Chris Toll's latest book, The Disinformation Phase (Publishing Genius Press, Baltimore), is awash in the baptismal, transformative fluids of tears and rain: "The rain,/heart in ruins,/staggers out of town"; "Rain sits/in the evicted easy chair"; "Raindrops are calling to the last in love./Them tears are a school that consoles."

   The outside rain mirrors the tears of the protagonists and cast extras in Toll's heartfelt lines. His freely running tears are the lubricant of a soul constantly searching for love - human to human, between nations and interplanetary - and rebirth: "How long can I stay at the inn in innocent?/Love is so hard/and it's all we came to do."


  Of course pleading a case for no holds barred love, is not new in Toll's writing, one of his older books is entitled "Love Everyone" after all, but there is an extra crisp sense of urgency to this collection. Due in part to the compact size - most are from 14 to twenty lines long, only running about an inch across, a few like "National Poetry Month" (5 lines) and "I Expand Before Nebulae" (6 lines), even less - but perhaps also due to the world around Toll in "reality" mutating and rocking ever harder with catastrophes that his "fictional" world of Everything At Once, Batman fighting it out with vampires, worlds teetering on collapse, makes even more emotional sense. 

    A day doesn't go by now it seems without a major earthquake devastating a population, a tsunami reducing humanity to chess pieces swept off the board by a raging loser, droughts, floods, war after war.  Recently the news was so full of cannibalistic violence - a college student eating his roommate's heart and brain, a teenager in Florida eating the face of a homeless man - some people blaming it on the over the counter drug called "bath salts", that the Center for Disease Control felt they had to state that we weren't in a zombie apocalypse since they had jokingly posted on their website over a year ago "How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse".  It truly does feel that anything could happen at any time and it's hard not to search the skies for some kind of winged hero.

    Because of the naked yearning and whimsy in Toll's writing and the interweaving of lowbrow/pop culture with his more erudite side, I've always thought of him as The Emily Dickinson of Mars. "The Queen of the Vampires" assembles her "army of zombie shamans./They storm Jerusalem and rescue Jesus./No cross is is erected on top of Golgotha." He is as familiar with The Bible as he is with Marvel and DC Comics, Poe and Plath sit comfortably in the mad swirl of zombies, vampires and werewolves. 

  After all, who's to say that in a hundred years sitting in some wretched post-apocalyptic bunker there won't be a surviving tribe of humans passing around Iron Man comic books as sacred text, like the worship of Punchinella in Russell Hoban's novel Riddley Walker?

    Although most of the pieces in Disinformation Phase are not radically different from those of other Toll books (why is "try in Poetry", "why isn't destiny in clandestine" - examples of the kind  of pop linguistic deconstruction that he's been doing since I first became aware of him in the '80s ), but more terse and urgent, this book does herald a new form by him. 

    In the pieces "What Have You Done for Global Warming Today?", "My Ruby Hat", "1776", "Money Never Weeps" and "Writing Groups of the Future", Toll introduces a rich, playful conceit of never before read poems by old masters - John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Dickinson again, Poe and Sylvia Plath respectively - being found under arcane circumstances and then translated by Toll himself.

   The prose introductions to these pieces are transcendentally effervescent and the first time I've seen fiction written by him:  "Correspondence from Emily Dickinson to Arthur Rimbaud was recently discovered in a farmhouse in France.  The three letters were hidden beneath the false bottom in a china cupboard.  Emily and Arthur were both Farsi scholars, and they particularly loved the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam." (from "My Ruby Hat")

    Of course part of the humor and twists of these pieces is that after Toll sets up extravagantly bizarre circumstances to how these lost poems of masters are found, he then claims himself as the translator of these works and unleashes wild Tollisms in them, like in "My Ruby Hat":

"I love in 256 Dimensions.
A Prophet devours a Candle -
A Leopard sleeps with a Lizard -
The Word is on the wing."

    Toll's goal is beyond and he wants to reach your heart at any cost, with any tool. "The moon recites the same prayer over and over./Find me soon."

    The final lines of the final poem in the book, "Perfect Love", are a call to break down all walls, including gender, to reach divine love:

"O giant in chains,
O darling ,
let the eternal divine feminine energy
awaken within you."


  I've often heard Chris Toll speak of how "Giants once walked the Earth", like in describing seeing Bob Dylan live during his Highway 61 period and putting the words "Giants will stride the Earth again" in Dickinson's letter to Rimbaud in "My Ruby Hat".  Every impassioned and well crafted line he writes is a call to bring to life the giant that lives in each of us.

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