Thursday, April 25, 2013
Where To From Out - Into Chris Mason's Mind, Of Course
Where To From Out by Chris Mason
Furniture Press Books, 2013
Where To From Out, Chris Mason's latest charming, informative and deeply human and humane book, is his autobiography through his life's travels. What better way to know a person and their values than through where they go, who they go with and what they bring back with them?
The primary focus of these journeys, though, is the grandeur of the lands and peoples of Earth and their history. The author recognizes he is lucky enough to be a relatively brief specimen passing through with a respect and awe of the human continuum and, like in "Gondwanaland Super-continet Earth 450 million years ago", a concern for the future: "...The/ current mass/ extinction being/ caused by us/ is happening so/ slowly we/ hardly notice it." To move about informed by the history of the lands we travel is a political act and the first and best protection against acting like an Assclown.
Befitting the travel poems inside, the chapbook is designed like a map or a cool menu that you would get at a rustic tavern on a Swiss hillside. The limited edition version, which I am happy to be holding, has beautiful textured screen printed covers by Jodi Hoover.
To give an example of the populist vision of Chris, one similar to folk legend Woody Guthrie, here are a few lines from "Monteverde, Costa Rica":
ground and sky,
thick air and algae -
fur. Costa Rica's
richer when lack of
gold there caused
The format of the book being so long and thin (about 2 1/2" wide & 13" tall), the line breaks are short and clipped, giving the writing the feel of notes and impressions jotted down on the fly or resting at a cafe, to be assembled and pondered when you return home.
The various homes throughout stages of the author's life are also sprinkled among the travel destinations. Like he and his wife's home ("Halethorpe, Maryland, 1988") with a small Jewish cemetary behind it that they move into with their newborn daughter.
Despite its drawbacks: "smelly polluted gully", "Jewish/cemetery, one/ night defaced,/", plus Winky the blind cat they took in accidentally getting cooked in a propane furnace, the author has a warm spot in his heart for their marriage cottage where their toddler danced to music tapes - "I heart/ambient/haunted love-hovel". I must disclose (and brag) that I too heart that place and of course Chris. I got to help him move in there and watch redheaded wild sprite Elizabeth take form and grow resilient.
To get a rich feeling for the author's own origins, an awful lot is packed into the small 11 line poem "Oberammergau, Germany, (Reenactment of Christ's Crucifixion) Every Tenth year":
with parents, night brain
storm, knock on
bedroom door, their sweet
embrace, open door,
shout, "Let's go
see the Passion Plays
this Spring at
You get a lot of insight from these few lines/words - the 17 year old not only has worldly intellectual curiosity outside average teen stuff, but his relationship is such with his parents that they not only share intellectual passions, but he feels comfortable enough to knock on their closed night door. The warmth of the home is only further accentuated by the fact that he has interrupted them getting it on (hopefully the interruptions were not a regular occurrence. That would take this narrative into a far different place).
But of course no human is just a gusher of light wanting to hang with the folks while Christ is strung up again, there has to also be a dark side. Or else Jung would purely just be read by anally fixated pastel New Agers carefully weighing their daily stools in Whole Foods.
In "Kindergarten Room Keewaydin Elementary School Minneapolis, Minnesota" we learn: "I sneak up on/ gentle big/ brother John skating/ and push him/ face first down on ice./ Teacher mad/ sixth grade when we move/ I don't thank/ class for completing/ my paper/ mache yarn monkey."
A major theme in this book that to me runs throughout all of Chris' work, is that though our personal material lives are finite, they're infinite in their resonance in the cycle of life. We live on in the hearts and minds of our loved ones, bones of a three foot tall human from 17 thousand years ago are dug up in Indonesia for scientists to learn from, "Some guys drink beer, see/ cosmic rays/ making Northern Lights./ Maybe those/ muons are from that/ binary/ star, Cygnus X- 3,/ one guy thinks."
And where is the great circle of life better represented than by a book in a bookstore? In "Normals Books and Records" (okay, I co-own this shop, but that's not the only or main reason I'm quoting from here), things get downright meta. The author is filling in for his bookshop pal who claims to be going to the post office but is most likely out fiendishly sucking down a shorty behind the Save-Rite. While there Chris comes across one of the books he wrote and gave away to a woman he had a crush on sitting in the store with his inscription to her on a continent of feeling long long ago. "Coffee stains,/ finger-smude, corners/ of pages/ curling, spine bloated/ or spine cracked,/ books sent out come back/ older." Another time in the same store he hears the daughter of the director of the Bach society from his hometown in Minneapolis that his mother sang in plaing electronically altered flute, "their notes in moonlight now dispersed./ Each book on shelf at/ Normals once/ lay open, face down,/ on someone's/ stomach, half-asleep,/ half-mouthing/ words just read to self."
Now Where To From Out, Chris' new book, is standing beautiful and filled with whimsy and wisdom on the bookshelves of that very store and I am confident that many years from now when the Earth is ruled by "a great though now/ obscure phylum of/ beings with/ unlikely object-/ perceivers,/ unthinkable thing-/ controllers/ and thoughts that do not/ seem like thoughts", they will somehow come across the works of Chris Mason, enter the content into processing jelly and perform what to them is joy ritual.