sameness in the luxury of being
A review of Suckers by Joseph Farley
by Joseph Farley
P.O. Box 40691
Philadelphia, PA 19107
The first poem (Suckers) begins with lines that create the interwoven image—we see what the poet sees in private moments, wet, flowing repetitions in green, living and rotting in decay simultaneously— a cat fish sucks slimy stone below a manmade waterfall frothing with a chemical foam from factories upstream with their backs turned on the scene. Life is to be found in the green swollen veins/in the enlarged breast/of the nursing/mother,/ (Mother) and in the verdant tree tops of a legendary past, when ... America was one great forest /and a squirrel could travel/ from New York to the Mississippi /without touching the ground (Delta). And in his poem, Evolution-/I wish my parents/had never crawled /out of the ocean. Farley invokes the origins of more muck and ooze— sites de-evolution as the only hope in his poem The Fish —-swimming/through air/blue-green fish/with scales/of justice/.... /swimming/ towards/destiny/calling us/back to/our roots/ back to/the sea/telling us/it’s never/ too late/to start/ over.
All this as he goes about his day—Farley the poet, at a physical standstill, at a slow walking pace, on his weekday commute. “”I go to the obligatory job,” (January) he tells us. Later he names the city Philadelphia—where ....every mother/with a broom/sweeps the streets/with an eye/for strangers (Not From the Neighborhood). In Farley's poem January, he’s standing observing, as— Sanitation trucks roll by while I wait/ for a street car./A stray dog limps up to the newspaper box/and crosses the street./Seagulls circle in beautiful spirals/over the Roy Rogers’ dumpster./—/ This is as lyrical as I get at 8 a.m./ The cemetery's at my back./It’s grass is still green.
Pages in, the poet shifts into night, submerges us on a timeless flight thru sleep and dreams—even while living yet another aspect or phase of what William James, in The Energies of Man, calls the “...habit of inferiority to our full self...” Farley formulates what he clearly sees, telling the truths of his vision. In his poem titled Words, there is a distinction Words, meaning nothing,/ are easy to say./They clatter about the room/like so many wild birds/released from their cages/bumping into walls,/fluttering overhead/with no sense of direction,/no purpose or destination./_/Do not be impressed by their noise/....... /The words with meaning/will return in the morning/and sing at the window/until you wake from sleep,/ and will continue to return/each morning until you let them in/and make them part of your life. Self-referential—the poets existence on several levels of reality—words his aesthetic medium.
The poet flies free in his dreams or the poet Farley selects little details— to praise and analyze to make his stance known. Is this analysis that precedes a course of action? Will the poet continue on the same course or make a change? Does he thrive on the sustenance of his own aesthetic observation? Is it enough for him to continue on in the same routines? Farley does not pretend to actually lead us beyond this life, yet somehow lifts us up above it—this is his poetry. His poetry soothes (but cannot completely heal) the poet’s wounds in the act of living, possibly less than he had hoped, or the reader’s in mutual recognition.
Yet Farley’s words come to him—lines in poetic form on a page. The spiraling outlay of each Farley poem begins with the superbly simple statement that draws the interested reader in—to find the profound aptly placed just below, in phrases and fragments precisely fractured into the depths of truths felt by observation, employing Farley’s innate understanding of the appropriate use and power and effect and the strength of simile vs metaphor—as in the poems Dinner With Xu Juan and Chinese Tea.
The process is outcome enough, (This), Farley tells us. Writing poetry, quietly living the aesthetic (somewhat mystical?) experience—as answer to the generations old problem of how intelligent human beings can escape the stifling middle class life and “the sleep of triviality it brings.” (Colin Wilson, Poetry & Mysticism). The poem is the simile to life—showing how things can be two things at once.
Perhaps this is a portion of the non-definitive spirituality that holds out in this poets world, sometimes dominated by a cynicism, where—Sunsets/ are all reruns anyway (Cuticle Moon). Joe Farley's descriptive vision under a glaring hot sun (January)—a spiraling inland seabird over Philadelphia—where commuter train suicides cause delays and stray dogs scavenge the world from inside their luxury of being.
Farley acknowledges what his innate spirituality is NOT—a dozen pages from the end of this book—in the poem Natural Theology, his own confused combining of the words from/the Koran/mixed with/the Book of Tao,/and Quetzalcoatl/gets crucified/on the Bo tree/next to christ,/while Jonah/and the Flint Boys/dance the hula/with Shiva.
Yes, the poet has his illusions to understanding—his dreams life. His driving mythology—-to teach himself, and us, the reader, about relationships to the current global reality of environmental conditions— an aspect that overshadows the literary. This is his news about how it is for him.
Yet all this work brings Farley into times of nervous discomfort, so that he forms a suspicion that this path of least resistance, perhaps taken up at a young age with little questioning, now forced to follow daily as an expectation, may not actually suit his needs. Perhaps, his— it's never/ too late/to start/ over, contains many more difficulties. What is practical to do once gone on so long responsible to wife and children? In the poem Homage to Sherwood Anderson, the poet Farley tells of his yearnings to ride the rails or go on the road. Perhaps a vagabonds life would better feed his poetic nature. Would taking up a solo responsibility—a venture out—-risk—really be so original a route to go? He seems to wistfully envy the courage to go against those aspect of the city oppressing him—the family, mortgage, job, as if he can't make such a decision. He'd have to have already entered the world via other aspects and directions, escaped in the night/following railway tracks/to the big city/where reality altered,/the door opened/and your mind/was set free.
Like many who dream.
Does the poet judge his dreams and observations more real than the physical activities he must carry out? Is the poet searching for others who share his dream life or who live differently? Or does he seek an explanation of his discontented seeking while continuing to live as he does? There’s a poem (Good Friday) about time Farley allowed himself to play deadbeat—watching a porn video while numbering himself statistically unemployed—his infant son sleeps—the poet’s wife the infant’s mother off at her paid work.
Or , does Joseph Farley know he’s more needed where he is—better off—observing and writing on his current urban nightmare with glimpses into insights and visions...the common dilemma no one has found a real solution to, this poet found his. At times his leads can be sought out with the stumbling nearsightedness of a Magoo, naked/as myself/.../do not fear/my knock/at your door, /I may have misread/ the number,/do not fear/my call,/I may have/left out/the 900. The serendipity of the poets process or is the poet the predominate self-described sucker—in his endless search for meaning, as in his poem Fellini Days :Flipping through / the comics /
in an / endless search / for meaning /
watching / re-runs / rental videos /
obituaries / on the news / cartoon bullets /
comedy shells / explode in Sarajevo /
a paper cut / on my finger / turning
pages / was never so / dangerous /
I / long to be / immortal / above it
all / no longer / drawn in ink / or
blood / just a / cartoon / a cut / above.
Magoo begins an appropriate lull in this collection—consistent with the over-all composition of SUCKERS, and with the selfsame description of the poet’s personality. In the poems on pages 62-79 we may begin to wonder if Farley sees anything worth telling about—laced with the occasional line of brilliance as he stumbles about —the problem in the air, he tells on page 76. This expectant sketch alerts his mind into promising us/himself future works. We can give him that, a much needed rest—then zowee——a portent, in The Owl on the Mailbox:It should come as
to see all things
and the wine.
I was smiling before
from the car,
To see the white bird,
puffing in the moonlight,
perched on that
below the shining porch light,
was a portent
of all the fanciful
still streaming in my head,
Then the poet takes us back to work again, into the process, full circle in Corridor:
You look up at the clock/and wipe your eyes./ You rise and walk/to the door,/ feel it swing back/on hinges/as you head/for the water / cooler./.../you look back/down the narrow/windowless corridor/that leads to a door./ You walk, and as you walk/you think/this corridor/is your life/and this door/is something/you’re waiting/to open.