ING GRISH by JOHN YAU and THOMAS NOZKOWSKIJEFFREY CYPHERS WRIGHT Reviews
Ing Grish, poems by John Yau and images by Thomas Nozkowski
(Saturnalia Books, Philadelphia, 2005)
At first, it seems Ing Grish is the name of some Scandinavian anti-hero. Then the linguistic acid cuts in. It’s another example of how John Yau exacts multiple references from his narrative clues. In the new book, he teams up with artist Thomas Nozkowski (who offers reproductions of paintings and drawings) to posit an audaciously innovative collection of “Untitled Portraits” (as several of the poems are called). At times, the fit is so right, it feels like Yau and Nozkowski are illustrating each other as they perform duos on a stage with changing sets.
In these poems, Yau continues to populate his wordscapes with enigmatic personae dramatis. Demons, genies and one-eyed librarians make cameos in ever shifting scenarios that flare up, vanish and are instantly followed by new characters in elaborate situations.
In “Two Baboons on a Beach,” the language sheds the luggage of linear continuity and instead takes on a structural web that is cloaked in a narrative diction. Using the long sentences of the New York School, Yau stretches them out with regular adjective-noun double punch combos: “good Samaritan, gaggle of troubadours… two spinsters… smaller birds… bronze-colored man…tall ruddy translator….” He then insinuates these inventions into compelling circumstances: “clambered into its dusty cab… the guard gasps when he realizes the owl is missing.” Sometimes it’s as if you are reading fairy tales that indelibly meld together.
A droll air pervades the spellbinding tableaux. Sometimes the effects are culled from old-fashioned props such as dukes and tightrope walkers, casting an amber, if surreal, glow over the figures. Occasionally the farce is forthright: “The bull circles the outhouse marked OFF LIMITS.” In between all the action, the interwoven lulls become pastoral and add the perfect ballast: “…sunset flooding the interior of a tower… pebbles clatter down a tin roof…a green sky tinged with pink streams.”
Other poems show off further structures and part of the reader’s pleasure is in de-coding these devices and admiring the dexterity with which they’re discharged. Tom Devaney has written about the “dazzling surface” of John Yau’s poetry and it’s an apt notion. These poems hover impossibly above reality. Yau has created a kind of anti-gravity kaleidoscope that refracts the communicative nature of language. He re-presents the mother tongue as a sequence of hypnotic persuasions.
Jeffrey Cyphers Wright studied poetry in New York with Allen Ginsberg, Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley. He’s the author of 10 books of poetry. For fifteen years he published Cover Magazine. He is also an art critic and poetry reviewer. Some of his recent work can be found on the following websites:
A Scathing Spoof of “President” Bush;
A long poem celebrating New York City’s community gardens can be found on the Brooklyn College magazine website.