A review of With by Kenning JP Garcia

Reviewed by Ben Tripp

With
by Kenning JP Garcia
Really Serious Literature
December 2021, Paperback, 138pgs, ISBN-13: 978-057833750091

Two notions that come to mind upon first encountering JP Garcia’s With (diary / antipoetry) are, one; a certain opacity that language/words can have, and that this may sharpen into a kind of politics in itself—and two; the novel utterance of “antipoetry” suggesting a kind of starting over, or a bold disavowal of so much that has come before. Perhaps when a poet feels themselves to be in a kind of crisis, they might suddenly push against the established notions of capital P “Poetry” firstly as a new source of pleasure, and as a form of release. It would serve the pleasure of the reader too, in many cases as well, that this poet could also along the way be making some interesting discoveries during this process. It is most definitely a fear of the unknown, or a fear of poetry itself becoming somehow irrevocably damaged, tainted or lost, that so many others do just the opposite: reification of the status quo so far as it pertains to the form and content that so much poetry takes. Following a crisis in contemporary politics, or even a personal, private crisis in the life of the poet (which honestly isn’t any of the reader’s business, unless the poet makes it so) perhaps the basic framework itself could undergo a certain transformation under these sordid auspices…instead of just adding complications , or a shiny new gilding to the already known common facts of life or art. 

Is this a truly Copernican exploratory adventure in poetry then, or just another academic Ptolemy-ization of contemporary verse? The former, who believed in Earth-centered astronomy, famously endeavored to complicate the data so as to account for the anomalies that were fast gathering around him making undeniable the proof that he was wrong…pointing out the proverbial elephant in the room so to speak, the emperor’s new clothes: nakedness. JP Garcia exercises something of the scientists’ precision talent with their diary here. We find hypothesis, experiment, and ripe evidence all wrapped into one lurid package: 

                      Nostalgia needed sentimentality, the sentimental, the sentiment. Sentimentality never asked for
any help.                 Was always about itself. For itself. Except when sentimentality gives in to its own understanding of its         own mentality becomes a way of thinking, being, existing. The only way to proceed is the after of to                     occur. It’s how the before considers the end of the day. How the darkest is always before. 

A new day is necessary. No time for like, share, comment. Time to skip the social and the media. Every                   word gets the scrutiny it deserves as it touches the air aimed at ears, at eyes, avoids touch, taste, smell                        receives the sixth sense treatment it gets. Vocabulary and semantics
willed be taxed as syntax sees fit. 

“Anti-” is idiomatic for “against”, i.e. political. And it is often said best and most simple that “political” or politics, means people. And people may be, for better or for worse, convinced of things that they had not vouched for previously. JP Garcia’s diary becomes a sprawling manifest of what perhaps the author has suddenly come to believe only after long recollection, or alternatively learned to rethink on more honest terms. It’s a kind of emotional, intellectual fact-finding mission. The terms may be halting, the aggressive cadence even offensive to some. This is a poetry collection in prose that jabs and swipes at us; yet also in the same instance it can turn agile around the corners of reference and wordplay to zoom out…revealing deeper, broader philosophical musings. “The sixth sense” above in question might best be defined as that vital linkage that can happen between such lofty notions (such as those borrow from philosophy, sociology, you name it) and then the more terrestrial everyday things & concerns we all know: technology, the emotions limited vocabulary, memory’s perpetual vanishing and how sensuality erodes into endless time. “Skin on skin never felt the way it was supposed to,” Garcia writes, “The way it was described from the classics to the contemporaries.”

With offers the reader a lyrical version or reflection of the author’s cognitive process, thus it really is a diary, but one that goes deeper than most. Some might be tempted to gloss over the myriad of quotations in order to get straight to the meat of the original writing being presented. Web addresses and pop music are also quoted in places: “[…] façade is just a fake / Shock horror no escape / Sensationalism for the feed (X-Ray Spex)”. This too, Garcia proves, is the manure of spiritual development, or if it is not spiritual, at least poetic. But it is the frequent mention of “underworlds” and “overworlds” and other Biblical matter that suggest a certain spirituality lurking behind With’s prosody. Garcia never backpedals, always doubles-down: “Can’t plan for everything. The myths leave out too many details. Diaries do the same. Dialogue even more so.”

The New York School poet Ted Berrigan famously joked and wrote that some prefer the Socratic method, but he liked to beat people up. With hovers gracefully between these two polarities somehow; it is one part Dostoevsky’s underground man, one part free improvisation and collage, and there are still elements that bring us back the natural shock of the real, horror like true crime, “based on a true story” while remaining supple and inviting as verse, like a riddle, broken pieces of a puzzle slowly coming back together: 

Nobody can speak on a behalf of a future nor on the behalf of unknowns.

Stop and frisk. 41 shots. Unarmed. Illegal. Detained.

*

Better have no carbon footprint. Better be a vegan. Better … Nothing ethical under the weight of subjectivity.

*

Pantone 309 will one hour be Pantone 2706.

*

“Story is inhuman…” (Terese Marie Mailhot)

A dialogue between two characters identified only as “Other” and “One” constitutes the final third of this collection. It would seem to be an allegory for conflicting subjectivities, or even more fundamentally…the relationship of writer to reader. The former is no longer reduced to a passive observer allowing the thing (book) to deploy its potential without any intervention of their own. As Garcia throws down this hulking gauntlet, we feel prompted to become simultaneously both active and passive, to enjoy the ride so to speak while also choosing on our own where we might like our eye to wander between these covers. With’s density and impressive span is all of a piece, a meticulous composition full of staccato accents, while it also encourages the reader to make a composition of their own through the process of reading. 

To be fair, this is not necessarily a new idea…it’s at least as old as Gertrude Stein’s iconic essay “Composition as Explanation” but now through the prism of JP Garcia’s subjectivity it is reborn. Stein wrote that the reader’s looking or choosing what to look at is in itself a composition parallel in some ways to the author’s ostensible virtuosity: “Nothing changes from generation to generation except the thing seen and that makes a composition.” This is also similar to the transitions of popular musical from genres like jazz to rock ‘n’ roll or even disco, rap & etcetera…the former focused on the deifying of a certain central artist figure, where the improvisational act is the privilege of the one performer or their group; while the latter(s) attempt to radically fold in the audience as an integral working part of this greater improvisation or creative event. The crowd says so; it is, in a word, more participatory this way. Whether we are dealing with records or live activity the same mortification occurs in historical memory and monuments of the past, what survives are objects like books that so often feel deprived of their living souls. It takes a new sense of creative urgency like that of JP Garcia’s to breathe life into them. 

About the reviewer: Ben Tripp is a writer and performer. He was a finalist for the National Poetry Series in 2021, and has published reviews in Brooklyn Rail, Bomb and Hyperallergic. He blogs at benjamintripp.wordpress.com/.

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