Tim Suermondt reviews
Dante’s Unintended Flight
(prose poems by Emily Vogel)
published by NYQ Books, 2017
Emily Vogel does more with the prose poem than most poets would ever think of doing. Using her stay in Florence as a catalyst, she muses through a landscape of human relationships, time, art and history, immortality — all threaded by the busyness of our earthly lives and its allegories (allegory being well known to Dante.) Here’s a poem from early in the book:
There are strange exchanges with familiar people and familiar exchanges with strange people. Man is a translation of himself, in anger or congenially. Man is a fixture among a sea of orbiting abstractions. Woman is something leafy which climbs a trellis and solemnly proceeds in its climbing. Woman sits silent and pregnant in the well beneath all language. Her interchange is with a whisper of air. An infant is a prayer and day becomes evening and evening becomes night and nobody says a word. In the late morning, laundry billows outside the shuttered window.
Vogel uses Man and Woman throughout the collection and joined frequently by Little Boy and Little Girl. God himself (or herself if she’s “Mother God”) puts in appearances, showing that many theologians had it right when postulating that God needs us as much as we need him.
While Vogel’s Florence is described most accurately, it could be a number of cities and places in Vogel’s concerns — where human beings live and work and die, trying to make sense of a world that often doesn’t make all that much sense, doing, in the best sense, the best they can alone or with others:
…Woman wants her voice to be a clear bell likean articulation of love, her sex speaking in the comprehendsive language of man. Her sex-like words, like blades, like bells, like the certainty of touching skin. Her sex wanting the hands of man gentle above her tailbone. Man or black fly, fatigue of living. The framework and ridicule of the polis, the history of useless books. The heart is not the distillation of theory. An image on a screen and a despairing gun, left lying on an unmade bed.
I appreciate the moments of joy as well — the cooking of tomatoes, being happily lost in the beauty of the landscape that can both break and fortify the heart (“In the distance a door slams like / the blink of a woman’s eye, and little girl wakes and calls out / into the mystery of existence. Bird jostles a bush and little / boy is waking as though sleep was myth.”
Vogel’s use of language is at times beautiful, tough, true and strange — with images you won’t find anywhere else. And the book’s title is perfect, given that we know Dante had to get out of Dodge for political reasons and his own survival. Always on the move, physically and emotionally, we can turn to Emily Vogel for assessment and hope, partial as it may be. As she writes in the last poem of the book: “The blue jay persists.” And so do we all.