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There’s a new luxury condo building coming to Tribeca—a glass 60 foot skyscraper, with a Jenga-like design that the architect’s firm calls “houses stacked in the sky.” This building was on my mind a bit reading the poems in Adam Fitzgerald’s The Late Parade (Liveright). There’s a clean, sturdy but jagged structuring to the work, and the way the poems look, but also a tremendous amount of risk and adventure in the lyric—a vigorous accruing of language.
With poems sometimes existing within clouds or dreams, Fitzgerald’s continuous bricklayer feel of stacking one thing on top of another feels akin to skyscraper assembly. In fact, the book begins with an architectural object, a “Cathedral” where the first line is sort of a tricky statement: “To write about one thing, you must first write about another.” And then, in the final line, conjoins a simple, brush-off phrase with a philosophical statement, repeating the “another” again: “You go out for coffee. You come back another person.”
Building imagery comes back in “The Map” where “Large sidewalks of canvassed sunlight / concealed almost a city under that city / while rivers waved in the distance”; and also in the “obdurate dome… above the rest of the sad plain, in Dubai”; and inherently in the gorgeously intense cluttering of imagery in the “Collection Agency” (one of my favorites in the book). As a poet who yearns for concreteness and specificity in my own work, it was exhilarating to read poems of such mystery, uniqueness and elusiveness unfurling themselves but remaining grounded in other arenas. I was struck by the pantoum “Strange Cinema” where vagueness was sometimes tempered by the tactile: “pleasure of doubt,” “pungent musk of her hair,” “the plum wallpaper was kind”; the sharply phrased “cut pink fruit,” the image I could imagine the most vividly (but also questioned metaphorically and innuendo-wise), and the one that stuck with me after finishing the book, became far more dazzling, than had it been couched in a poem of relentless specificity. Fitzgerald’s relentlessness cycles itself in language’s relationships with meaning, music / sound and philosophy.
The cover design (a brilliant, eye-catching oil painting: Big Yellow (Brooklyn) by Emilio Sanchez) with its blue sky (“the lanky, still sun ravishes”), bright yellow building of rectangles (I’m “drifting over corrugated space”) and single cast shadow (a cloud? another building?), its dance between anonymity, abstractness and tangible concreteness like the “lattice garb” of the uniforms in “The War We’re Fighting Now” is a perfect companion to Fitzgerald’s material. Impressively, like Sanchez’s painting, not a moment feels superfluous in Fitzgerald’s work, yet there’s also a looseness to the feel of the poems.
I go to the brazen music of Bob Dylan, of whom I know Fitzgerald is a devotee, and I can see similarities and images in Dylan’s most recognizable songs like “Chimes of Freedom” or even something like “Mr. Tambourine Man”: “I’m ready to go anywhere / I’m ready for to fade / Into my own parade.” Unlike those choruses of Dylan, and I may be wrong, I didn’t find too many poems that repeated phrases or statements, which too gave the poems that “built-up” impression of one new layer after another. In general, anaphora can be used for either an emphatic or dulling effect; in “The Argument,” there’s the repetitious “the” paired with different words and images, all culling up together (which rhythmically and sonorously is what an argument, indeed, sounds like) until that pretty-feeling final line “The valley covered in stars.” Where Dylan’s dreamy, sometimes opaque lyrics are usually eased by their monotonous, comforting melodies and chord structures, Fitzgerald’s poems comfort may lie in their conservative appearance on the page—a lot of clean, blocky stanzas and quatrains (“Quatrains, peaches and rivers had once / been the clock of his invariable hours. / A swift green apron of someone’s desire / and perishing fire. The city went on.”) And even when I had to flip the book sideways to read the elegy “Rock,” the poem looks so well-groomed and arranged even as the speaker finds the “monumentality of it all” unconvincing. Like a lot of poems in the book, it’s chock-full of descriptions of the barren—”Beautiful shore-waste. Barren-balm. And beside / the beachside are ruins of something. Light assays. Grass is absent.” I found this piece particularly beautiful in its simplicity and peculiarity where Fitzgerald sees the subject as “Young still. The sun tags your yellow shirt / in the white blue. So you stand, as you stood. / You do not move.”
In “Toy History” which Fitzgerald mentions in the notes as being written on Obama’s first term inauguration day (the defining “last parade” of 2000s America) and is also indebted to Giorgio de Chirico’s “metaphysical” still-lifes where neatly arranged, unusual pairings of objects, sometimes placed around or upon shadow-casted buildings, give off a striking effect, there’s exquisiteness, a mash-up of blitheness and comedy, conjuring the petty languaging of that particular political race (“Lettuce, arugula. And don’t forget your disquiet.”) and such wonderful slant rhymes. I love running through each line’s final word which, if put together, could be Fitzgerald’s own poetic version of a de Chirico still-life (“post-apocalyptic,” “showtunes,” “distance,” “rows,” “concrete,” “thunder,” “disquiet,” “now,” “earring,” “down,” “meek,” “plea”).
A less-skilled or different-focused poet could have given me a torrent or a barrage of words to bury me with but there’s a craft to The Late Parade that’s incredibly potent. I’m grateful he provided notes at the end since it was fun and interesting to research his influences (some of them: Cat Power, Lynch, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Hardy) and go back to ponder over his poems in new light. Fitzgerald can be sly and funny too in various moments (“I didn’t always have this douchebag haircut” or “We worship the same altar / of useless shit”). These lines are easy to narrow-in on as a reader, perhaps because they’re something somewhat clear to fall upon (like that “cut pink fruit”) and are usually positioned to speak to “you.”
Like Hart Crane’s wonderment of everything going up all around him, Fitzgerald creates a “wealth of fire.” There’s a sweep to “Caravaggio in Naples” and the final, title poem that mix details, the material, personal, historic and grand, with a modernist sensibility. I could go on and on with one thing after another, and it would be amiss not to mention some of the book’s small, fantastic moments (“Inside the split- / level homes, ringtones still rung and memories of cod deliveries / hung like fire in the quaint air”; or a line like “clouds, asleep like a Subaru in the suburbs” or “in this splooge of too-mobled monuments” and the book’s final gut-punching two lines) but hopefully you reader will go off to dive into Fitzgerald’s poems; I myself am “another person,” a “re-duplicated version of myself,” looking forward to going back to one room after another in his masterful sky houses.
The Late Parade
By Adam Fitzgerald
Hardcover, 9780871406743, 128 pp.