As always, if you’re not caught up on this series and you’d like to know more about how it works, you can read the description in Episode 1. Now on to the good stuff.
Text conversation I had with my father prior to this episode:
me: “History or hockey?”
him: “oooh, that’s a tough one. I’ll have to take history.”
This was followed by a discussion about selling squash kugel on the black market? Don’t ask. Anyway, that “history or hockey” was a barely coded choice between two poems in Michael Boughn’s SubTractions, the upside down back half of 22 Skidoo.
My dad is an archeologist in a lawyer’s suit/office/Jewish surname. Our house is full of back issues of Archaeology Magazine and texts on ancient history. I was curious about the way Boughn’s 22 Skidoo/SubTractions might look to someone who hasn’t forgotten, who still sees/lives in a world defined by history, and whose relationship with modernity is nicely summarized here:
(a small section of a conversation involving step by step instructions for how to work an iPhone. Oliver is a dog.)
Also, I fucking love this book. So here’s my dad reading “History Minus One”:
What was your first impression of the poem?
It’s mainly about the wordplay. The meaning is too obscure*. The rhythm initially flows but then the final stanza runs on tripping up the reader with staccato outbursts. It didn’t leave an emotional residue.
Which line of the poem do you like best?
that dances back and forth / over bleeding body / of knowledge left in clotted / dust under sun’s withering / glory
The imagery. The language. The lasting nature of it.
What does this poem make you think of?
There are many references to Ancient Egypt and through the references it turns your mind to Egypt but only intermittently. There’s a mystic, other worldly focus that dominates the poem.
Are there any words in this poem that you don’t understand?
Not words but phrases and the meaning of their placement within the poem.
Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?
Do you have any questions for the poet?
Yes. Two things. “Tanks” and “net packs earth” blows the rhythm, why are they necessary and were these your first choices?
*Since writing this, my father read the description of 22 Skidoo/SubTractions on BookThug’s website and responded, “Oh that makes a little more sense now.”
Robert Izsak is a middle aged man of medium build and a full head of hair, with an amorous cat in his lap and a strawberry sundae from Dairy Queen in front of him.