Alice James Books
$11.95 / 66 pages / ISBN 1-882295-29-3
In Chime, Cort Day's first book, the poet orchestrates a series
of linguistic collisions that result in a surprising, sometimes startling,
and almost always satisfying, harmony. Day envisions a kind of music
of the spheres, except that the spheres here are atoms. The first
clue to such a thematic reading is in his epigraph which quotes from
Plato's Phaedo and mentions the "monad," that is,
unity; in philosophy, the monad is an absolutely simple entity, conceived
of as the ultimate unit of being.
Day is a visionary poet writing in the tradition of the American
transcendental. His poetry suggests that if we attend to nature closely
enough, we will apprehend "an interchange of everything"
(a different phrase perhaps?) that gives some significance to our
lives. This unity is a consequence of a terrifying randomness, a chance-driven
reality dramatized in Day's stylistics.
His vision is evident in every poem; yet at first glance, the collection
seems deceptively simple: A first person speaker appears across the
collection. Each poem is left-justified, and almost all are ten lines
long, with eight to thirteen syllables a line. Along with the unsurprising
layout, an iambic rhythm sometimes falls in: "I'm taking Aesop
as my nom de guerre" or "and wake its juice against her
skin." The use of poetic conventions seems a strategy to create
controlled conditions in which to establish the reader's comfort so
that Day can exhibit his unorthodox poetics. The strategy works to
turn out ambitious and life-affirming poems.
Day's syntax at first appears regular: "I'm learning,"
"I let," "I peel an orange." But the follow through
of these beginning sentences startles the reader"I'm learning
to juggle my addictions," "I let the blood out of a dog,"
and "I peel an orange and wake its juice against her skin."
Throughout the book a disjunctive logic generates surprise and leads
to lovely unexpected phrases.
Day accomplishes what is partly an aesthetic of surprise and mostly
an aesthetic of wonder by bringing together lexicons culled from the
seemingly disparate sciences of physics, biology, economics, and lyric
love poems, among others. He breaks down discrete discourse communities
and then transforms them into a new unified cooperative within poems
that are "full of hysterical plasma and rotating to our favorite
pop song, an electrical polka / about an increase in malignant tissue
/ in the suburbs ... a 'neutral, highly ionized gas' involving the
entire planet." They are "a thistle flower / ... resplendent
node, thought / meant to assay you. From silence, the garment / of
The lexicon of commerce brings words together into surprising metaphors
that conflate the natural world with the economic. He tells us, "Buy
cormorant low. Sell cormorant high," that "rain is money,"
and claims to "sell you the words for nipple, for strawberry."
Day emphasizes this particular thread in his collection by beginning
the book "Off to market," a focus that helps the reader
to imagine the physical world through structuralism: Rather than words
or language, it is any person, organism, cell, or atom that operates,
not as a single individual, but as part of an economy that exists
perfectly only in collectivity.
Although highly informed and theoretical, these poems aren't impersonal.
The first person speaker throughout the collection creates an immediate,
urgent lyricism a familiar tactic that remains surprising in
Day's writing due to his descriptions of the world which his speaker
inhabits: "I mime their desert in my foxhole," and "I'm
taking my kaleidoscope to the zoo. / I want to look at the penguins.
/ I'm going disguised as a waterfall."
Day uses a rhetoric of conversation with the contraction "I'm";
the reader with an informal first person narrator, and then uses this
comfort to lead the reader into the unexpected experience of a Cort
Day phrase. Some of the most startling of these phrases occur in the
sequence titled "Monad, a Deluxe Pastoral, Deepens and Unwinds."
Here, the speaker evokes the monad as the mystical erotic principle
motivating the lovers, elaborated through fantastical metaphor that
conflates the persons with the natural world:
When monad's volatile, I'm a firefly,
and you're a lake in white organza...
... the forest is programmed to self-sow. The rain
has left its feelings in our glade. We lay the wealth
on the ground at night. It deepened.
When your body left my body, a chime.
This particular passage provides a fine example of Day's accomplishment
in the realm of sonic play. The repeated sounds of "v" "f"and
"w" suggest a fleeting experience, particularly the transient
sensation of connection, of existing as part of a "we".
The repetition of the long "i" sound functions like a pun,
"chime" repeating the sound "I'm" and reinforcing
the experience and realization of selfhood and identity apart from
The firefly and the white in this excerpt fit into perhaps the most
prevalent and resonate metaphor of the collection besides musiclight.
The figure appears in the title of two poems, "White Ordinal"
and "Dawn Ordinal" and becomes much more explicit in other
"... Elect, and get
aurora borealis piped into your family
reunion. Aunt Sophie's newfound radiance
will not fail to startle. A coherent, wave-like
syncopation will invent you, and you'll notice
a tiny application running inside everyone:
disposable, disposable, disposable, disposable.
Through his alchemy, Day makes "disposable" an acceptable,
perhaps divine fact of human existence. Sometimes a book will only
set out the dilemma, and a hopeful reader leaves the experience more
troubled than ever. But this collection not only a states the tough
proposition set out in language and living; these poems perform an
embrace and celebration of mystery. Day throws himself into the Big
Questions and comes back with some satisfying response. The book's
stylistics and thematics prove so integrated and particular, the possibility
of a second book that parrots the beauty of this one occurs as a possibility
to me. Mostly, I trust the zeal of Cort Day's vision and look forward
to what he will most likely write next, more poems to further "open
your eyes ... and blow your moonwhistle."