Review of The Disparities by Rodrigo Toscano
| Rosa Alcalá
Lo mismo que aplasto el jierro Just as I work the iron
pa' jacerlo filigrana, Into a filigree,
quiero aplastá tu queré I want to forge your love
de la noche a la mañana From morning to night
A Martinete (traditional flamenco work song)
Now lady I ain't no mill man
Just the mill man's son
But I can do your grinding
Till the mill man comes
"An early American HooDoo song," quoted in Ishmael Reed's Conjure
Marjorie Perloff insists in Radical Artifice that
the performance of John Cage's "Lecture on the Weather"
is "not about weather, it is weather." In Rodrigo
Toscano's The Disparities, something similar occurs:
I cannot speak simply about the poet's work but about
the poems themselves working-working it out, working
you over, working for the man, working the crowd-to depict
the incongruities that authority, authenticity, reality,
and identity produce. In this book-length work song (and
at times, love song), he offers his product in various stages
of refinement, and (DING!) down goes the hammer, puts a
few dents in it, walks always, eyes the overseer (DING!),
throws down his hammer again in the form of a question mark
or maybe an ellipsis (DINK!), gives it an elbow-polish,
addresses the buyer, then walks away again. The sheer muscle
Toscano demonstrates in these poems is so seductive, I hardly
notice whether there's any "use-value" to what's
left on the anvil-perhaps because what's left are poems
flexing, with each reading, manifold possibilities.
Some signs forged there? No. But with raw urge, knew
(from "Circular No.6")
Although written before his previously published book Partisans
(O Books), The Disparities continues its "wordworking"
as both the method and madness of delivering and dismantling
government-sanctioned "transnational imagery."
And like Partisans' verb tenses, language construction
performs the tensions between being, making, and naming,
often resulting in a kind of stammer, a layering of thought
fragments, evident in "O Sacrum Convivium":
I did this/that, for x-cause, which (hmmm)
it can be said (no?) that
The Zolphi Gorge, next to the Rheita Valley, where
I was (no?) part
wait, I was part, a part of, look
The Zagut Fissure, Prol Plateau, et cetera
well, the word crises even sounds
By foregrounding process, the poems become translations
of transition, existing between "Land/ a story"
and "ax/ a memory" (from "non-confidential
The book's title suggests the failure to represent, through
language, the exchange between an evolving existence and
variously perceived realities ("La distancia entre
mi y estas calles" [The distance between me and
these streets]). The titles of the poems, however, hint
at our failure to fail completely- our need to keep punching
the clock and provide at least some product or documentation,
as seen in "Circular No. 6," "Premise No.
1" (as well as "No. 2" and "No. 3").
Too, the titles "Journal" or "non-confidential
memos," suggest a desire to make public the construction
of self and realities, our "hyperpublic aloneness."
Realities being those fantasies that
control your immediate span of life. Usually they are not
your own fantasies, i.e., they belong to governments, traditions,
etc., which it must be clear by now, can make for conflict
with the singular human life
all ways. The fantasy of America might hurt you, but it
is what should be meant when one talks of 'reality.'
Amiri Baraka, from Home: Social
Certainly, Green Integer's custom of placing the author's
photo on the cover is testament to that. And despite the
feeling that his poems are built on a strong theoretical
foundation, Toscano's black and white smirk urges me to
not easily replace the idiosyncratic with the ideological.
But any critical approach is also a failure: "Biographical.
To be spoken for. To know/ This much, this
long: new uninhabitabilities" (from "Premise No.
Unmistakingly informed by Language Poetry, there's still
a certain "old school" feel about much of the
book (in the sense of a hybridization of past forms of address),
especially the second part, beginning with the poem "Journal."
The groupings of "thing-objects" in "Corollary
A" and "Corollary B" are driven-like many
of the poems- by the musical and emotional intensity found
in the lyrical/mystical tradition. And like the nomadic
ghazal, rendering a world in motion necessarily combines
corporeality with memory; and inquiry is spiritual (though
I can hear Toscano thundering at that designation!), material,
as well as inconclusive. Toscano writes,"Myself an
Item to boot, subtractive author/ Unboarding, now goes,-This
far; where from? which force,/ acts?/ Threatening questions,
as doves swoop below the mailbox." And I am reminded
of Rumi's "A Voice Through the Door": "Lift
your foot;/ cross over; move into the emptiness/ of question
and answer and question.
This questioning is especially marked in Toscano's performance
of the poems, as witnessed in a recent reading at University
at Buffalo's Wednesdays at Four Series. The inflection of
interrogatives, as in the title poem ("Anything? Plans,
newstands. Are things not done on pace? / Time. A gap. As
'to close the gap,' between what?) or as in "Four or
Five Estimations" ("I feel misplaced, a non-self
spoke-estimations?") insist on participation, argumentation,
not the acquiescence rhetorical devices require. His performance
of the work also demonstrates the difficult relationship
between the individual and the collective necessary to "wordworking."
Toscano writes, "You know, formations repel as well,
and why not?" later suggesting we "become intimate
with what's alien."
After his reading, I asked Toscano if this use of the interrogative
comes out of the tendency Spanish-speakers have of punctuating
a statement with a rhetorical question: ¿Sí
o no? (Yes or No?) ¿Verdad que sí?
(Isn't it true?) ¿O no? (Right?) Entiendes?
(Get it?). He says, "yes," but also he's goading
the public (by way of "the public" having already
been goaded into a system of mutual receptivity).
Es un retablo...es...un puzzle americano,
¿comprendes? El poema empieza como un crepúsculo
inmóvil [It is an altarpiece...it's
puzzle.Understand? The poem begins like immobile twilight]
letter from Federico García Lorca to Adolfo
Salazar, 1 January 1922
In "4 or 5 Estimations" Toscano writes, "Subsidized
lyrics as in your puffy schools, pray/ What does take
mean, docks unloading, who inspects what? / I'm a doormat
talking as if I'm a kingpin." And in "Premise
No. 1": "Like a recent rap says-what's yo' name
foo', I signed the line, compelled, a signature, keeps track
ding." I'm not so much concerned as to whether
the references actually point to hip hop artist/actor Sean
"P Diddy" Combs, who recently changed his name
from "Puff Daddy" and raps in "Bad Boy for
How we twist shit, what changed but the
We still here, you rockin wit the best
Don't worry if I write rhymes - I write checks (hah!)
Who's the boss? Dudes is lost
I'm interested in how Toscano, in even his most economic
poems, can produce a multiplicity of references and "twist
shit" like records at the hands of a mixmaster: layered
but seamless, pulsating its invitation yet opaque. Toscano
aims at reminding the reader throughout his work of the
industry of these "sampled" realities, of our
personal work in sustaining, circulating, or altering them.
Re-state: mores as in mores of the State
Craft, not as in corn basket weaving craft
Urgencies, mothered geometry, when?
Locus, where? You want assurance, choke.
Cock, for example, late subject of this
Untangling it, as far as boy's poems go
Made meaning-pan [cornspeak it] not Corsairs
But later [rivetspeak it] sealed cockpits
("Circular No. 6)
From corn basket to cornspeak, from cock to cockpits, from
cornspeak to Corsair, from re-state to rivetspeak, from
pre-industrial craft to post-industrial craftiness, specificity
is challenged by a network (a "circular") of suggestions.
This network argues for diversity by demonstrating diversity,
and argues against globalization by revealing diverse forms
of manipulation, concealment, and framing.