Fragile Replacements by William Allegrezza
(Meritage Press, St. Helena & San Francisco, 2007)
William Allegrezza edits Moria, the online journal, and a small press called Cracked Slab Books. He also teaches. From that you can infer that he edits Moria and Cracked Slab Books, and he teaches. I have seen his name often enough to infer also that he writes prolifically. I have been interested to read his work but this is my first leap into it. File under So Much to Read, Etc.
Fragile Replacements offers three sections, plus back matter. These sections appear discrete. At any rate, I perceive no obvious mode to their relationship. Such is my observation.
Section one bears the title “Go-Between”. The Notes indicate that Allegrezza wrote each section in correspondence to a section of Dante’s Vita Nuova. One might eventually guess that but that fact does not seem central to the work. Allegrezza used La Vita Nuova as launch point or place of entry into the composition of the work. The method differs, but the intent resembles Jackson Mac Low’s aleatoric method. Possibilities flourish as one loosens the reins.
Allegrezza uses space as punctuation. One might say puncturation, the way he manages white space holes in the text blocks. Personal note, my teacher Robert Grenier showed excitement when I, by some random impulse, started using the tab key on my typewriter to open the field à la Olson’s directive. I mean I remember the lesson still. These spaces allow breath as well as emphasis. It is not so much a disjunctive ride for Allegrezza as one allowing moments of singular facets.
“Go-Between” begins with the line “in the middle to restart the system”, which certainly can be read as reference to Dante’s work. The ensuing sections of this piece, none more than half a page long, develop converse between author, as i, and she. The dreamlike condition suggests the influence of Jung, with anima and what all. Pieces of dreams seem to swirl here as natural objects.
That’s how it reads to me, at least. Not to trap Allegrezza in some standardized academic equipment. Jung was on to something, you know, wack as he might’ve been.
Section XXVII disintegrates as letters become capitalized by impulse, crammed together, ending into a loosened scatter. Section XXVIII follows with seven letters on the page which, reading left to right and downward, spell reasons. And there you are. Such landmines make the diff. Allegrezza plays with the framework upon which the reader hopes to rely.
The second section of the book bears the title “Under Clear Fields”. It consists of 42 poems, none more than a page long, all titled. The i here seems a bit intractable, as if the poet had to be in the poem. I guess that’s a matter of taste. I nod to Keats’ remarks concerning Wordsworth and the egotistical sublime. I do not say that to count coup. I found that the relied on pronoun insisted on a “story” that seemed too local to mean warmly for me. To me the tension is obvious between that i and the language choosing its own terms. Allegrezza’s work brings more satisfactions the more he breaks the narrative insistence that first person singular asserts.
That said, I read lovely passages here, and I see Allegrezza efforting disjunctive practices to initiate steps into the non-narrative wild. Furthermore, thinking of the Dante that Allegrezza introduced, a motive force from that Wildman initiates a parallelism. In feeling Dante’s self-conscious self-assessment, and the flowery discovery of Beatrice, Allegrezza mutates upon the weird self-impact of Dante’s worldview. Dante, that is, who filled Hell with people he knew.
The final section of Fragile Replacements—and now the title starts making sense to me—is a number of pieces (or sections), untitled, unnumbered. Here we meet some instigating effort.
It begins “i came into the valley to protect myself”. Again, each piece, or section, easily fits on a page. The next page features some text greatly obliterated by a bold 3” V. The V belongs to the word voice and the phrase “Voice returning”, but the half inch thick arms of the bold letter makes little of the rest of the text readable. Intrusion.
The next page begins with some advice:
a word becomes a way
and ends with:
and to write
is to engage with an agenda.
The next page offers two sentences of advice:
1. you must tear through your language
2. forget the words before you
These sentences alternate in a column down the page. In Hannah Weiner fashion, inch tall letters in varied grayscale plaster over the column these words: must, stand, in line, must.
The normative narrative inferred in the first section seems to receive a (redemptive) critique here. Alternate pages of the third section partake of “poem” and intrusion. Allegrezza has opened the field! I have just undermined the last sentence of the second paragraph of this review.
But so it goes. I favour the idea that poets are not so much experts in their craft as conduits. The various methods of production seek to maintain the conduit not the expertise. Once you know how to write a poem, back away or you will be fouling the efflorescence.
Allegrezza presents an active effort to negotiate these factors. Constant experiment, in the sense of tendering possibilities, supplies the causal motivation for what poetry is. To advert, declare or propound is right out. Teetering with the question, Allegrezza provides a fit field of inquiry.
Allen Bramhall is the author of DAYS POEM (Meritage Press), among many other things ...