per-sonal effects…Alex Caldiero’s latest book

“You don’t have anything to worry about, if you have a sound mind.” Thus ends one of the prose poems that make up this new book, a poem that begins with the conclusion “I need to die.”

Who of us has a sound mind? I ask myself. When I admire my own sound mindedness I’m quick to counter the admiration with the knowledge that only when I admit that I don’t have a sound mind can I approximate sound mindedness.

Not so quick with those thoughts, I think. This book is called “per-sonal effects” for a reason. The I or per-sona of this and the other poems that comprise this book is a creation of a man who calls himself “The Sonosopher.” The sonal effects of these poems are personal because audible. I read the poem aloud and the last phrase resonates in my ears: “if you have a sound mind.” Re-sonates. Now Alex has me thinking/hearing on his sound-wavelength.

We make sense of things through metaphor. We feel sunwarmth on a cool day without metaphor. Alex’s poems seek the “point deep in your brain wherein mind and blood intermingle and you lose your shadow and your name.”

Borges, for instance, open in his blindness to what cannot be seen of the Villa Palagonia in Bagheria, Sicily, “turns his head towards each and every one who has or will ever pass through these spaces and says: O foolish and senseless people: Having eyes, you do not see.” The Sonosopher goes “about the grounds and rooms sounding my way bat-like, emitting phonics to see me thru. In this place the eye is stupid.”

The Sonosopher tells me again he doesn’t believe in metaphor. I respond that he is telling me that through metaphor. “Paper words,” he explains, “are for me forever locked up in silence. I wasnt given the keys to open their virtues and powers. For me there are only words of air that fly around us and convey their messages from one body to another. This is the wisdom of the breathing brain, the transformer of water into wine, of wine into blood.”

Grammar is the problem. “Grammar tells your mouth what to say and how to say it and when and if and in what order to say anything that needs be said. That’s what I’m saying, dont you get it? Are you listening? Grammar is a set of concepts that forestall any saying other than what you are capacitated to say by the power of words to choose among themselves a subject and an object, a doer and something done.”

How to escape from Nietzsche’s “prisonhouse of language”?

“Start a pattern and set it free it says what is from the heart and not only from the mind that is thirst shish sit as you can see as you can see who c.c. who c. asks sad is what ’tis what is was set sinus an toe her boo thee s.o.s.”

How to approach the unapproachable, to say the unsayable?

“Ever since he died, Derrida has been hanging out with Vincent who is long dead. But Vincent doesn’t want anything to do with him and tries to dump him whenever he tags along. . . . But there is Derrida incessantly talking about the nature of space and painting. . . . Vincent gave up painting a long time ago. . . . But Derrida keeps reminding him of how important he is to art and how well his works are selling. Vincent couldnt care less. . . . Derrida insists. Vincent resists. Derrida persists. Vincent desists and takes out a brush. Derrida smiles, and thinks Vincent is ready to paint again, maybe even modify one of his key works. Vincent takes out his number 15 brush, his finest, and stabs Derrida in the eye. . . .”

per-sonal effects is a book redolent of negative theology. Saying it is to not say it. What metaphor and grammar and orthography can say is not enough. “I notice I’m sounding too much at home with words. I’m feeling like a writer—time to quit writing.”

“Why,” the honest mystic asks, “did it take his whole fist to grasp a single grain of sand.”

Keep asking, my dear friend. Set the patterns free. Sound your bat-like way. Use a number 15 brush when necessary. What you sing re-sonates in my bodymind like the spherical music my skeptical mind rejects.

Andy Hoffmann published this troubling and brilliant book (Elik Press); cover collage by the inimitable Bob Heman.

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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