The Saugus Review of Literature and High Art

The Saugus Review of Literature is a little known, but precedent setting and prize winning scholarly journal making something of a name for itself publishing reviews of and the actual works of writers and poets on the very edge of their genres.  Its scholarship and style is at once challenging and of impeccable quality.  I have been a subscriber to SRL since I discovered a copy on the seat next to me one night on the Red Line coming home from a Celtics game at the old Boston Garden.  I recommend SRL to any one of you interested in reading good works and expanding your knowledge of the many exciting things taking place these days in the arts and scholarship.
I know the Editor-in-Chief, Salome O’Hara, and it is from her that I received permission to publish here on this blog a review of two short poems by the  Alsatian poet Jean Flhond.  The author of the review, Prof. Seamus Moulinis is Emeritus Professor of Recent English Literature at The Catholic University of Highbridge, Sacred Heart College in Pinewood, NY.  The article follows:
“Jean Fhlond appeared in print for the first time several years ago in a little magazine published by the Brothers of Eternal Depression, a group of men devoted to doing what they could to help those who have discovered, as Peggy Lee sings in her famous song, that there is no real answer to the question “Is That All There Is“, but to keep dancing.  Fhlond’s work is a courageous and ground breaking exploration of man’s confronting that truth in all its many dimensions, with all its many challenges. 

He is a little known pre-post modernist, a student one might say of Rimbaud; a man claimed by the Germans because he spent much of his writing life in a particular beer hall in Munich, Das Grosse Beir.  There he carried on an unrequited relationship with one of the waitresses Dollie Braunwurst.   She was totally German, but with a truly Gallic heart; enjoying his attentions, but enjoying more spurning them.

My aim here is to show how Flhond is in the tradition of the better known French modernist poets, and not only that influences a large number of recent European poets.  I will limit myself to analysis of two of his most recent published works: “struggle” and  “end”. 

A word, before we examine the text of each poem, about the titles themselves   One observes first the absence of any upper case type in the titles.  Though Fhlond was a master typist, it is known that he was quite aware of the tides of style.  The lower case titles are an homage to a.a.commungs, the American poet of the early to mid-twentieth century whose whimsicality and originality in structure and word formation did much to free others from the strait jacket of classical form, grammar and  sense.  Commungs was a poet for the people and about the people in every time and place, especially the American West, as can be seen in his most popular poem, “anynight down inna little kowtown”, at once a satire on life in a frontier town and a homage to the Asian-Americans who worked on the Trans-Continental Railroad.  Now, to the works themselves…

The titles of Fhlond’s two poems contain much more than two words; already we are brought into the poems’ themes and the poet’s ideas about life.  These words themselves tell a story, and demand of the reader his whole attention.  As Fhlond’s work matured, his sense of brevity and compression,; his desire to do more with less became his driving inspiration.  Indeed it could be said that he was the first “compressed poet”, spawning a generation of followers.  His final book,  “Z” consists of one page, with the letter in lower case at the upper right corner of the page.  During an interview with Myles Pynchetown for The Poet Speaks on the CBC program Literate Lives, Fhlond explained his purpose in writing, his poetics, “I am looking for the soul of an idea, an essential telling of experience in which I come at once from the beginning of all concepts to the end.  I believe I have found it in this, my final poem, “Z”, at once the title of a work and the work itself.  The poem was set at the very top of the right hand edge of the page to convey to the reader that it and all it means stand on a precipice and gaze into an abyss.  It is a metaphor of consciousness, and the meaning of existence.”

But that is tomorrow, in a matter of speaking.  The two poems I consider are from yesterday, still valuable as pointers toward the culmination, the completion of Fhlond’s art.

In the first: “struggle”, the poet approaches the universal condition of existence with compassion and deep understanding:

How often do we get up each morning
To find our slippers beyond reach?

In these two lines Fhlond establishes the primordial question Man asks of the universe, and thereby illustrates his confrontation with the limits of his creatureliness which he carries further into a bold statement that things are as they are because that is simply the way of it.  It is at once a summary of theological struggles and a bold recapitulation of Western philosophy:

We often from the table rise with flecks of food
Between our teeth..

He continues, courageously emphasizing the imperfectability of our situation, our radical limitations with the half rhymes of reach and teeth, the repetitiveness of often in lines one and three.  Taken together, the first four lines are a neat recapitulation our condition.  In every circumstance we will find ourselves overpowered by existence.  This is the opening statement of the poem.

In a series of shorter lines which bring the poem to its dramatic and hopeful conclusion Fhlond discovers for the reader the way to defeat life’s war against the living:

These burdens are not our own
Nor should they be.

The lines can be seen as an affirmation of community and an indictment of existence which demands too much of the individual.

We carry weight beyond
Our rated capacity.
All of this the universe knows
And appreciates.

Fhlond acknowledges our contribution to history, and argues for the proper understanding we must have of our place in it.  These lines are at once determined, courageous and hopeful.  Only human beings can know their limits and strike against them a blow which, even to an insensate universe, is worthy of recognition and appreciation.  Before and within a blind universe we are by chance consigned to act.  We must act with determination and grim purpose.  Our only satisfaction, and our fundamental meaning is found in struggle, even when it is a struggle against stiffness upon arising or little bits of poppy seeds in one’s dentures.  In that is found, Fhlond asserts, Man’s meaning and joy.

The second poem “end” is nothing less than Fhlond’s eschatology:

The garbage truck is as regular as the seasons used to be;
The reason I set out once a week for the curb
Dragging the big can along behind me down the drive
To set it there opposite my neighbor’s, near the mailbox
The night before the pickup is scheduled.
We’ve had no snow and it’s mid-December already,
Christmas a week or two away, one pink rose
On a little bush in the back yard, and the daisies look
Almost as good as they did two months ago.
Who knows what time of year it is, but I do know
The garbage needs to be put out every week
On Thursday, unless there’s a holiday.

Fhlond’s contribution here is to put into terms we all understand the laws of thermodynamics operating on separate systems, macro systems like the changing of seasons and micro systems like household waste; each of them related to the other. He has unified, if you will, the physical sciences with there immersion in the material with the Spirit of Man, joined them both and affirmed man’s nature as spirit and matter lifting the latter from mere temporality to eternity.  He has given us a reason to live, to continue, to overcome.

It is also an indictment of man’s impact on the environment and a poet’s prediction of the end, even with the periodic interruption of a “holiday”, a temporary reprieve from utter destruction and loss.  Nothing will prevent the end.  This is, finally, Fhlond’s triumph as an artist, joining hope and despair into one unitive whole.

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