Amigo Warfare by Eric Gamalinda
(Cherry Grove Editions, 2007)
Zero Gravity by Eric Gamalinda
(Alice James Books, 1999)
I wish I didn't know Eric Gamalinda personally; then my appraisal of his two books of poems Zero Gravity and, very recently, Amigo Warfare as among the absolute best lyrics this country has seen in contemporary literature -- and likely longer -- could be taken more seriously. Among astounding collections of poetry written by beloved friends, acquaintances, and strange contemporaries in the poetry community, Gamalinda's books are singular.
After re-reading Rilke and Blake, I've been contemplating what it means to have some sort of vision -- in our time and our place. What does it mean to surrender oneself fully to language and its failures, only to capitalize on its contradictions? What does it mean to do that without renouncing the sensual pleasure that language is, that language describes? Gamalinda gives us some idea -- by example.
I find Gamalinda's poems unbearable at times, one of those books that I can hardly read one poem at a time. Sometimes a single line will stall me, and I have to, quite literally, put my head in my hands the way I've done when I've seen some terrible accident or been graced unexpectedly with strange music.
The poems are not oddities though there's the air of strangeness that the charge of the metaphysical takes on in, say, Neruda or Garcia Lorca or Rich or Zagajewski. The poems of both his American collections are squarely rooted in a physical context but make brilliant excursions into mathematics, philosophy, and myth.
Gamalinda has extraordinary patience, the way he allows the language to unfurl its surprises one by one. There is real awe here (not witless or overwhelmed awe, but one of high, shall I say 'awareness')-- and it, the awe, is almost whispered -- or it is bellowed; take your pick. The poems seem to have the quality of simultaneous energies -- kinetic and quiet.
I am sorry to say that we have many poems from the American Republic that try to sell us wisdom that is nothing more than mere knowledge -- much of it private. I include myself among those who have contributed on more than a occasion to that necessary slushpile. I don't think Eric would call what we draw form his books "wisdom", but they doubtlessly have the qualities of wisdom: precision, grace, astonishment. I mean to say, too, that the poems take their own astonishment for granted -- which seems to be the source of their power, a model of seeing (vision, perhaps) in which the extraordinary really is a daily fact.
The poems are nothing more than they exactly are. They know how unreliable language can be and then enthusiastically surrender themselves to the possibilities of being led by language and its delights. In the end, they do not deprive themselves of a timely melancholy nor an ageless bliss.
I keep pausing to make sure I am not overstating this. I don't believe I am. As I did (and continue to do) with Zero Gravity, I'm going to live with Amigo Warfare for quite some time.
Check Eric's page. He has excerpts from both Zero Gravity and Amigo Warfare. Better yet, buy the books.
Even as I wish I did not know Eric personally, I wish he and his poems were better known. They deserve, I believe, the widest audience.
The following are samples poems chosen by GR's Editor. Here is a sample poem from Amigo Warfare:
No Fly Zone
Whatever form you imagine your worst fear,
if the zigzag of sunlight on the stoop profoundly
disturbs you, no matter how much bitterness
your earliest memory casts on your dinner plate,
Whether you come from a country of refugees
or xenophobes, whether you sleep
on the right side of the bed or the left, with a man
or a woman, in whatever language
you articulate your desire,
Even if tanks roll out of armories
looking for the dead center of mothers' hearts,
or in a city somewhere someone broods under a lamp
and pronounces a few words that could have saved a life,
Until the earth implodes with industry
and volcanoes sputter their last reproach,
No matter who you were two weeks ago,
no matter what voluntary evil lurked
in your heart when you woke this morning,
and you smoked a cigarette in the rain
and someone's name tasted like blood on your lips,
I am glad to share this lifetime with you,
there is no other planet where the cultivation of souls is possible,
not that we know of;
may the happiness of others protect you,
may you find the flashing exit signs at the turnpikes of suffering
and a coin to buy your way out of hell.
And here is a sample poem from Zero Gravity:
Let me be the first to say
that I know the name for everything
and if I don't I'll make them up:
dukkha, naufragio, talinhaga.
Just like the young
whose hearts give no shame,
I love the excesses of beauty,
there is never enough sunlight
in the world I will live in,
never enough room for love.
I fear none of us will last long enough
to prove what I've always suspected,
that the sky is a membrane
in an angel's skull,
trees talk to each other at night,
ice is water in a state of silence,
the embryo listens to everything we say.
I am afraid for the child skipping rope
on the corner of my street,
the girl on the train with flowers in her hair,
the man whose memory is entirely
in Spanish. I am more afraid of losing consciousness
when I go to sleep, or that in my sleep
I will grow old and forget how desire
once drove me mad with wakefulness.
Just like the perfect seasons
they will die
and I will die
and you will die also;
no one knows who will go first,
and this is the source
of all my grief.
Patrick Rosal is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive and most recently, My American Kundiman. His poems and essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies including North American Review, Pindledyboz, Black Renaissance Noire, Brevity, Columbia, and the Beacon Best. His work has been honored by the annual Allen Ginsberg Awards, the James Hearst Poetry Prize, the Arts and Letters Prize, Best of the Net among others. He taught creative writing for many years at Bloomfield College and twice served on the faculty of Kundiman’s Summer Retreat for Asian American Poets. He has served as visiting writer at Penn State Altoona, Centre College and, currently, the University of Texas, Austin. He is a native of New Jersey and the son of Filipino immigrants.