Paolo Javier’s latest collection of poems True Account of Talking to the 7 in Sunnyside are collage-based poems interweaving shopping lists, comics, conversational fragments, and other quotidian sources.
The collection is a long poem with 10 distinct sections. In his introduction he describes the book as an assemblage of sources that include journal entries, dream entries, lists, conversation, photographs, article fragments and letters. However, this is far from a single dimension assemblage, but serves a flaneur’s journey through the Borough of Queens, New York City.
Originally from the Philippines, Javier spent his formative years living in Surrey, BC. He seems to have thrived since deciding to leave the west coast to find a new home in Queens, New York where he served for some time in the position of Poet Laureate, which position attracted a profile in The New Yorker magazine.
In the first section of this work, he consciously begins with what could be described as the most uniform and traditional approach to free form poetry. Last Life is a poem that begins each line with “my heart is…” which then proceeds to describe a number of place names in which his heart resides. Very much like Allan Ginsburg’s Howl – this long fragment plots various geographical and human social entities within the poem. In Last Life, Javier writes:
my heart is a manger in Bethlehem
my heart is a golden dome in Marrakesh
my heart is in its 15th year of providing service
as a help & emergency rescue unit
always overrun with gps
my heart is a non-profit animal rescue organization
staffed mainly by volunteers
my heart is proud of its diverse workplace
my heart is up and running…
By deploying the repetition at the beginning of each poetry line, Javier builds rhythm and momentum, almost asking the reader to walk with him as he bleeds out his geographical and relational connections. A sense of humour pervades these poems and a satirical eye that speaks to the result of contemporary capitalism’s impact on community and the people who live in a community.
The collection explores poetic strategies to counter far right thinking and its impact on neighbourhoods. His work is grammatically focussed on word play and this culminating gathering of words create communities and neighbourhoods on the page.
There is also an interweaving of Filipino language fragments through this collection that are integrated in the flow of words within each poem. The poems are expansive and include allusions to Plato, and echoes of ancient civilizations such as Canaan.
Javier also explores notions of found poetry in his collection. In the section titled From The Occult Diary of Hosni Mubarak, one of the poems simply titled “I” is presented as an erasure poem where most of the page is blotted out with only the following lines seen
HAD THIS STRAGE
THING IN ME, MY OWN
PAST, MY ROOTS
I HAVE NO MEMORY
OF WHAT I ATE
Through the poem he explores the thematic of amnesia and silence in the absence of memory but then turns the thematic on its head by referring to the lack of memory of what was eaten – a food from another culture perhaps, one that is rooted in a cultural background and relationships to food and then an absence of remembering this tactile experience as if ingesting food is ingesting the potential for memory.
In another poem he speaks as witness though of what is left to the reader to consider. In the poem he writes:
I was the camera eye
I was the witness & I
recorded it all
Here is a juxtaposition from the previous poem of the absence of memory to the bearing witness to humanity as a kind of video camera recording humanity in all of its many prisms of being.
What is also interesting about this book is the many diverse ways of communicating to the reader. In the next section entitled MS. KITA DIYOSA the font is smaller than the previous sections and is a light grey in colour. The effect is that this section is again in a threat of erasure. Through this section that runs to page 100 the free form two columned long poem fragment is a second-to-second stream of consciousness flow of found words.
In the section ETERNIDAY, Javier pulls forward the words of one of the early surrealists Etienne Mallarme, as well as poets Emily Dickinson and R.M Rilke. Each stanza is an allusion to their respective lives in the living world. Under the title (00:00:22) Javier cites American Swiss photographer Rudy Burkhardt who was a firm believer in having his work being found accidentally verses Hitchcock who painstakingly planned every shot of his respective films.
The remaining sections of the book focus on his ongoing travel through the boroughs of New York city and also his reflection of late state capitalism. In one poem he cites that the “One percent revel in corrosion and black forest cake”, while in another poem he meditates on the circumstances of the six Chinese survivors of the Titanic and the racism they were subjected to, as he parallels his own experience of racism.
The last section is a flaneur’s journey throughout gentrified neighbourhoods. Found Korean and other Asian commercial stores and restaurants are identified and noted as being replaced by rich people and the process of gentrification takes place in a neighbourhood that is home to the marginalized.
The True Account of Talking to the 7 in Sunnyside is an ambitious and fluid collection that is expansive and yet focussed on a trajectory of found observations and learning about a city’s neighbourhood; in all of its intricacies and the settlement and movement of people and communities. In this book we are provided various frames in which to explore the city through the collage-based perspective of Paolo Javier; who does this with both compassion and humanity.