Poems of levity don’t exactly have a reduced level of gravity. The rainbow of verse allows the import of truths in all colors, tones and hues.
Such is the case with Epithalamion: New and Selected Poems 1990-2020 by Nick Carbo, published by Milflores Publishing, Inc. and available via www.milflorespublishing.com.
Carbo’s poetry has always been a fun read — as exceptionally playful narratives occuring as mise-en-scènes, situations, and in situ, with characters often led by the poet himself along with his many guises. They also conscript literary figures, entertainment celebrities, mythological personages and various other popular A-listers of the imagination. Indeed, it’s primarily imagination that makes Carbo’s poems easily stamp themselves into festive appreciation.
I’ve enjoyed his early poems of the El Grupo MacDonald’s and Secret Asian Man cycles, where his series of “Ang Tunay na Lalaki” vignettes provided a fanciful hero for our times — one who “… Stalks the Streets of New York”; “… Meets Barbie at the Shark Bar”; “… Is Baffled by Messages”; “… Is Addicted to New York”; or “… Receives His First Mission.”
This time, in “I Found Orpheus Levitating” (“Because he wanted new friends in a new land…”), the subject is introduced by the I-persona, undoubtedly a Filipino, to Kapitan Kidlat who reminds the poet of Zeus, before he’s guided to Mt. Makiling to meet Malakas and Maganda.
“He was hungry so we drove to a Kamayan restaurant/Where Orpheus learned to eat white rice and pork adobo/ With his hands. This is wonderful!” They drink Tanduay Rum at Hobbit House, where “I asked him if he understood// The concept of the willing suspension of disbelief…”
Here are excerpts from “Directions to My Imaginary Childhood”: “If you stand on the corner/ of Mabini Street and Legaspi Avenue,/ wait for an orchid-colored mini-bus/ with seven oblong doors,/ open the fourth door—// an oscillating electric fan/ will be driving, tell her to proceed/ to the Escolta diamond district—/ you will pass Maneng Viray’s Bar,/ La Isla de los Ladrones book shop,// the Frederick Funston fish sauce factory,/ and as you turn left into Calle de Recuerdos,/ you will see Breton, Bataille, and Camus/ seated around a card table playing/ abecedarian dominoes—// roll down your window and ask/ them if Mr. Florante and Miss Laura/ are home … then get back/ to Calle de Recuerdos until you reach// the part that’s lined with tungsten red/ Juan Tamad trees, on the right will be/ a house with an acknowledgments page/ and an index, open the door and enter/ this page and look me in the eye.”
“In the Year I Was Born the Merriam-Webster Dictionary First Introduced These Words to the World” has the cited words appearing in italics at the end of each line that extends a story. Another title is “The Number One Song on the Day I Was Born Was ‘Oh Pretty Woman’ by Roy Orbison.”
Whimsy also meets up with current social concerns. “The Wuhan Shuffle” makes ironic fun of PROC’s situation — as dance steps.
There is always something happening in Carbo’s poems. Unlike poems that are content with a pronouncement of some philosophy or sentiment, a story unfolds to fill a reader’s mental screen, where characters move about in a particular location. A wry or deadpan ending is another familiar feature.
Here is “Italian Postcard 4” in full: “Emily Dickinson died again today/ In a village southeast of Terni. She survived/ Three bastards and the death of twin baby girls/ During her second marriage to a man from Norcia/ Named Paolo Francesco Batisti. She was known as Amalia/ The quiet butcher’s wife, who became the haberdasher’s/ Wife after the butcher was taken away by the Nazis/ During the Second World War. Amalia’s third husband// Was named Giancarlo and he encouraged her to write/ Down the images she saw as she stared blankly/ At the walls. This time her ten manuscripts/ Will not be found. Look! Look! Her granddaughter Anna/ Is shredding the pages of poems for soft bedding/ For the fat white chickens in the back yard.”
There’s a section where Carbo extends his playfulness to the digital realm, where some poems are presented as QR Codes, alongside the titles “Marlene Dietrich’s Hair,” “I Swallow Welts,” “Mon Pere,” “Can You Lower Your Trope, Please?,” “Seven Past,” and “Interactive/Kinetic/ Visual Poem.”
Tongue in cheek or cheekily, Carbo explains that these are “Links to poems film poems that only exist in the internet. These poems have text, music, and image that are inextricably merged as film poems. (Best experienced in ‘full screen’ mode. Quality of films not at optimum because original files were lost due to hurricanes and flood. These links are the only examples of their existence.)”
Follows a set of pages that feature graphic images such as multicolored circles containing unrelated single words, under the title “Absence of Atmosphere.” For its part, “Saussure’s Review” presents three photos in two pages as “the only documentation of this poem” since “The original piece consisting of Alka-Seltzer pills, bubble wrap, and painted wooden cigar box was destroyed in the 2020 Napa Valley, St. Helena glass fire …”
Another conceptual graphic poem has several pages showing multicolored cubes stacked up in different ways, each with phrases that start with “the silence of…”
Born in Legaspi, Albay, Nick Carbo earned degrees in two American universities and served as Poet-in-Residence in several others. He has also received various grants in the USA and enjoyed writing fellowships in Spain and Italy — which explains his worldview as a homo ludens, a man who plays, especially as it pertains to culture.
Thus, his themes in this sixth book of poetry constitute random instances of capture of myriad amusements, including the conceptual, as well as tributes to his homeland and his father, and to landscapes literary and geographical. Then too, there are poems of subtle eroticism, apart from his take on the bridal poem as over-all title.
“Le Mot Delicieux” ends thus: “If I were a double negative, I would not/ Deny not knowing that she was naked/ Underneath her knee-length coat,/ There is only one delicious/ Word to describe her.”
Whichever the poem, it isn’t frivolity that Carbo champions, but the register of humor he unfailingly identifies as the saving grace in a world betrothed to antic self-recognition.