Eros & (Fill in the Blank) by Charles Freeland
(BlazeVOX [books], Buffalo, N.Y., 2010)
Charles Freeland’s Eros & (Fill in the Blank) will surprise you. Rich with quotidian bits of life like shoes and small failures, it still finds space for the all-consuming—those notions like lust and madness and disappointment lurking at the margins of daily existence.
The range of Freeland’s prose poem is not what’s surprising, though, given his previous full-length collections and chaps (Through the Funeral Mountains on a Burro (Otoliths, 2009), Eulalie and Squid (Chippens Press, 2009), and Furiant, Not Polka (Moira, 2008). The most obvious surprise here is the form Eros takes: a 121-page entity that begs for attention simply by the fact of its being. And the reader must contend with this form, if only to acknowledge the astonishing feat Freeland has pulled off. If every prose poem is its own genre, as Peter Johnson has remarked, then Eros stakes out a massive corner of genre all for itself.
Some might find a solid, gray column of words running for 121 pages to be disorienting. Where to stop and take a breath? Where to put it down and then resume reading? But readers need not worry because they can enter Freeland’s world anywhere. He somehow avoids the expected lurches and stops and starts endemic in such a large piece and allows us to enter Eros just as easily on page one as on page seventy-six, like dipping into a pool or moving among rooms in a great house.
But the most captivating part of Eros has little to do with its shape and everything to do with Freeland’s precise language play—an allusion to Boccaccio or Dairy Queen, an explication of disappointment, for instance:
What if the earthquakes are only half the story? And that crippling jealousy, say, another one-eighth? You wish to go into the world to find it. But you haven’t the strength. Because what if what you find doesn’t correspond to what it was you were looking for? Doesn’t seem like anything you’d want to call your own? We are expecting some sort of pay off whether we want to admit this or not. And whatever disappointment exists one or two paces ahead is not, we say, designed for us. Set out and arranged ahead of time by uncannily steady hands. But accidental. The kind of thing that makes for pleasant reading on a Sunday morning. When the fish are wide awake in their containers. And you experience that odd unpleasant sensation that there was something you were supposed to do. (21-22)
Here and throughout, as it explores the registers of recognition and dissociation, alienation and longing, Eros effortlessly moves between interior and exterior, moves as familiar—and as uncanny—as catching an unexpected glimpse of your outline in a mirror from across the room. Some snatches are magnetic, so much so that you linger on the lines, wondering how those words have escaped being placed together before:
Because the shape and nature of our own failures rarely seem redeemable in the mirror. They hang on us like a painter’s smock. And the oak in the table, the skin on the hand of the nun, tell us that we are only just beginning to realize the extent of our misery, our degradation, when the doorbell rings and the mind drifts in fresh directions. This is why, come morning, we feel as if the world is all emeralds and mahogany. (57)
The seeming inevitability of Freeland’s language enhances, rather than undermines, its ability to disrupt accustomed patterns of knowing. Still, Eros reflects a constant tension between the desire for engagement–with the world, the Other, the reader–and a failure to connect. Eros’s Other (fill in the blank) remains no one and anyone; it is an ever-present absence, a blank filled with thought and self, perhaps forever empty.
As always, Freeland is at his best when flirting with despair, with regretted deeds and more regrettable avoidances. In Eros, the past increases in enormity with each second and the future never fulfills its promise. The past is a Gila monster, a rocking chair, the wind; and the present, a slick otter. “The cartoon villains brushed in pastel and stinking of olives. But you’ll never make them as ugly as a man’s face when he looks in the mirror after committing no sin whatsoever. After living the type of life that avoids blemish so thoroughly, even the film critics are amazed.” (77)
Readers can locate the fraud in themselves here, too. Eros makes patent the most false part of us—the part that resists the commonplace because of its very nature and fears the dangers inherent in the exceptional—the part to which we routinely succumb. “Maybe we are running from one place to another because we are bored and frightened and we’ve come to believe that only meaningless activity, so long as it is activity—a movement, an endless twitching of the limbs—will set us to rights again. Our deepest insecurities, though, are nothing compared to our most cherished illusions.”(78-29)Both, Eros suggests, are more real to us than either self or Other, and reveal a kind of blind enchantment with our own imagined misery.
Freeland’s speculations and supposings about why and how we choose to pick one metaphorical scab over another lead readers to understand that their experience is only separated by small degrees from those “allotted to someone else.”(67) And these scabs are, after all, what fill in the blank.
Lisa Mahle-Grisez teaches composition at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, OH and considers herself a lucky reader of all kinds of prose and poetry.