Collapsible Poetics Theater by Rodrigo Toscano
(Fence Books, Albany, N.Y., 2008)
To say that Rodrigo Toscano’s Collapsible Poetics Theater (CPT) is a mere reflection on what has become an all-consuming Globalism (in poetry, art, industry, and the society mirrored by the interconnectivity of these arenas) would be a vast understating of what appears to be the project’s objective. Instead of modest polarization into rejection of what is (for an acceptance of what can be) or an acceptance of what is and a satire of where we seek to change, Toscano’s work is an attempt to define the inner relationship driving our decision either way. While there is a concentrated call to institute modern/revolutionary art, which results from the tiring constraints of the previous craft, Toscano means to designate a more inclusive counter-ground: a theater where movements/words of "players" can be seen as driven by the strings of a revealed (fatigued yet still driven) Capitalist culturalist, hand -- which guides our conceptions and represses our identities. CPT is a new vantage point, through which we can see what has become our mechanized adoption of corrupt values or our mechanized rebellion. It symbolizes more than a reaction. It formulates a realization. CPT is a theater/poetry anti-school-conversation, a view of the school, the delusive force-feeding of popular culture, from an outside (a newly constructed space where we can see all socially-argumentative sides tugging and how we have been tugged).
Toscano opens his book with a statement of urgency: “Alienable Dividuals. Entities. Seek a freedom in, not from.” As is suggested by the concept of anti-individualism (“Alienable Dividuals”), Toscano is toying with the idea that we are currently, blindly, acting as portions of a whole -- in an almost geometrical relationship with one another (a notion he develops through four equally participating voices [amid cuboid quatrains]):
(1) How’s it that we’re four distinct entities here?
(4) How’s it that we’re singular and one-at-a-time ?
(2) How’s it that we’re each one quarter of a whole?
(3) How’s it that we’re each four times more than the other?
For an explanation as to why we are in social-political Geometry with one another, according to Toscano, one need only look as far as our unconscious, daily activity. As Toscano opens “TRUAX INIMICAL,” there is a distinct (social-psychic) mechanization in what seems to be our computer usage:
The poetic sequence (which in performance lasts around 16 minutes) goes on to build on this concept (Toscano often calls these para-thematic repetitive refrains, “clocks”). These options/anti-options become more overwhelmingly inclusive of interactive "entities" (fractalizations of “people”). Until, through recognition of the patterns of relation, and through a panning out (an intervention into spectatorship), we understand this mechanical structure to represent ourselves and what we expect out of art. It seems one of Toscano's overriding objectives is to display an unrealized, global, participation in not only the way we answer artistic questions, but additionally in the methodology by which we (ourselves) question. His design is to help us shift outside of these patterns; that we might, through a new consciousness, recognize our roles within them.
The ways in which Toscano means to reveal the mechanical mold of the contemporary artist are perhaps even more clear in (within the context of “Eco-Strato-Static”) the suggested need to read “Group B” and “Dance” “In the approximate rhythm of their twinkling” or by drawing out a “spokesperson” (accomplished through dangling “…a giant mic from a giant crane” [as though fishing out the means to stardom by hooking others on the self]). Indeed, what is displayed by the externalization from this symbolic or perhaps actual reality is reflective of the poet's/artist's plight, that he/she must sell himself/herself (at times, regardless of worth).
In general, value or the attaining of this value is something pivotal in Collapsible Poetics Theater. The nameless figures struggle to be complete, free from their congruence with one another, but only manage to contribute toward the function of a whole. While they are referred to in the introductory piece as numbers (which almost makes them seem like mechanical components), they are later referred to as equally ambiguous “players” (as though they are simple components of a mathematical calculation). Additionally, different characters are indicated by left alignment or right alignment (which in the case of “Eco-Strato-Static” may signify a mirroring artistic leniency) and Bold, Italic, or normal text (which might again be a signal to archetype). The relationship between voices and their ambiguity (as demonstrated through the externalizing of the reader) becomes a yearning for identity that often reinforces the productive necessity of their ambiguity (as opposed to the desired "characters" in more traditional plot-character matrix structure).
While this "value" or lack thereof is something that Toscano directly grapples with, he is also content in slyly pointing out the function of reactionary art. In “BALM TO BILK,” voice 1 counters voice 2 “you can’t… ‘blick’ that.” Mainly, this is because "art without purpose is purposeless:"
based purely on affect
outside the realm of
objects, object’s origins, relations
nth degree determinations of—”
Voice one additionally asks “where are the imbedded social demands in this stuff?" Yet, down the page, voice 1 begins to speak with the terms of voice 2 (as voice 2 speaks to the logical yearnings of voice 1). What results is a counter artistic ground where one can see both functional sides of what (in actuality) is activating the construction of the artistic "self." The reader is led to think about herself as one voice or the other and (upon re-examination [external viewing of the artifact, in which both these views are contained]) to think about herself completely differently (or more inclusively).
There are more overt ways that Toscano seeks to create an inter-reflexive relationship through alternate perceptional ground. CPT’s aesthetic-political outlays are consistent with Walter Benjamin's theories on what art has become through film: a form removed from what was once a creative distance (between art-viewer and art) or room for personal interpretation (for the sake of willingly adopting imposed viewpoints and interpretations). Likewise, our cries for individuality are no more than systematic assimilations into a corporate whole. There are no individual poems, no individual artists. Now, differing voices are not different; they unintentionally, syntactically, construct global meaning (they are unaware slaves):
In intention, the separate constructors are meant to be seen as vital, but useless through their adoption of roles. Only through the window of the page, where this relationship can be externally objectified, can the interconnectivity of these different voices be understood. What is argued, through coherence to a global idea, is not only the importance of "a global idea," but also the utilization (as suggested syntactically) of the individual (perhaps the utilization of the individual for the global idea).
In other cases, the voices interact with other voices' perceptions. “Eco-Strato-Static” is a poem where a voice mentally drives the actions of a different voice, as though one voice is the process of thought and the other the externalization of that thought. This internal relationship gets cloudy, as at one point there is a complete disconnection:
Start acting like you have an innovative product.
I’m acting like I have an innovative product.
It seems that even the disconnection of one aspect of a person to another creates a complete counter-conversation. After losing track of the mental portion, the previously quoted poem regains its bearings and argues with itself. Therefore, the externalization from even the relationship between the artist's mind and the artist's action reveals multiple independent aspects of the individual (a common necessity as a machine, but desiring, individual, components).
In a sense, Toscano’s Collapsible Poetics Theater contains counter-ground for itself. It continually pushes itself, on the page, past what can be conceivably accomplished in performance. The poetic activities piece “Clock, Deck, and Movement” becomes a purposely over-complicated construct of direction. Where directions might previously be conceptualized as simple inclinations, exhibited in performance, it seems Toscano means for the performance to exhibit the implications of "the cues themselves." Perhaps how controlling they are of the piece one begins looking for in the physical embodiment of the work.
The movements of bodies is also crucial to the idea of function. Kit Robinson, after seeing the performance of "Clock, Deck, and Movement," stated, "The movements involve articulations of separate body parts and investigations into the relationships between parts of the body. For example, thrusting the rib cage forward while bending the knees with one leg forward, or twisting the torso while extending one arm upward and outward with three fingers pointing outward." It seems that Toscano means for the positions of bodies to suggest the limitation of bodies. Perhaps this is yet another way he intends to demonstrate our adherence to global movement. We mean to be moved in one way, but through the way we are resisted by "the current configuration," we do nothing but contort ourselves. Only when we are able to see a body alternate to the one we inhabit can we see what is the futility of resisting the limitations of the body.
Eventually, what often results in the Collapsible Poetics Theater is a collapse of the known world into itself (much like a curtain, surrounding us at all times, bunching up as it streams to the floor). A vision is made available through newly gained perceptional grounding. We realize, more clearly, political, economic, cultural, and personal relationships not yet manifest (or denied, in hopes of retaining comfortable, un-collapsible, reality).
Jade Hudson was raised on a wheat farm in central Kansas. He received his B.A. in Creative Writing English from Wichita State University, where he founded and oversaw an undergraduate Creative Writing organization, tutored the handicapped, studied under the widely renown Albert Goldbarth, and graduated a McNair Scholar with honors. Jade is a current poetry master's student at the prestigious Miami University of Ohio. More recently, Jade won runner up and honorable mention in the 2009 Academy of American Poets graduate competition, judged by Thalia Field. He hopes to eventually earn a PhD in Creative Writing and work as a tenured professor of Poetry.