By Ted Burke
David Biespiel is a poet after my own heart, which means that he prefers to have his language interesting and spiky on the surface rather than being merely clear; this will allow the reader ample chance to sort through his tricky conflations and tricked up tropes and so enjoy the benefits of delayed awards; for all the cuts and nicks his writing can cause the uncalloused psyche, there is a marvel of a writer taling about the plain facts in not so plain ways, and that's fitting. Nothing really is what it seems to be at first, right? Well, no, nothing is what it seems like at second either, which is why I suppose Biespiel writes the way he does, and why his poems merit more than one, two or three readings. They are compact measures of various narrators climbing out of their life time of rhetorical defenses. This we see in his poem Though Your Sins Be Scarlet"
There is something intensely private going on in this poem and for want of anything else to say, the conflict herein involves someone struggling with sexual orientation . There are enough phrases and oppositions joined in smarting retorts to make us assume this otherwise unremarkable interpretation , especially in this richly conflicted section:
Scarletted-up—all those years—I fiddled and giggledOne gets the struggle of harboring the secret and toying with the idea of letting it all out and allowing the cards to fall where they may, but there is, again, conflict, a taking back of one's decision and yet another attempt to live up to ideals other than the ones finds or creates for themselves. The images provided by television, by conflicting stereotypes, whether body builder or sentimental sissy, offer anything like real solutions to this dilemma of identity and desire. Sadly, though, it seems that one has accepted their lot , to be marginal and abused and used with no center of self to fall back upon when reflection is finally possible but there is no other life one can imagine they'd want to lead. It is a poem of a some one's hell who cannot see a way out of it.
And got muscle-bound as a deaf dreamer, a striper,
A pressed-against pirate, got teary and ripe with the scuttled
Worry coming back again and again, and no winners
To speak of, no vintage TV to settle in with like sins
Of the zodiacal light or kissing cousins or crummy laws.
I haven't been called a weak sister, and I don't mean to, that's plain.
But the rummy tumblers, the bloody knuckles, I'll crawl
For them. I'll crawl. And the cutting up and the swear words—
Biespiel's poem deals with a personality that is, if not at war with itself, at the very least is attempting in this impressionistic stew to merge contradictory notions of gender and the sexual/manneristic qualities any of these memes ought to ensure. There are no real incidents in the poem to locate these flashing qualifiers to and hence create a picture or at least a narrative outline, rather we are in that sort of verse that is a form of mumbling, a stream of associated terms and distinctly paired contradictions that are like a species of schizoid speech one might see in public places as homeless men or women speak to vacant spaces as if someone were actually there, embroiled in a life time of counter assertions to demands and pressures they feel have tortured them long enough.
In any case, there are the constant contrasting of qualifiers, material references of macho body building culture and camp elements more directly gay and effeminate by association, that the poem seems not about straight versus homosexual identity, but rather appears here as streaming bit of harsh imagery of the confusion as to what sort of identity a gay man might settle into; identity crisis might be the basic point of this odd, effectively elusive poem. A life situation, barring particulars that could happen to anyone.
Commenting on this same poem, Paul Breslin remarked on Slate’s Poems Fray:
This poem speaks in a voice that soothes pain with the pleasure of extravagant language but, unable or unwilling to name the source of pain directly, arrives at no closure--the poem doesn't so much end as stop, for now.. The speaker needs to keep talking because silence is unbearable, while the playfulness of linguistic invention comforts.
This nails something I was thinking while I read the poem again and again, that it's part of a longer and perhaps endless stream of cognitive associations that just happen, in this example, cluster around a cluster of ambiguities and which hint that the language might further morph and encompass another series of binary oppositions that confront a restless personality.
It's a writing that makes me think of John Ashbery , only with more agonizing, more self-laceration; Ashbery's soft focus dialectic between consciousness and the phenomenal world maintains the lyric tone and finds the narrating presence at some measure of equilibrium despite an influx of sensory input (whether memory, an offhand remark, a distracting aroma).
There is aesthetic distance between Asbhery and the things that inspire him to write poems the way he does. One can even say there's a serenity in this realm.Biespiel's poems, though often as cryptic, are shorter, yes, more constrained than Ashbery's quotidian expansiveness, and there is a provocative admixture of the self-mocking, the lacerating, the cynical and the fatalistic that makes his willful refusal to clear subject and tone seem like a bomb about to go off. Biespiel might be carrying on the dark, depressed tradition of Mark Strand or the Confessional poets; this is the poetry of thoughts seeking a clear, declarative phrase, only to have their distinct lines blurred again by persistent agitation.