A few months ago, the Cafe Review published a Festschrift dedicated to Agha Shahid Ali. This was exciting for a few reasons:
1) Agha Shahid Ali is awesome, and every literary magazine should devote a Festschrift to him.
2) I learned what a Festschrift is. Apparently it's German for "party paper."
3) Since Transistor Rodeo won the Agha Shahid Ali prize, they were kind enough to review it in the issue. They also included a few new poems of mine, which are sort of modified ghazals. I tried writing some actual ghazals, but found that I could not pull it off. So I started tweaking the form. And tweaking it. And tweaking it. Eventually, I settled on a form that now goes by the name "Thus in the Limit."
Here's the generous and thoughtful review, by Michael Macklin:
If you are looking for poems that surprise, let me mention this unassuming mother lode. Try these lines from "Love Song":
Words leapt from your mouth then
like a gymnast on the moon. You were so
lively and full of pockets.
Don't worry, I am not giving away secrets: There are a number of poems entitled "Love Song" in this slender volume. But I would use this opening stanza as a description of what Jon Wilkins, the poet, does. Using the same title for each of a series of poems, he sends words zipping and zinging through our senses like a knife-throwing magician, then ducks behind the nearest title for a new and completely differently balanced set of knives:
Always assume it is your lover
who stands you said at the end
of every tunnel and is waving
a scarf or an axe. . . .
Leap to the next "Love Song," and so on. But Wilkins is not just fast of flashy; he prays, catalogues, theorizes. He does these things by himself in the loneliness of space, or else naked and drunk after the prom with William Carlos Williams in his own Mean-Joe-Green-meets-the-boy-with-a-Coke version of "Kenneth Koch's Unfinished Sestina."
In the section called "Prayers," Wilkins uses the titles to place us in a specific time, physical space, and attitude, i.e. "7:34 am, styrofoam cup, metal table / Prayer":
Still too early
mask / leaf
may / may not
truancies and that scar.
His prayers are bright, twisted pieces of cellophane that wrap the everyday in what feels like the mathematics of modern meditations. He uses slashes to turn his short lines into fractions, as though he were working out the balance necessary to prove his theories on God / world. He ends this prayer, "Lord, make me hot as coffee, / and I'll melt this world like sugar." Wouldn't we all like to believe that of ourselves?
If I had been taught prayer or mathematics by Wilkins, I might have stuck with them. Not because I always agree with him, but because he would keep me fascinated by what was coming next. His ability to keep us off balance and interested is uncanny. As he says in "Please don't hate me because I'm perfect":
God, I wish I had a nickname like Rabbit.
I wish I'd spent more time swimming as a kid.
He leaves us wishing as well.And here are the three poems that were included in the issue:
Thus in the Limit
Just like you, she came here for the fountains
of youth and chocolate. She found them occupado.
Occupational hazards and other children follow
her through the streets, but the alleys disobey,
dissolving like salt behind her. You can find her now
tucked in behind the baking soda with her umbrella,
unbearable to her parents, who claw at the old country,
backs to a black hole of immodesty and television,
transvestites and flavored mayonnaise, of mountains,
moonless nights that almost resemble, almost reassemble
Thus in the Limit
Just like you she came here with a bag full
of chalk and yellow tape. Her fear of snakes
sneaks up on her now and again, coiling her
on herself like the long braids of the peculiar
pelacur girls she used to watch with a braid
of envy, fear, and desire. She is a tidal wave,
a tiny wafer, lingering on the tongue
of a Priest, full of unsprung anticipation,
an incipience and a retrospect and the twisted cable
connecting them, impossibly long and longing
Thus in the Limit
Just like you she came here overflowing
with a need to feel superior, an age-old
rage holds her heart – gentle but joyless,
resentful, like holding the hair of the girl
hurling in the dorm toilet. Still beautiful –
still never going to fuck you. One day she
may see you again, and generations later
erupt like a pimple on a weedy chlapec,
slapstick now, from far away, but the boy
is a killer, has no nation, no hesitation