Clarity and other poems by Thomas Fink
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2008)
When I think of Thomas Fink's poetry I think of ice. His poems are clear and opaque, shiny and slippery, inviting and yet deceiving. Clarity and other poems is a pleasure to read because a majority of the poems in this collection incorporate ice and all its varieties. The first six poems immediately captivate the reader because of their architecture. Their zig and zag look like jagged juts and embryonic curves. Readers of Fink know that his poems live or die due his mastery of words and word plays. Here a tongue tingler from the opening poem, "Pyramid Assembled," (Editor's Note: the poem-excerpt's format is not exactly replicated below due to Blogger format)
... The scar could
be masked by ascot, but it
seems contemptuous of anonymity.
However ghosted, chairs on top of the
1table permit a last sweep.
It's hard not to be mesmerized by the music with "scar" "ascot" "anonymity." Fink also manages to ease in lines of poignancy along with clever wordplay. In the same poem Fink writes [Editor's Note: I can't replicate it per Blogger format but this poem-excerpt below shows lines forming a sort of "Z"),
In the late
drove a car
under a convivial
think tank. Hollywood
exposés lessen labor hardships
for the glamorous....
The poem plays with the expectation of underage drinking, but besides being a clever turn of phrase the reader is confronted to examine what is "Underage/thinking?" For all the fun that is found in Fink's poetry it's easy to forget that beneath these shimmery surfaces is a serious social critique on life from the government’s ideology to the politics of the personal.
Speaking of the personal, Fink continues to push forward and explore "Yinglish Strophes," which import a Yiddish syntax in English by those who spoke Yiddish prior to speaking English. Here's a sample from "Yinglish Strophes 13," "A lobby— very wide. Is/ violent ping-pong. Your credit/ cart shouldn't naive. The price/ through simple things they make/ a weapon. But who against/ tomorrow or today is not/” Fink’s poems work by seducing you with snippets of the familiar then through his experimentation he rearranges the words toying with your expectation and teasing your intellect. Thomas Fink is a unique craftsman and perhaps one of the best to write poems in form— but Fink's brilliance is his inability to tell anything straight. Clarity and other poems also contains nonce sonnets, sestinas, and hay(na)kus.
The book contains seven nonce sonnets. This is from "Nonce Sonnet 1" "Does it help us to assume jinx when it could/ be just a long delay? Floating sages in this prefecture/ commonly deceive their credo base into a figment of hope-/lessness, as if it pays peace, but one blinks, & the lectern pauses." Besides adhering to the form, Fink builds on our anticipation by writing a "figment of hope" which has us assuming the poem is going in one direction, then like a bit of black ice he catches us unaware with the next line which reveals that it is actually a "figment of hopelessness." Another form, which may be new to readers of Fink, is the Hay(na)ku, which was invented by the poet, Eileen Tabios. These come towards the end of Clarity and are perfectly placed, because much of Fink's poetry is so dense and packed that the sparseness is a welcomed change. Here are a couple of sections from "Mayan Hay(na)kus"
wet, has use.
you are. But.
wax his war?
see war out?
These poems give the reader more room to negotiate the poetry because of the clipped short verse and fragmentary nature. While Fink's voice remains the same these poems let him explore the space of the unsaid as well, and as a result, these poems feel fresh and exciting. Clarity and other poems is an accomplished work of complicated fun. Thomas Fink knows how to write poems that challenge the mind, pleasure the eye, tickle the tongue, and fascinate the ear.
Steven Karl’s poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from Coconut, Boog City, Taiga, Vanitas, Barrow Street, and others. His reviews have appeared in Sink Review, Cold Front Magazine, Octopus, and Galatea Resurrects. He lives in Manhattan.