Samuel Andreyev. The Relativistic Empire. (BookThug 2015)
I had not heard of Andreyev, but he’s a composer & performer from Ontario who now lives in France, & is also known for his experimental poetry. The Relativistic Empire, his 2nd collection, is deliberately obscure in that its mostly short & short-lined poems playfully resist interpretation, or any clear narrative movement.
Yet, in their constant borrowing of snatches of ordinary, almost cliché, speech, they seem to act out an almost present series of dramatic moments, speeches that slip slyly away from normal meaning (a meaning their basically straightforward & ordinary titles hint at). And so a kind of almost collection of stories begins to almost manifest as one reads through the book. The speaker (the various speakers?) manufactures a near knowledge of a world (that empire) falling apart. Take the person in the 3 ‘A Prime Location’ poems, who begins by telling us ‘so i’m not going to / i mean i’m not going to feel that way / but she’s scattered right now’; moves to say ‘things you say aren’t things you do’ only to insist ‘erase this scandal from your memory / books don’t survive / all the way out here on the pier’s end’; & in the 3rd poem says ‘i require stability / and lightweight doors that don’t squeak or jam / only’. Or many other things that do or don’t achieve any kind of unity. In this sequence, as throughout, this ‘I’ slips & slides through many ‘doors’ or worlds. As he says in ‘Fancy Footwork,’ ‘the uncertainty principle / is very much in style here’.
Andreyev’s fragments of usual speech, his twists & turns of ‘natural’ rhetoric, are simultaneously off putting & inviting; there’s a comic edge to them that keeps one reading on. Tone of voice feels important, even as the lines jumble normal syntax: ‘right avoid timing disasters accelerate / smashing into violin solo an open / break intensified reminiscence’.
All of which sets up the lengthy title piece, a series of 11 line verses that accumulate something, but it insists on remaining uncertain: ’what’s happening / outside / the frame / this development /takes several / years ago’. The piece shifts among a variety of speaker positions, entertains many different possibilities, to end with a confession (perhaps?): ‘lacking words / to / inscribe on / an old man’s / cane so / future generations / can / comment on / it without / feeling embarrassed’. As ‘Exit Lines,’ the final poem says, ‘move toward a / fall along the / only way out’. Andreyev uses his line breaks a lot to undermine general sense, yet this jagged little pile of words does its job of keeping readers off balance & dancing to his tune. By the end I was enjoying the experience even as I recognized its darker hues.