Saturday, October 02, 2010

Review: Stranger in Town by Cedar Sigo

Stranger in Town
Cedar Sigo

Published by City Lights Press

Reviewed by Colin Herd

‘I have tried above all to bring an allure to poetry.’

The phrase ‘Stranger in Town’ always makes me think of the 1965 record by Del Shannon, a stomping strum-along with an intoxicatingly high-fluting falsetto chorus: I’m not afraid of what he’ll do to MEEE! Until now, that is. From this day forth, ‘Stranger in Town’ will be indelibly associated in my mind with Cedar Sigo’s new book of poems, from City Lights, just as captivating as the Del record, and a lot more rock and roll.

Sigo’s collection is the fourth to be published under the City Lights Spotlights imprint, a series that has been so choice thus far, publishing superb volumes by Norma Cole, Anselm Berrigan and Andrew Joron, that it promises to be as inspired, exciting and innovative as the famous Pocket Poets series was fifty years ago from the same press. Incidentally, the fourth Pocket Poet was ‘Howl’. But it’s not the Beats that Stranger in Town recalls, so much as the great poets of the San Francisco Renaissance, John Wieners in particular, but Jack Spicer, Stephen Jonas and George Stanley too. The connection makes itself felt in a number of ways: the investment in and thoughtful commitment to fresh and thrillingly inventive lyric poetry, the engagement with visual art, the strong sense of community, and, of course, San Francisco itself, its veiled, hilly cityscape a perfect analogy for the soft, lyric textual mist, a mist that only ever allows partial clarity, through which, in the title poem, Sigo’s lyric makes its downhill track:

‘I enjoy reading signs
through the fog-


Then that evening
and all of
Fox Plaza was the same white
A permanent
on my blue bike

I raise my hood
I think there are other lost men
in surrounding blocks
alike in their thinking’

I love this poem’s balance between edgy, piecemeal, collaged line-breaks- that ‘HOTEL HUNTINGTON’, literally like a stuck-on sign- and the sense of a continuously unfolding and emergent narrative. Continuously emergent because always glimpsed arriving, never quite arrived, something’s always hidden and held back, a quality dramatized in the poem ‘Showboat’:

‘I thought you were coming toward me
a few blocks earlier
down Hyde St. It was a man weak
and crushed beneath this gray wig
for women. I can’t believe that
it’s really you.’

And later in the same poem: ‘None of this/concerns the poem as pure entrance’, where the double meaning of ‘entrance’, as in ‘spell-bound’ calls to mind the Berkeley workshops Spicer ran in 1957, entitled ‘Poetry as Magic’. As does another wonderful poem, ‘$$$Expensive Magic$$$’:

‘the questions fall
around allure. Poems floated
from the hearth
out the mouth. I am wound up, bored
we are only strangers on our way’

Cedar Sigo

In the short poem-essay ‘The Sun’, he sets out, frankly, charmingly, and extremely thoughtfully, his poetics:

‘Poetry can be a difficult field to enter into, as I find people sometimes think of it as old fashioned. It is this assumption that drives me to try & keep current. I do not just want to interest academics. Skaters are more dear to my heart.’

But every poem in the book articulates this poetics of magic. Sigo’s poetry is magical, glamorous and exciting. It has a great deal of, to use his word, ‘allure’. The prose poem ‘My Drawings’ describes obsessively drawing genies in ballpoint pen: ‘There was never a man or woman holding the lamp. It was more being able to get the smoke turning into the genie’. That’s what Cedar Sigo does in these poems, again, again and, gloriously, again.

Colin Herd is a poet based in Edinburgh whose work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 3:AM, Dogmatika, Gutter, Shampoo, Velvet Mafia and Mirage #4/Period(ical).

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