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Missing You, Metropolis

August 30, 2011

My friend Alison, who is currently in a foreign country and doesn’t have the library access that I do–since I now go to work every day in an academic library—asked if I took review requests for poetry volumes. Sure, I said, why not?

She requested a review of Gary Jackson’s 2010 volume entitled Missing You, Metropolis, with its comic-book-themed poems. I fell head-over-heels in love with the very first poem, “The Secret Art of Reading a Comic (after Auden)” because of the way it echoes my favorite—well, surely almost everyone’s favorite—Auden poem:

The old comics were never wrong.
Right always defended
by the hero—polished like Adonis.
In one moment Thor is paused
in flight toward his foe,
the motion lines steadying
his resolve as he hurtles
ever closer. The next moment
Mjolnir, his mystical hammer, slams
against the Black Knight’s helmet
with a thwack in red letters—
emulating pain, as Thor announces
every move in white bubbles.

These are treats, delicious twenty-two-page
snacks we swallow, never questioning
the action between the panels’ gutters
and how similar that world bleeds
into our own. Take, for example,

Avengers #4 where we see
the final days of World War II.
Captain America and his sidekick
Bucky chase a runaway plane.
As they grab hold, the plane explodes.
Cap yells No! cuing the combustion
of smoke and flame. The next panel
flashes forward twenty years. We see
Cap preserved in a glacier, found
by Iron Man, Giant Man and the others.
Hail the returning hero.

But what we don’t see
before the miraculous resurrection
is Cap losing his grip on the plane,
falling and helpless
to watch Bucky
fragment into pieces.
And how below, the Allies carried on,
killing Nazis, failing
to notice the body wrapped
in the American flag, dropping
into the frigid ocean behind.

Not a comic book reader myself, I understood the story from watching the recent Captain America movie, and so I could think “oh the pathos! Oh the comic condition!”

When I got to the second poem, though, entitled “Stuart,” I found that the speaker of the poems is holding me at arm’s length:
“Blacks were still rare
on our street, while whites
filled the neighborhood like dead
leaves in pool water.”

Okay, I thought. So I’m like a dead leaf. But that didn’t interfere too much with my enjoyment of the stanza in the poem “In a Conversation about Superheroes” where he reveals that his friends “groan when I say Storm” because “they know I’ve picked her/for her skin alone.”

I felt more invited into poems like “The Golden Avenger,” when he says of the story:

“…It’s fiction,

an escape, something we only
dream of. But if someone felt

compelled to become the fantasy,
as long as he saved the right people,

who cares who he hurts?”

And then I loved the blatant seduction of “Nightcrawler Buys a Woman a Drink,” which ends with:

“…Yeah, the fangs are real.

Rub your finger over them, touch the deviled tongue.
Caress my fur with your skin, let me keep your body warm

in the dark. It’s your night, honey. Show me a woman not afraid
of a mutant man. Let me mix into your bloodline.”

I loved the humor of that one enough to forget about my earlier feeling of being held at arm’s length, enough to identify with the speaker in “A Beautiful Lie” when he lists the things that “accumulate in our closet/until we’re too lazy to throw them away.” And after that, the next poem that really arrested my attention was the title one, “Missing You, Metropolis” which is a stunningly good poem that ends with “giving blood to fantasy.”

So I was unprepared for the hostility of “Watchmen,” in which “white people” like to “observe how the other color lives” and the hyperbolic paranoia—or so it seems to me—of “How to Get Lynched on the Job,” which ends with “the world ain’t changed./None of us are far/from ending like Emmett.”

Even the loveliness of “The Silver Age,” with its lament for the way you one day discover “your beloved hero is still/in his twenties, despite the decades/spent together” is hardly enough to let me return to putting myself in the position of the speaker of the poem, seeing the world through his eyes.

So there you have it, Alison. I could have loved this volume of poetry, but it didn’t entirely want to let me. The comic condition, so compelling at the beginning, becomes more and more exaggerated until everything is literally either black or white. Yes, “the fangs are real” but I am surely incapable of admiring them; at the end of the volume, the comic book world no longer “bleeds/into our own.”

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2011 1:37 pm

    It strikes me that you’re missing some important allusions from comic books. “Watchmen”, for example, is an aggressive, paranoid, despondent graphic novel – one subplot is almost Taxi Driver with capes. A poem about it should be “hostile”. Similarly, comic books have been struggling explicitly with race since at least the 70s (and implicitly arguably from the beginning), but the poet is assuming you get the references.

    Whether that kind of assumption is good or bad for “art” is an interesting debate…

  2. August 30, 2011 1:50 pm

    Ha! What a great turnaround–English teacher misses comic book allusions!

    One of the questions is whether I would ever have read this volume without being asked about it specifically. The audience for allusion is ideally self-selecting, which is why high school students are resentful when told they’re missing allusions to dead white guys. Eliot’s The Waste Land be damned, I refuse to believe that anyone can really get ALL THE REFERENCES anymore (Walker taught me that, from “memebase”).

  3. freshhell permalink
    August 31, 2011 9:14 am

    The super hero thing escapes me. Never had any interest in that comic book world. When I think comic books, I think Archies, Little Lulu, etc. Which is what my kids absorb. So, these poems don’t do much for me.

    • August 31, 2011 9:45 am

      Truthfully, Freshhell, the whole image thing escapes me. You may have noticed that my life (and my blog) is almost exclusively text-based. I don’t “read” anything that has too many pictures. Even the images we use for everyday things sometimes throw me for a loop. For the past two decades, my family has referred to the “handicapped” signs as the “round-bottomed” signs.

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