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by Daniel Khalastchi
35 poems, 64 pages
Tupelo Press

Reviewed by Ed Bennett

As Hamlet speaks to us of the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" there is
an almost theoretical mood in his speech, as if to discuss the harm of everyday
life from a distance. Daniel Khalastchi is no Hamlet. He speaks about this same
"outrageous fortune" with the language of a medical examiner standing up close
to a brutalized subject. He disturbs with his imagery yet enthralls with his
masterful use of language.

Daniel Khalastchi's "Manoleria" is the 2110 winner of the Tupelo
Press/Crazyhorse Book Award which is in part subsidized by the National
Endowment for the Arts. In these days of the Arts being sacrificed on the
national fiscal altar, it represents a compelling argument for sustaining NEA
grants funding by our Congress. In the very first poem, "The Maturation of Man",
one hears the cry of the poet trying to deal with existence and finding the true
measure of his inadequacies. The opening lines begin a chant of all of the
occurrences around him that lead, step by step, to dissolution. The rhythm is
set not only by the repetitive use of the word "because" but by the spacing of
the words in their line and the relationships between the phrases. Each
"because" is a starting point for an explanation that carries over to the next
"because" statement pulling the reader along the poem.

There is a use of language in these poems that at first seems nonsensical. In
the poem "Went We. Inside. My Colon A Tree: Diagnosis" the absurdity of the
title is repeated in the first line but by the second line the narrative becomes
apparent and the uneven spacing, the imagery and the plot communicates with the
reader. Some of the images, for example: 

"Broom heavy with        light" 

seems to be composed with an eye on the positioning of the words, like ee
cummings yet the wording of the image sounds closer to Dylan Thomas. The
mélange of horrific images juxtaposed with the erotic creates a phantasmagoria
around the reader with only the poet as guide. A few pages in, the reader
realizes that there needs o be a trust between them and the poet's reality.

The poems are written in the first person and each scene for each poem is
meticulously described and the terror is parsed so completely that after a time,
a reader is numbed to the bombardment of the absurdities. Stepping back,
however, the poem titles give a clue as to the meaning of the collection. The
subtitles to six of the poems when taken in sequence discloses out a scenario of
hospitalization. Diagnosis/Surgery/Morphine Drip/ Recovery/Morphine Drip and
Home Release are placed strategically in the series of poems. The horrors and
febrile imagery begins to take shape and the narrator evolves from a raging
madman to a desperate man trying to deal with his illness. The drugs, the fear,
the anxiety that torments the narrator manifests itself in a series of related
poems, giving a disjoint yet compelling account of how the severity of the
illness distorts reality.   The final poem announces the demise of the patient 
with its title "With Regret,They Make Moves to Sell My Kidney".

"Manoleria" is not an easy read nor is it a collection that can be taken in
small doses. The path the reader is led toward always implies an abyss. Poems
about illness usually are stated from a distance and usually in the third
person. First person poems usually discuss the effect of the illness. In
"Manoleria" the movement through the surgery to the final outcome is a loud roar
of someone unsuccessfully trying to deal with the illness. Between the shock of
the diagnosis to the dementia of the anesthesia and pain medication the narrator
stands before us naked and bleeding, ranting as he tries to make sense out of
his new reality.

The Tupelo Press/Crazyhorse Book Award is geared toward younger poets.
"Manoleria" is a first book award. The work is a virtuoso performance by a
master of imagery and word play. Fortunately, for all of us, this is Daniel
Kalastchi's first book and hopefully it will be followed by others. As readers
of poetry, we are fortunate as well for Tupelo press and its' wilngness to take
a chance with this book. It is an instance where a choice was made to promote
poetic craftsmanship rather than marketability.


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