Presented in conjunction with the tail end of the Renaissance Society’s Suicide Narcissus exhibition, poet Cyrus Console gave a reading on Monday night just a few doors down in Cobb Hall on the themes of ecologism and apocalypse.
Console first read from his first book of poetry, Brief Under Water. He writes about living with his brother, Mickey: “There were comets in the air. It was beautiful over Libya and beautiful over Chernobyl.” The lyrical yet apocalyptic images are placed in sharp contrast with mentions of a childish pastime of drawing pictures of airplanes with his brother, in the hopes of obtaining a “graphical solution.” He then drives the reality of the situation in: “In fact, there was no tomorrow.”
Then Console presented selections from The Odicy (which, yes, sounds exactly like The Odyssey), a title derived from the theological term for vindicating divine goodness in light of the existence of evil. Particularly concerned with contemporary crises and man’s destruction of the natural world as exhibited in Suicide Narcissus, Console’s tone is often wry and sardonic, and sometimes a little bit pleading.
Mingling meditations on religion, corporations, intoxicants, and artificial sweeteners, his narrator dryly remarks, “You might say psychiatry chose me.” There is a thread of artificial sweetness and willful blindness running through the poems, peppered with frequent mentions of that infamous soft drink, Coca-Cola: Any hint of poetic sentimentality in his observations is quickly broken down: “Her poetic diction was impeccable,” he says, then punches the air out of any beauty wrought by poetry with the contemptuous line, “She was what you’d call an intellectual.”
Though Console’s poetry is sometimes cryptic—the narrator’s journey through The Odicy is broken up by skipping through several different sections of the collection—it carries a carefully controlled rhythm and clever, heavy turns of phrase. The serious, measured cadence of Console’s reading voice belies the understated, sometimes startling humor in his reading and poetry, which became most apparent when he began reading excerpts from a current project, taken from what seem to be journal entries written over the summer.
Much more personal in nature, his final reading selections related the tension he feels in the face of his wife’s pregnancy and the alcohol and cigarette smoke polluting the air. After the reading, Console admitted to devoting a lot of space to intoxicants. Journeying through Romania and Turkey, Console meets an abrasive violinist who shouts poetry at him, mingling shaving and God; to his surprise, they find common ground over ridiculing David Hasselhoff.
When asked whether the events related in his prose selection were all true, Console replied, straight-faced, “Well, to what extent can language really capture the truth of any experience?” The wry yet sobering joke was echoed in another comment of Console’s later, admitting the selections he read from—encompassing 10 years of work—were written mostly with a strong feeling that “everything was going to end.”