Sweet Dreams
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Sweet Dreams
Techniques in the Neighborhood of Sleep
Richard Martin
Spuyten Duyvil
www.spuytensuyvil.net
124 Pages; Print, $15.00

The implications of slumber multiply exponentially in Richard Martin’s remarkable new odyssey of poems, Techniques in the Neighborhood of Sleep. Is sleep a mimic or rehearsal of death or a place where we sort out the disparities and confusions of our waking hours? Maybe we’re mostly asleep in our waking hours, as the conscious self strives for significance in a duality of censorship and verbosity. In the book’s title poem the poet has “…wandered the wayward path / To kiss into life the memory / Of the unknown.” He eschews accuracy in a physical world and seeks to redefine meaning through the examination of words, more reliable in a dream state whether awake or not. Words are the tools at hand: elusive, alluring, misleading—a desperate recourse always falling short. They remain our defining limitation in a seemingly arbitrary existence. Martin yokes disparate images that ask us to reflect on what they can possibly represent and questions our ability to perceive what is real, accurate and true. In the book’s title poem, his words struggle against one another like opponents in a pugilistic confrontation. They mirror the poet’s inner struggle and intentions as he tells us, “I worked with language to restore & create the world.”

Attempts at universal expression are undermined by efforts to classify, control, and dominate through language in a battle of words that strives for connection. Martin’s lists of words coalesce in an alphabet soup of random descriptions reminiscent of Ashbery, emphasizing the elusiveness of meaning. Often done with a jovial glibness that mitigates solemnity without sacrificing focus, these poems dance along a fine line of obscurity that seeks to highlight our perpetual state of uncertainty and anxiety. Martin delineates the discordant ways our minds yoke images and experiences through divergent and dissimilar assessments that cannot capture what is real because of inherent personal distortions. Yet in “Twist Sentences” he persists and tells us “I loved to stay and dismantle one word with a crow bar.” We require language to attempt translation despite implicit inaccuracies. Martin has a tall order, and these poems could easily fall prey to the very ambiguity provoking the struggle. Thankfully, in the aggregate, he manages to avoid this. He returns to the world of sleep for answers that elude us in our conscious hours:

I witness in the mindOf sleepThe fractured looking glassOf who I am.

Subject to the mind’s interpretations, history and moods defy definition, the nuance of stimuli controlling and connecting random moments of memory. In fact Martin is fascinated with what words cannot do and expresses this eloquently.

With a nod to Rimbaud in “Seasonal Disorder,” the poem reads like a list of intellectual, random distractions without censorship. The last word of the poem, “unknown,” emphasizes what we cannot know and our relentless efforts to name and classify it. And, further, in “Dog Walk” he asks us the meaning of meaning. Ironically, our noble intentions, skewed by individual perceptions, are self-defeating as he laments “…our brains / Are so damn full of meaning.” We are masters of deception using self-appointed compass points inevitably leading to disorder as evidenced in “Present Risk” where “Civilizations bicker into dust / War and religion / Do not advance divinity.” Then, finally, in “I Think I Can Answer That,” an outright accusation of language prompts him to ask “Don’t you love words / The Way the little imps twist meaning adhere / To what you can’t remember.” In a challenge to futility, he concludes that within the confusion may lie a chance for communion, that “The chaos of what I’m saying / The chaos of what you think I’m saying / Allow me that intimacy.”

Martin explores further the construct of time we utilize to modify an unruly world into a manageable existence. Again, from the title poem, he warns us that “Time is a companion of light / has already been to where we’re going and back Consider the / message.” Beyond limitations of convention and quotidian life, “There is...