- Slaying Dragons with Love
Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
Dos Madres Press
102 Pages; Print, $17.00
Blue Lyre is Jeffrey Cyphers Wright's fifteenth collection of poetry. Almost every poem in the book has 14 lines. These are contemporary sonnets, with fewer syllables than the traditional models, fitting today's Snapchat-influenced syntax. The poems reference contemporary life: "Blood squeezed from a Swatch," "leggo your ego," "Quack in the spamiverse." Certain phrases almost resemble graffiti or movie taglines: "Open season on nature," "Tune my fork," "Happy endings are my destination."
Younger New York School poets joke that they are in the seventh generation or ninth generation of this semi-fictitious movement. I would place Wright solidly in the sixth generation. He studied with Ted Berrigan and indeed wrote poems with him (published in A Certain Slant of Sunlight , Ted's posthumous book). Berrigan was second generation New York School: a direct disciple of the sainted Frank O'Hara.
"Slay stray dragons with staggering love"
is the last line of a poem beginning with the Latin epigraph Fluctuat nec mergitur. "She is tossed by the waves but does not sink" is the literal meaning (though Wright himself does not translate it). This phrase has been the motto of Paris since at least 1358.
With its double rhyme, "slay" and "stray," "staggering" and "dragon," the line is effortlessly dancerly. There's also at least one pun. "Staggering" could refer to a knight who's been badly wounded by a giant fire-breathing reptile, haltingly reeling—or to a love that's staggeringly large.
But what exactly does the line mean? Can one slay a dragon with love itself? Or should one, while killing a dragon, insert the sword lovingly between its massive ribs? And what is a stray dragon? Is it like a stray cat? Can love only defeat stray dragons and not domesticated ones? These poems are riddles and riddles within riddles.
An earlier line in the poem—"We are all 'bull' fighters now"—suggests that our dragons are the daily bullshit of modern humiliation. The title of the poem is also the last two words, "Staggering Love." We stagger forward, attempting to survive as lovingly as possible.
In a sense, Blue Lyre is a political work. One of the epigraphs, by contemporary artist Ted Lawson, makes this explicit: "Whimsical resistance may be more effective than forms of organized protest…" "Staggering Love" begins: "How cheap blood is, running in the streets." There are moments of rock-bottom outrage beneath the whimsy.
In the early 1990s, Wright invented "New Romanticism," a poetic movement that is at once joyous, communal, erotic and spontaneous. Blue Lyre is, in a sense, the culmination of New Romanticism. These poems contain a great deal of smooch-talk:
Where my labia and libido meet,night unfolds its tent.
Many are addressed to an unspecified "you," sometimes elaborated as "my little problem child," "my boutonnière," "my wench," "beautiful head banger," or "my stand-alone action figure." But "you" in a poem always includes the reader. And since anyone can open a book, the love in a poem includes all humanity. Promiscuity is a democratic impulse.
"Here's to the Anti-genius/Museum," Wright writes, in "Full of Bad Ideas." We don't need geniuses anymore, he suggests. We need anti-geniuses, to dismantle the work of the self-serving "Great Men" who wrecked our world—the same way Wright's sonnets dismantle the heroic machinery of Western verse.
Wright manipulates rhymes like a three-card monte dealer hustling a crowd on 14th Street. Just when you expect a rhyme to appear, it doesn't, and when you're sure it won't, it does:
But now I'm stuck here on a tuffet,impervious to languor's detours,teasing out time's knotsand scoring hours."Roaming Charges"
New York City is a character in these poems, both literally and literarily—a place where one may "go out at night and marry trouble"—to quote the first line of "Roaming Charges." The poetry venue/ bar KGB appears twice, and indeed, the last time I went there I ran...