Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Toby Altman

10 Dec

bannerWell, The Offending Adam, once again, has put together another terrific profile of a writer’s poetry. This week, which is the 164th installment of the weekly online magazine, features selections from Toby Altman’s Arcadia, Indiana.

In his introduction, TOA edtior Ryan Winet says of Altman’s sonnet-sequence-and-verse-play-hybrid that the excerpts “indulge in the ventriloquist’s joy, in the play of voices, puns, and adopted speech patterns. The very structure of these poems suggests voice and echo, call and response.”

I agree with what Winet has to say and would like to add that “Landscape With Wind” is fucking awesome. Here is the sonnet half of the poem in its entirety:

I find I am a great many people
each one networking with the wind.
I find I am sexed by the scent of things:
severe and stormy–somewhat cheerful.
I find I am fragile as the weather:
weather that weather composes.
I find I am populated by roses,
dusky flesh and bush of leather:
built by thought and thrilled by startled songbirds,
which rising choir I call “brutes,”
I call “exemplary bodies,” call “use,”
since all at work with time, you lunch your words
      at this table of wind and breast,
      which I call “certainty,” call “rest.”

The poem’s anaphora offers a sonic repetition, working through a series of standard poetic tropes. But Altman tweaks those tropes for our contemporary moment, such that the Whitmanesque “I am a great many people” refers to the “networking” of hyper-capitalism and social media. Likewise, the invocation of “weather” becomes tautological, and his “songbird” becomes a mockingbird through the direct quotation in the concluding “call” section.

I would highly recommend reading the verse play half of this poem, as well as the other selections from Arcadia, Indiana. And, while you’re at it, check out this video of Toby reading the poem at Rust Belt Books in Buffalo, NY earlier this year.

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