Carole Stone

	Review of Thomas Fink's <I>After Taxes</I> (New York, Marsh Hawk Press, 2004)


Thomas Fink's third book of poems, After Taxes, takes up where his previous book, Gossip, left off, offering the reader a skewed notion of reality through implied meanings and weird, yet oddly satisfying language. His poems satisfy because they subversively make clear that the vocabulary of television, advertising, politics, and popular culture in general is moribund. His poems revivify language through the words of an anti-romantic speaker, a revisionist on the attack against ordinary and clichéd language and tired poetic form. While his poems possess a literal level of meaning, their eccentric, yet precise diction raises language to the highest level with satiric veiled hints that the world is a strange place in which clichés no longer suffice.

I will use "Bootleg Fretwork Pouring" as an example of his poetic strategy. The title suggests a narrator who is "fretting" while at the same time the connotation of "fretwork" "as an ornamental work consisting of three dimensional frets" suggests the poem contains a formal structure. It doesn't. "Bootleg" immediately implies a criminal activity. Is poetry a criminal act, possibly, as Fink uses words like "frugging," a dance of the '50s, with its thinly veiled suggestion of obscenity. On the literal level, beginning with the title that becomes a part of the first line, rain is falling through fretwork into a barrel. The barrel is yodeling while it receives the rain: "madonna-rain into yodeling/barrel. Monocle frugging/to a polyped lagoon's flunking/mammogram. Paradise etchings?" Fink is writing a post-modern book of instructions to the reader on how to live his or her life. Further hints in the poem suggest this might be the case as a diet vocabulary conflates the illness diction of the poem's opening. There is "a marigold teaspoon of homeopathic/megilla for acid heaven." In the sixth stanza "soy jello" is juxtaposed against "meshugge/cognoscenti" and "Barbi" against "ulcers." Yiddish words add to the mix of Fink's extended poetic joke against ordinary life and its indignities.

The six "Yinglish Strophes" in the section demonstrate Fink's perfect ear for Eastern European sentence structure and the embedded kvetch. Each strophe displays a stand up comedian's timing. The combination of "Yinglish" and "Strophe" is a further debunking of poetic posturing that has no place in Fink's sensibility. And yet despite their ironic posture, these poems manage to revere a heritage and a lost European world as in Strophes III: "Yesterday was sitting near me/an old man./Ours is only praying and praying,/and he should forgive us." Again in Strophes 11 he evokes the mindset of the immigrant Jew but manages to make it funny, poignant and completely relevant to today's politics. "Everyone keeps/when they go to war things./You remember Miss Liberty//Russia's a liar;/I don't believe him./How far are they? They're in Cuba./They're slaves./And they want to expand over/the whole world they want."

In "Deconstructed Sestina I" and "Deconstructed Sestina 11," by breaking the sestina's notoriously difficult rules, Fink celebrates and mocks poetic form. He almost confesses, an atypical self-referential gesture, to what he is doing in the lines ""In this post-Proustian zeitgeist, I/must parse a trail to a mnemonic pros-/thesis." Breaking the word "prosthesis" is a brilliant example of his poetic credo to break down form and language. He starts his sestinas with nine lines and decreases the count by one until he reaches a one-line end a hands-on demonstration of deconstructing the centuries-old form. In "Dented Reprise" a sequence of four poems, he suggests that the lyric form can also be recharged or "dented" by hyperactive language. He implies also that the form itself has been dented or wounded through centuries of conventional emotional content.

And Fink has fun deconstructing. Listen to the Alice in Wonderland whimsy of "Colloid Tale 11 and note also how he deconstructs the tale's narrative form. "Lions breaking off castles/are not quite so yummy./A drop filling with fury/is a little evil/bag of fancy." Note how the story quickly turns dark; the poem a kind of fairy tale turned upside down to warn children against happy endings. In fact, the playfulness of many of Fink's poems would enchant a child reader. His poems can be seen as inheriting the humor of Lewis Carroll's work whose nonsense language exposed a hypocritical Victorian society that told lies, Thomas Fink's poems expose a dangerous post-modern world where lying in politics, family life and commerce is omnipresent.

Thomas Fink's language never lies. His post-modernist debunking is wicked, generous, and truthful. His poems will send you to the dictionary, but going there will be a pleasure and not a duty. After Taxes, dark, playful, and complex, never gives up on the world even and after taxes, there is plenty left.

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