Chas Hoppe and Joshua Young, The Diegesis

Publisher: Gold Wake Press
2013, 106 pages, paperback, $13

The Diegesis is a camcorder recording in a world of poetry. Its poems allow readers to be documentarians of a setting filled with debris—human or otherwise. This is a book of leavings. From the sliced film on the editing room floor to peanut shells on the barroom floor, Hoppe and Young collect these strewn remnants and exhibit them to whoever may be interested. The book itself is constructed like a film, an art-house character study of whatever happens to enter the picture. The poet’s gaze is a literal lens attempting to record how people interact with each other and with pop culture. The poems feature songs, movies, and the conventions of both mediums.

The first section, titled “The Opening Crawl,” evokes the opening sequence of Star Wars: A New Hope and its famous scrolling introduction to the film’s story. The movie is even mentioned in the poem, though Hoppe and Young don’t specify which episode. Perhaps the authors are simply referring to the gestalt of the series. Whatever the case, the past is brought into question. In the same way a bedtime story begins with “once upon a time,” this collection of poetry really begins with the last lines of the opening sequence: “but now / to suspend your disbelief.”

The movement of the poems mimics, in the best possible way, modern attention spans. The lens of the camera moves frantically from short lines to footnotes and back again. The second section of the book, “The Diegesis,” is almost as much footnote as it is strophe. The poems tell the reader that the poems themselves are broken: “this wasn’t shot in sequence.” The film-/poem-/line-maker promises the reader “to put the timeline back in order when I’m done,” but there’s little evidence to say whether or not that has happened. In this world, poems and scenes take charge of themselves. What happens in the space between the camera and the scene is the vulnerable, dangerous mind at work in these poems. At once directing and pleading, the “film-maker” behind the lens here attempts to control something; he ends up controlling nothing.

“Burn and Turn” is representative of the speaker’s particular kind of uncertainty. The opening lines contemplate clichés such as “hit the showers” and “all washed up,” but the rest of the poem features the speaker questioning his own memory and attempting to follow the camera. Section breaks create vagueness as to who is speaking from one section to the next and the ambiguity of voice is why “we scrapped the whole segment.” The poem’s title also lends to this ambiguity, perhaps hinting at potential drug habits as the opposite of “wake and bake.” The book’s figures often appear in altered states: some are drunk, some are stoned, and some are simply confused. Nostalgia is a palpable emotion throughout the book, as memories and feeling surface, or, as the feeling is expressed in “Trip,” “and i learn that nostalgia / only comes on / when nothing / interests me / about the present.”

Part of the book’s power is the struggle between what the camera sees as truth as defined by the speaker, and where the speaker wants to point the camera. The intention seems to be documentation, but the camera’s gaze keeps turning to items that resist documentation. People are pushed aside by things resting on the ground beside them—objects such as marbles, dog shit, and mounds of cinnamon.

The Diegesis successfully mimics the components of a film while maintaining precision of language. These combined elements present a fragmented document that demands the sectioning created by Hoppe and Young. “The Soundtrack,” the penultimate section of the book, functions as a camera “capturing life like it was the slow moan of a hurdy gurdy.” These scraps of poetry evoke memories as the characters navigate through their lives, thinking, “It’s not that we should be afraid to dream, / just that we should wonder / why all our dreams look the same.”

While the form of the poems changes from page to page, the first and the final sections end with similar structures: “but now / to suspend your disbelief” resembles “but the song / that’s just something they stuck / in for cross promotion / and product placement.” As a book of poetry that explores how we consume culture, it’s fitting to end on the business of manipulating viewers.

—Mike Kaufmann