The Sensory Cabinet by Mark DuCharme
The Sensory Cabinet ends on "I Get Distracted," a long poem attempting to communicate the perpetual assault of information on our intellect by our 24-hour media world. The preceding poems all feel like they were channel surfing between lines and what I wanted by the end of the collection was a solution to our information problem. "I Get Distracted" doesn't provide a solution and reads more like a poorly placed introduction than a summation of a collection of poetry.
The randomness that pervades the collection diminishes the impact of excellent lines and interesting ideas and undercuts the effect of the experimentations of form by casting doubt on DuCharme's ability to control his own style. For example, "To Lack" closes on a brilliant stanza, "In flaring wickedly to hide/ My darling my draughtswomen/ Invent a negative of space/ Gradually to occupy.” The phrase "a negative of space," turns the implied omitted word at the end of the last line into an explorable abyss. This space gives an intellectual depth to the image of desperation created by "flaring wickedly to hide" and turns the "draughtswoman" into a character with the potential to build a solution in this space. However, the poem opens with this stanza: "Hola sonar stinking glad/ A capture in the monumental/ Tense of laxing rackets, where/ I ratchet out this folly" which at best feels like the result of a surrealist game. Furthermore there is a lack of punctuation, not compensated for by the natural rhythm of the words, that prevents lyrical momentum from being built and so we stumble into the last stanza rather than charging into it.
The collection is full of good lines and interesting ideas; "In a moral life, we have all sorts of/ Guises." From "Tons of Pucker," "In a language of filed particles," from "Whatsit Thumps," "Hell's not for spectators" from "Creature, Sort of Humming," and "You have no emotions but/ those onscreen" from "Decoy." Unfortunately, these good lines and ideas are scattered throughout the collection and though all of them could be foundations for excellent poems, without coherent contexts their potential is wasted.
I do applaud DuCharme's experiments in form and layout. "I Get Distracted" is structured like a book whose chapters have been shuffled, giving the reader permission to experiment with its order. Poems like "Dictomania," "Representational Interface," and "Exercise" play with the visual layout of poems and the organization of the collection hints at an interplay between collected poems rarely take advantage of by other poets. If given the choice between experimenting and not-experimenting I would always urge the poet to experiment, and DuCharme has done some interesting things in The Sensory Cabinet. However, Noah Eli Gordon and Kevin Young have made similar experiments and produced great poems and great collections.
Information in our society avalanches endlessly at us, organized only by the moguls whose shared goal is to generate ad revenue, so the individual seeking meaning flounders in the landslide of data. However, it is not enough for the poet to reflect that in poetry, for literature, in all of its forms is supposed to provide methods for making sense of that mass of data. Literature is supposed to either expose the hidden power systems in that data or create systems the individual can use in making meaning in the world. This doesn't mean that the poet should cling to linearity or particular methods of logic, but that the presentation of the randomness of information in society should be coupled with ideas that allow the reader to navigate that randomness. The Sensory Cabinet attempted to grapple with the problem of making sense of our information world and Ducharme wrote some decent poems in the process, but the collection is far more a dictation of the problem than its solution.
The Sensory Cabinet by Mark DuCharme