Online Edition: Summer 2001

Mallet Eyes by Jeremy Sigler

Mallet Eyes

Jeremy Sigler

Left Hand Books ($20)

by Daniel Sumrall

Tone is the second most engaging debate in the poetry world today--it unfortunately must take a back seat to the current preoccupation with "form"--and the reason for this is that as a device of voice, tone is what allows for genuine or unique imaging to be seen and heard. The tone of Jeremy Sigler's second book of poems is mumbled in a sort of bemusing whisper by the first poem "Morning Kitchen":

A city of cinema leaf
comes to light
a director's cut of
green now playing
at the end
of every
stem
Just green,
no trailers
to be
seen

The memorable opening line itself would lead one to think that this book will be yet another testament to a new NYC-poet. Many of the poems of Sigler's book do owe a great deal to Frank O'Hara, as they seek to redress occasional verse. All the poems of Mallet Eyes are minimalist, yet hardly simple. As "Morning Kitchen" announces, there will be "no trailers," meaning no teasers of image or style in the upcoming poems--no eye candy, "just green" as though one is lost in a Rothko painting. These poems acquire no formal style and (probably to their detriment) flirt shamelessly with rhyme. This is rather unexpected given that Sigler is also a sculptor, however poetry has often thought itself more plastic than what the other fine arts have thought it to be. Rhyme is a dangerous thing; it annoys far too easily but when done well it may provide a genuine momentum--a "stand in" for rhythm, in a sense--as can be seen in "Other Than You,"

Do you detect it
in me
as you flee? If so
I understand, I know
how the blur
wants the drop
to blur. I prefer
your dyed indifference
to an intensely centered
thing of thought, so
understand, while
I expand
with the sun
over day, that I may too
engage a few

"Other Than You" also marks a theme that becomes a silent undercurrent throughout Mallet Eyes, a sort of disdain for the subjective self and its games, its play both linguistic and physical. That is not to say that "the self" is dissolved, ignored, or berated in Sigler's conception, but rather, as "Now I Know" demonstrates,

there is wind
so still
breeze so flat
turbulence
so dead
now I know
there is a point
between here and
near the still, flat
dead of you
beside the night sea
off the shore of me

There's plenty of "self" here. The disdain we see in these poems is that of conscious distance, where the "point / between here and" there is deafening in its silence. This borders on coldness, however what Sigler accomplishes through this disdain is the unavoidable attraction of the indifferent stance. Take the commanding lucidity of "Nocturne":

wrap every star
in your paper
thin eyes
urge even night
away
for so luminous
is your skin

To "engage a few" is the casual gesture of one dyed indifferent, a gesture Sigler defines even more clearly in the poem "Things" when he writes "near the outermost reach of / the ambience of emptiness." A poem that would appear to rival the best lyrics of William Carlos Williams, "Carpenter's Risk" instills a beauty that could only be given through this casual eye:

A
bench
sits
with a
cane
and a
house
leans
on old
tall grass
and all
the squares
in toolbox
basements
count their
metrical
blessings

Sigler's tone, his sense through language, is minimalist, even objectivist, but more than anything it is a poetry that strives toward the disinterestedness of "letting-be." This phenomenological stance seeks to apprehend the world through a bracketing or a "letting-be" that allows each other (thing, person) to reveal/revel within its being-in-the-world. Granted, not all of Sigler's poems elevate a reader to such a level; many are so brief as to be non-consequential. But those poems that do tap this disinterestedness shine, and for this reason, Sigler's collection is worth the read.

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Summer 2001 Table of Contents