REVIEW: FORTIFIED CASTLES

Fortified Castles
Ryan Fitzpatrick
Talonbooks (2014)
Read by Michael Roberson (mroberso[at]ucalgary[dot]ca)

Darkly humorous and mockingly pedantic, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Fortified Castles culminates a near-decade long project, taking shape out of his earlier book FAKE MATH. Again, he utilizes the Flarfist technique of Google sculpting, but he also tempers the smirk-inspiring ironies that occur when we mine the Internet and recontextualize what we find. The title, Fortified Castles, suggests the impervious home of the elite, securing abundant wealth and tyrannical power. Indeed, Fitzpatrick invokes this meaning as a reflection on our own political economy, but, as the pieces from the title section indicate, Fitzpatrick also considers lyric poems themselves as fortifications, celebrating and safeguarding the sincere human voice. In effect, Fitzpatrick explores sincerity for the 21st Century by “wind[ing] out a purity related to / the nineteenth century” and recasting voices out of the Internet’s selfied faces and mediated interfaces. The front and back covers consist of these “cute faces,” a “Crowd series” like a Where’s Waldo exercise, but sketches no less of isolated emotional states—surprise, sadness, disappointment, skepticism, and seriousness”—in these days of “gloomy economics.”

The book contains three sections: “21st Century Monsters,” “Fortified Castles,” and “Friendship is Magic.” The first section combines the personal “I,” the collective “We,” and the apostrophic “You.” The second collects a series of “I” statements. The third focuses on a series of “We” statements. The three sections operate paratactically, juxtaposing short sentiments, in which “phrases are epithets” related to politics, economics, history, architecture, film, and popular culture. “Really, I’m just embracing culture,” Fitzpatrick writes in the first section: “We make all this.” In other words, Fitzpatrick recasts personal and collective voices because the origins of our precarious sincerity arise not from a single “frame,” but more of a “Venn diagram.” We are individually and collectively responsible, as one epigram from the book states: “All our grievances are connected.”

The first section, composed of poems in couplets, suggests that our 21st Century monsters originate from “a womb of horror we paper-mâchéd using / the pages of our sister’s new issue of Sassy.” Our monsters are not zombies, werewolves, and vampire, but terrorists, cancers, and gun-toting idiots. The second section, the title piece, offers poems with three quatrains each, breaking up the fourteen lines of a sonnet—a form at once characteristically personal and carefully fashioned. These poems proceed from personal statements such as “I Want to Enjoy Life” and “I Want to Break Things”—statements that build a kind of “striking and radical portrait,” the irony of which registers in the first line: “My story is truly personal.” In the last section, composed again of couplets, Fitzpatrick riffs from line to line, employing rhetorical devices that increase a hypotactic flow. He keeps the pace short and anxious—a “gush from the heart”—and many questions, some bleak and some optimistic, riddle this section. Near the end, Fitzpatrick asks “How might we connect our cuffs?”—recognizing the “terrifying agency” of sincerity—of meaning what we say—once we admit that we share grievances and complicities.

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