Saturday, April 27, 2024


 T.C. MARSHALL Reviews


This is for the Mostless by Jason Magabo-Perez 

(Word Tech Editions, 2017)



So Good in English


This is for the Mostless was a thrilling book to read. I almost held my breath as pages turned and revealed more and more great work. We find poems, narratives, anecdotes, investigations, considerations, memoirs, elegies, analyses, and more. The composition of the book, its components built of many pieces, leads us into a deep reading. Every true book of poetry teaches us how to read it. If that’s something we think we already know, well, we’ve got another think coming. Jason Magabo-Perez’s uses of form and content shape a book with simultaneous depth on both the “inside” of feeling experience and the “outside” angle of social analysis.  With him, the personal is most emphatically the political. I am very much looking forward to his next book, said to be in the works to come out very soon. I ask about what falls away will be a thoroughly engaging read if it is anything like This is for the Mostless


            This book moves through several long pieces, serial investigations of concepts, memories, and feeling experience. There are some through-themes linking these as a whole book. “Discipline” à la Michel Foucault is one of them. Magabo-Perez is an interdisciplinary artist and performer who is questioning how he was disciplined into and by forms of working. One might celebrate his discipline in writing and study, but critical thinking is more of the order in his study and writing. The concept of discipline that he picks up from Foucault “forecloses possibility,” provides “regulation,” makes one “legible to the institution,” and helps writers get published. Magabo-Perez calls it a “structuring of impossibility, the impossibility of human dignity” (19-20). It makes him wonder if he is into “anti-disciplinarity” instead of the academically enforced interdisciplinarity around him. Simply put, he would rather be accountable to community than to power (21).


            There are bows to figures in his family, including his mother­–a nurse framed by the FBI for the deaths of some patients in Michigan. But also bows to figures as diverse and divergent as poet longshoreman Bob Kaufman and the prolific feminist thinker and writer Sara Ahmed. Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology (2006) is a key source for ideas applied in the 16-page “Phenomenology of Superhero” (69-75). Her ideas of “conditions of emergence” and “multiple histories of arrival” shaping our phenomenologies as background are familiar to him from his childhood play with GI Joes and drawing Hulk Hogan and thinking about other superheroes. These concepts illuminate his sense that subject/object phenomenology is dangerously oversimplifying when the subject is an object too–as he feels he is, objectified and objected to by the white heteronormative masculinity and femininity in which we swim. Magabo-Perez’s presentation of these ideas keeps them grounded in lived experiences, many from childhood, and all of them strongly feeling-toned.


            The Kaufman reference comes in a title for one poem, “For Your Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness: Letter to my Nephew” that uses Buzz Lightyear as a figure to bring out the issues of his nephew’s life and bring us to the point where he overhears the kid say, “I don’t like being brown” (35). The poem builds his world for us in anecdotal fragments and with reference to not only Buzz but Dora and Princess Tiana as characters of color as well as to Shrek and Spiderman and finally to unicorns in a portrait of the young boy’s imagination ending with “I like unicorns.” These pop references are cultural and have a way of presenting the positive/negative polarities Bob Kaufman recognized in the opening poem of his Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (1965): “And in the imaginary forest, the shingled hippo becomes the gay unicorn” (3).


            Magabo-Perez uses many poetic techniques in this book, including both prose form and poetic lines. There is repetition with variation in “You, Praxes for Loving”–a six-poem series followed by a prose poem that repeats many of the phrases from which those six were composed (23-31). Other long pieces use fragments of narrative to present memories and speculations, and then a set of pieces based on his mother Leonora Perez’s being framed by the FBI joins them by using her voice and memories almost startlingly. There are also pieces of narrative and personal address that compose a long poem for his sister dead in a car accident. Lyrical beauties pop up here and there among these larger considerations. In that poem for his sister Joy, the idea that she is now wearing the earth or even the sky is seriously beautiful and nicely turned towards a laugh by the last line: “I feel so terribly underdressed” (108-109). To call his people “so death & so penniless” and “So penny-skinned” (5) is to use poetic license to make hegemonic grammar say more than it wants to.


            These are delights in a book full of honest pains, many of them the pains of childhood and youth. Sometimes Magabo-Perez puts today’s thoughts into those past situations. A story involving the Philippines flag and a principal’s accusations of disrespect ends with the sentence: “But it’s not like I was plunging my flag into someone else’s soil & skull, or forcing people to make my language their own” (16). Much of the book is reflective analysis like this, expressed in the language of thought and in image. At one point in “Crayoning the King: On Discipline,” a sixteen-part essayistic composition, the poet writes of creative writing workshop experience: “When I got to my MFA program, I unwittingly wrote texts that were a hybrid of poetry. Memoir, fiction, rant, & obscure political theory & history” with footnotes. Workshop reactions led him to choose narrative fiction for a while instead. “I’m convinced,” he writes, “that this forced shift was a result of racial & cultural politics of form–a mainstream suspicion of the transdisciplinary & performative.”  It took some time for him to swing back. “Now several years out, I slowly make my way back to the immediacy of a literature I once wrote & spoke in order to survive.” This admission to himself and his readers is part of the process this piece describes in his considerations of “discipline.” He calls that writing, “a literature I had been taught to disown, a literature from which I snobbishly had distanced myself.” This recognition of internalized oppression is part of his analysis, “not stories of oppression per se.” He says there that he is “trying to distinguish between discipline and oppression, between crying about it & dying because of it, between the violent and the violating (18-19). Discipline’s “help” is, he realizes, “part of its violence.” From that thought unfolds a precise analysis:


We come all too legible for the wrong people. Wee become consumable through our having been disciplined. WE become good & disciplined colonial subjects. Toward a different gravity, discipline is suspicion: is finger on the trigger: is the follow: is shoot first: is no indictment: is no trial: is justified by law & order: discipline. In so many ways, discipline I so slowly & so rapidly killing us in America. Discipline is what wants Ferguson & Chicago & New York & San Diego & San Bernardino & Los Angeles & Oakland & Detroit & Cleveland & every city and every barrio to stop fighting for our dignity, to stop imagining life, to stop struggling for genuine freedom. In my estimation, this has to do with discipline as a technology of power. This is all about the structuring of impossibility, the impossibility of human dignity. (20)


            Magabo-Perez does more than a structuralist analysis of this problematic concept. He rather leaves Foucault in the dust. Magabo-Perez’ ruminations take in his personal history and History. His uses of poetic technique and rhetoric’s handy tricks, of listing and repetition & variation, of negative framing, and of simple persistence, all raise the power of his thinking and his quest. “In concrete terms, I’m seeking permissions for writing & making what I write & make, permissions for us to imagine an un-disciplined, freer, autonomous life” (21). Imagine and enact. It almost seems possible with our help as readers enlivened by his being “so good in English” (9 et seq).




T.C. Marshall writes, performs, and publishes poetry, reviews, and critical theory when time allows.

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