06 June 2019

The Double-Goers: Zachary Schomburg

"I would become, say, Lake Michigan and she, Ontario.  Huron was scoffed at.  Any lake but Huron, she said.  As we threw it around a bit, I changed my answer.  Lake Michigan was clearly the wrong choice for me.  It's a bit too urban, I said, perhaps too likely a choice.

A little later she described our dialogue about Great Lakes as futile and a bit nauseating.  She became upset, knowing we'd probably never become Great Lakes.  She was right, but weeks later I did become a forest somewhere near Saginaw and she became a lovely washer-dryer combination."
  "If Great Lakes" by Zachary Schomburg, from The Man Suit,  Boston, Black Ocean: 2007

A bad aura sometimes attaches to Surrealism: there are those who assert that the writers are incapable of making sense and the artists can't draw.  In general, surrealism works best when it suggests previously un-imagined connections.  Nonsense has a short shelf life for humans; we are designed to search for meaning.   Schomburg has been called  "a sincere surrealist" and praised by James Tate (1943-2015) who was himself a comic absurdist in verse with serious intent.

A doppelganger is the double of a living person, maybe a ghost, and in Zachary Schomberg's poems there are doubles in the most unlikely guises.  A girl dressed as a wedding cake meets her match in a man dressed as an avocado.

Just as Dante had his Beatrice and Petrarch had his Laura so Schomburg's man has Marlene - muse, sometime companion, and always oddly evasive, evasion being part of the charm of a muse for the sort of man who writes poetry.  There is even a poem "Far From Marlene" including with a character with a bird's nest in his hair that seems to have wandered in from a neighboring fairy tale.

From the first poem  "The Monster House" death is present, often as a non sequitur or an absurd joke.   The monster  tells jokes but wants to kill the audience - literally. When he refuses to reform he is replaced by a gorilla dressed as a man who plays a Wurlitzer organ. Schomburg hints subversively that strange things happen whenever one puts on a man suit.

"Black Telephone, White Telephone" is a sequence of poems charting the parallel adventures of two telephones; they may be commenting on each other's exploits or maybe not, but their juxtapositions are suggestive in unexpected ways.  Maybe ordinary life is mysterious after all.

In two poems, both titled "What I Found In The Forest," there are mythic surprises, hollowed trees and handsome woodsmen.

"I found a group
of inappropriately dressed
women inside

a hollowed-out tree.
They all had hidden agendas"

and again from the second poem:

"I found a group
of sharply dressed lumberjacks

a large section of trees.
They were all singing Italian opera."

There is something new in Schomburg's surrealism, an acknowledgement of loneliness and a sense of history that looks back to "Abraham Lincoln's Death SCene" and forward to an emerging ecological consciousness.

Arthur Dove - Lake Afternoon, 1935, oil on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

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