Friday, January 20, 2012

Microreview: On Hansa Bergwall and Timothy Liu's "The Thames & Hudson Project"

You could say that Hansa Bergwall's and Timothy Liu's chapbook The Thames & Hudson Project is the best chapbook explicitly fashioned out of a queer mid-life crisis.  As they declare in the prose polemic that begins their project: "...the notches left on your belt that once made for salacious stories to aggrandize tumescent vanity feel less consequential as your body ages, as the face you greet each morning in the morning no longer speaks to the who and the what you've been for all the men you've dallied with, even written about."  In one of the most painfully beautiful poems, "You, Under My Window," we see a presumably older narrator who finds a vitality in the search for a space relieved of solipsistic desire as well as a cowardly acquiescence to the beloved.  The poem begins: "The oak turned red while you sung./How boring."  It leads to a final couplet which reads: "When my wrinkles/smoothed and my nose pugged, I ceased/being me.  Go ahead and make love/to your magic.  I am not there."

In so many vital ways, this is a book obsessed with ethical compromise.  It's elegantly instructive in how a poet can explore restlessness within the lyric: the relationship between the "I" and the "you," sex and the lust, reader and writer.  Always self-reflexive in their own deliberately melodramatic illustration of the erotic, the authors avoid easy thematics.  From the poem "Without You," the poets write: "Without you I am the diorama's/glassed-in air, the dew drop/that never falls into a time lapse photo..."  Cagey and open-hearted at the same time, Bergwall and Liu disclose their dissatisfaction with unchallenged, plain depictions of homosexual lust and sex.  What they come up is not so much solutions, but a relentless, and often comic, inquiry into the gay lyric, never losing sight of what may, in the end, be the most necessary imperative to the poet and reader.  As they write in the poem "Under Your Window, 3 AM: "Do as you will./I am here/to serenade you."

Hansa Bergwall and Timothy Liu's The Thames & Hudson Project is available through Fields Press.

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