14
Feb
13

Jesse Lee Kercheval’s Cinema Muto (2009)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 12, which was published circa November 2009.

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Jesse Lee Kercheval – Cinema MutoGod is so silent up there. I wonder if God can hear me down here? I wonder what God thinks and sees. Jesse Lee Kercheval has these questions, too, in Cinema Muto (Southern Illinois University Press). The poems in this collection are about silent movies, of course, but really they are a way for Kercheval to push her imagination to understand God and life and even reincarnation. Yes, “The Acting Career of Charles H. West Considered as Bad Karma” (p 67) is the best (if such a thing exists) reincarnation poem I have ever read, even if it is a prose poem. This poem is concrete in reality, it’s as if Kercheval were the God in charge of reincarnation. The metaphor is ridiculously brilliant — why hasn’t anyone written this poem or had this idea before? An actor, as he is used in the poem, is the perfect metaphor for reincarnation, because the actor is continually reincarnated in each new role and movie. After reading this poem you will intellectually and within your bones understand and feel the what and how of reincarnation. Here’s the first section of the prose poem:

where is it where is it where is it written that reincarnation is a good thing? what if what it what if reincarnation is like the film career of the actor Charlie West? the failure or the weakling in nearly three dozen Griffith films /1909-1912/ each film a new incarnation at the rate of three a month O the cruelty of casting! to be born the jealous miner who almost shoots his brother in His Mother’s Scarf only to die & be reborn the “evil companion” in The Crooked Road who persuades the young husband to choose a life of crime – never never never once a rebirth as the hero who save Blanche Sweet / Lillian Gish from the brustish invading Yankees in the nick of time

Cinema Muto also has fears of death, which not only come across in the poems but in how the book ends. The book is like a good piece of classical music that doesn’t want to end because it wants to keep living and exploring. So each of the last six poems of Cinema Muto are attempts at ending, or closing, the book. After each of those poems, I felt the book could be at its end, but luckily there were more poems. Kercheval could not fail to find the right poem to end the book, except for the silence that fell after the last line of Cinema Muto.//

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Kercheval, Jesse Lee. Cinema Muto. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.//


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