he taught me how to drink how to spend long stretches
in bed how to stoke the neighbors’ ire how not to feel
any kind of shame in way too many things
with him I also learned screams fear failures
the perfume smell of other bodies and a saying:
every kind of love involves losing something
after luis beer didn’t taste so bitter to me
nostalgia isn’t dried flowers on your bed
it’s the old Citroën 2cv abandoned in the junkyard insomnia’s
not the veil of blackness covering the alleys
it’s an alarm clock showing 3:09 fear
isn’t the glint of daggers in moonlight but men
dressed up as elvis around the corner destiny’s
not the compass rose it’s a construction detour
ithaca isn’t ithaca it’s san francisco
One of the most challenging and intriguing characteristics of Pablo García Casado’s poetry is the immediacy of its colloquial language. His books read like galleries of voices, sounds bytes of grief, apprehension, or euphoria. And sometimes the voices, present and living as they are, are difficult to distinguish from one another. In a lot of the poems it’s at first hard to say who says what and when. The lack of punctuation and the constant enjambment make for unsettled and unsettling dialogue. Even in a univocal poem like “Ithaca,” the enjambment displacing “fear” or “insomnia” from the predicate forces the reader to allocate stresses and actively construct the tone of each line. In English, keeping these poems close to natural speech while also respecting García Casado’s work to unsettle language required a good deal of syntactical fiddling.
The fragmentation of the voices and the scenes in these poems might encourage a reading of these pieces as “found poetry” or as spontaneous compositions. They seem to come almost immediately off the cuff, but subtle structural clues show us that García Casado’s voices, while colloquial, are anything but casually rendered. The last line of “The Poem of Jane,” for example, “after luis beer didn’t taste so bitter to me,” sounds so simple and sincere in the speaker’s voice. But it is also a great example of García Casado’s skillful crafting of rhythm and structure. The poem begins, after all, with a name, Jane, and the idea of drinking. It likewise ends with a name, Luis, and a reference to the flavor of beer. A simple statement from Jane about her changing appreciation of beer is such a clear and succinct metaphor for her wry take on relationships and maturity and it completes all the preceding lines.
García Casado presents us with Jane’s transformation with deft ambivalence. Beer is no longer bitter, but the word is still on the page. In similar fashion the speaker of “Ithaca” tells us that “ithaca isn’t ithaca it’s san francisco,” but the poem’s title is still “Ithaca.” Dried flowers aren’t the best image for nostalgia but we can’t seem to get them off the page even when we replace them with an abandoned car. We all know we’re not Odysseus, but it still feels like we are.