Take a look at this announcement of the publication of a poetry book called “Supplice” By T. Zachary Cotler, Published by the Center for Literary Publishing at Colorado State University. Winner of the 2014 Colorado Prize for Poetry
T. Zachary Cotler
“In T. Zachary Cotler’s Supplice, humanism’s dialectic is itself a primary form of torture. Working inside the circuitry of thesis-antithesis, self-other, the poems collected here answer ‘no’ to Keats’s questions in ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ confessing ‘that truth / is beauty isn’t true.’ In a world become word, ‘the eternal present eternally fails / to be trapped,’ and our poet-pilgrim is bound by dueling via negativa that chart the passage of d’ailleurs or elsewhere, where he finds history has located meaning’s trajectory. A not-ready-for-remnant-sonnet sequence as chilling as it is tutelary.” —Claudia Keelan, final judge
—G. C. Waldrep
If you can’t decipher the cover image, it is two bloody wings evidently torn off an angel. Supplice means torture and suffering.
Now tell me, what is the difference between the Red Chair Poems, which are online, written by boys-at-risk, and include videos alongside print (THAT’s a difference), and this publication? Here’s a poem by Cotler to help you. The “prytaneum” was the city’s hearth, the location of the town hall.
Behind the Prytaneum
BY T. Zachary Cotler
Tragedy began with a dance in the guise of goats, said Aristotle.
Tragedy began with a sacrifice of goats, said Eratosthenes.
They came to a circle of columns or great white trees.
They drank red resveratrol wine from the bottle.
A classicist shouts, those are not differing accounts!
One must kill a goat to dress as a satyr.
Way of necessity, way of the wine, a fluid ounce —
in Galilee, where he has turned, said John, the water into rhyme,
a god’s son or a vintner dies, not differing accounts
when laser diode udometers measure, millennia later,
the rainfall on fields that yield grapes for wine —
a miracle’s a narrative with time
condensed. An ounce for the gorgeous man in the gutter,
the beggar-poet cries, and some crab legs with clarified butter!
The difference is NOT in the subject matter. It is in the skillful manipulation of words by a young man with degrees and prizes who is dealing with the same nasty subject matter of sex and death — and the stigmatized — by invoking a lot of classical references.
Why aren’t a collection of street boys with their own thesis/antithesis and self/other issues just as legitimate? Aren’t survival/morality or trick/whore issues that turn kids into half-human satyrs just as legitimate? Resveratrol wine results from damaged grapes and is supposed to be healing for humans but only the herbalists say so. Aren’t the professors and honored poets of the writing workshops merely herbalists, recommending their amber bottles of exotic leaves and roots for whatever ails you? And clearly something ails everyone.
So the boys’ water doesn’t turn into wine but rather into piss, but isn’t that human enough for you?
G.C. Waldrep (born 1968 South Boston, Virginia as George Calvin Waldrep III) is an American poet and historian. His blurb for “Supplice” (above) is thus: “The city on a hill is at war again, and this time not only with love. Cotler’s terse lyrics of desire — ‘the anatomies of elsewhere’ — enact a baroque masque against backdrops of conflagrating violence. This is a difficult, encrusting lyricism, as of looted jewels.” G.C. Waldrep”
You remember, of course, that the “City on a Hill” is a biblical reference to an exemplary community as an example, sometimes meant to call up Boston or the US as examples. In this case, the city on the hill might be the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, since Cotler, Keelan, and Waldrep all have ties there. It’s what in chemistry might be called a “ring molecule.”
Without such credentials and circling dances, could you tell the difference between the poems in “Supplice” and the following? The “anatomies of elsewhere” and the “conflagrating violence” are there. Maybe not the “difficult, encrusting lyricism” because these are not looted jewels — they are the scars and bruises of abused boys. They are in the City on the Hill, all right, but reduced to living to the sewers beneath the streets.
invisible until the wind goes still
no one much believes that they exist/
like mongrels in a cave/
think twice about exploring this cave/
the rabbit hole swallows up the best of us/
the real struggle is to turn that intransigence — we do not believe they can be real — into an asset, and not a liability/
if they don’t exist, then why are you so afraid they might/
if they don’t exist, then why not just move on/
if they don’t exist, then why all the fanning of the flames of animosity/
all the le drama/
what is it to you/
revenge and in skin and bones we will take our time to die/
the scars versus the hate and fear of any virus/
there are enough accidents to pick at; if they don’t exist, then you have nothing to worry about/
if they don’t exist, then how exactly does that affect your life/
if they don’t exist, perhaps they are just a chorus of the ghosts/ . . .
For some with torn tongues the only language can be bleating. So they are given video cameras, the kind strapped to animals to see what they do and where they go, and we are astounded to find them on our block, the children of our neighbors. Not just in Iowa. Isn’t that a red chair on your back porch? Is a boy sitting in it?