Alex Zhang Hungtai Knave of Hearts

[Ascetic House; 2016]

Styles: “between before and now”
Others: Margaret Atwood, Erik Satie, Dirty Beaches

“I’m thinking about you. What else can I say?”

Not my words. An Atwood, her razor reversal of pronouns in time, the ripping and rippling of people remembering. Memory is time travel, a brain’s attempt to cocktail thoughts into the conjured when, clock the relation of then; poetry is space travel, inner-interstellar, the re-accessing and reorganizing of memory’s moments into something called feeling. Memory before (always in my head), poetry now (always on the page.) What else can I say? What comes next?

“In the form of unsent letters and postcards, the idea of ‘before’ and ‘now’ becomes irrelevant.”

Not my words. Alex Zhang Hungtai, writing about Knave of Hearts, writing about poetry, I think; the poem was “Postcards.” The postcard and the poem mark a moment (vacating, being away), recreate it in the new space of arrival (in the mailbox, in the brain); the postcard and poem champion precision to process frustrated unsaids. We fit what we can on the non-photograph side and bend sentences to syllable count and what sounds right, and we hope all the rest is assumed. Won’t our thoughts sneaks through our words? We will ourselves past the same scuttled truths of verse (Atwood: “the palm trees on the reverse are an illusion”), choosing to confront now before or later. Poems are forgotten or anthologized, and postcards are unsent or only impact memories years later, out of a junk drawer, out of time. The poem and the postcard belong to time, for us for someone else for us. What else can I say? What comes next?

Knave of Hearts is not next. It’s not post anything. It’s the quiet unsent and the rolling in-between, the water lapping the shore, a receding never reaching. We’ll always have the floods; the poetries of weather promise that some forces of memory can’t go ignored. Dirty Beaches is assertive and sent, latched to before, predatory predating now. No recall or scansion demanded, Knave of Hearts is impression-ism, a kissing of found sounds. Memory is not in the head, only; it is fingers finding the unfurling black and white of the piano, the brain going there without mapping, the new sounds of elegy, chords, firework, and Nina not remembered but remade.

“Memory is not in the head, only.”

Margaret Atwood wrote those words, a little aware that poetry is memory, a little unwilling to remember. Brains go to memories to navigate their matters, to organ-ize their worlds. We recede. We go forward. Knave of Hearts is the quiet of free verse, an un-unreleased embrace of unsent stuff, “a silent testament that endures the weather and perversion of time.” It’s the dark sigh of the junk drawer, but it can’t be silent, really, can’t beat time. It finds breath in between; post-moment poetry. Brains go to poetry to remember being, before or now. What comes next?

I’m writing about you. What else can I say?

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