and the poet
Inspired by the work of Myles K. Blank's "fugue" Vancouver, B.C.: Broca's
House, 1993 and Crysta Casey's Heart Clinic, Seattle: Bellowing Ark Press,
I have a friend named Crysta. She writes poems. She reads them. No, she
them. And as she chants, her body sways - back and forth - holding the
The sound of her voice - a monotone - stories a life lived in corridors,
on stretchers, in
rooms filled with strangers. Hospital people - nurses, doctors, attendants
- doing their
If not for location, one of the doctors could be Vancouver, B.C.
K. Blank, author of fugue. Crysta does not know Myles (she lives in a
different city); but
these two have met anyway - on the page. I wish they could meet elsewhere.
poetry reading, say. Any place that treats words specially, as each of
these poets do.
Myles K. Blank writes about people in exile, in extremity, where Crysta
lives. In "the
mirror," Blank dreams about a woman on a stretcher. He is on the late
wandering through a field of sheets." He stops/sees a woman:
she has scars she is hurt
emaciated white face
i kiss her cheeks
want to lie down on the stretcher
and take her place
But Myles cannot take Crysta's place. I have seen her self-inflicted
scars, the cigarette
burns. I have listened to her read. I have waited while she writes about
in line for the stretcher, her home away from home. I have read the poems,
Heart Clinic, dedicated to her doctor. Still, these poets are in each
other's lives. In
Casey's poem, "Restraint"
Doctors, nurses and social workers
emerge magically from journal articles,
hospital forms and diplomas on walls,
surround the stretcher.
doctor is there, his hand pressing
my shoulder firmly like my father
when I was a child. I do
not fight though my body is
stiff, rigid. I lie
its length. They lock
a leather strap on each leg,
around the waist, each wrist.
In the dark alley, I was surrounded
by gang members. I didn't scream
as they pressed my ankles and wrists
to the paved, damp street.
My doctor is talking to me.
He says, "This is not rape -
the restraints are hugging you
close to my chest to keep you
a part of this world."
Doctor and patient are on the same ward. Experience separates them, but it
brings them together. Perhaps Blank wants to experience his patient's
because he needs to acknowledge the child within himself, the child who,
in relation to
parents, feels forever in extremis. In Blank's "untitled memory:"
leaves a remnant
of shaving cream
shuts the mirrored cabinet
baby nibbles on
a hard biscuit
a blanket over grass
...a female shape
breasts belly hips...
i am always alone
on the other side
"fugue" is a good title for Blank's poems. Reading them one feels the poet
a trance-like state. Whether his "beer's gone flat in the bedroom" while
lover's "nipple line rising under the sheets," as in "jazzrock poem;"
whether he is
walking "... through a bus shack/like a ghost," finding "a sleeping
another hurt," as in "the ashless sky," the poet's mind is always in
flight: he is looking
for images, metaphors, similes to hold the language down. The poet dreams
between then and now. And between now and now, as in "through a shop
when "no land/comes to mind:"
this piece of concrete
where a car rushes by
with my life inside
like a hostage
And between the
future and then,
as in "perspective 2" when:
i am old
at strands of hair
falling over your face
All the while Blank is in close emotional proximity to his patients and to
people in his
past, he allows situations and events he encounters on his way to and from
touch him, as well. Physician or not, he is a working-class poet immersed
sounds of men and women living ordinary lives. He places himself beside
them. As in
"bus stop" when a woman:
gets off the bus
to a slew of reporters
clicking their pens
around her neck
is it the children?...
she wonders, as the cameras snap.
Walking home from work late at night, Blank writes, in "Pitch:"
you lie across the island
heels on the road
of the street-man
cold on the pavement
Is this poet different from other night-people? He writes:
they're all exactly as crazy as you
midnight dies and this was born..
anyone who walks the street's a whore
smile's a grimace
love makes a scene
cold a.m. opium
The next day, Blank is back at the hospital. Writing. In "asylum," he
tells a patient:
if you sing from the slopes
of your widow's peak
climb in the tub
afternoons fully clothed
shriek at old blood
as it silently runs
down your legs
unbutton the shirt
of the deaf man
and take him to bed
I won't turn away
for the needle again
The Dictionary of Psychology defines "fugue" as such: Fugue: From the
Latin for flight,
a psychiatric disability the defining feature of which is a sudden and
leaving of home with the person assuming a new identity elsewhere. During
there is no recollection of the earlier life and after recovery amnesia
for events during
it. Often called psychogenic fugue to distinguish it from other syndromes
similar symptoms but are caused by known organic dysfunctions.
Is there a point at which the psychiatrist, feeling so much the patient's
Poet via necessity? Might he not otherwise forget to tell the similarities
rest of humanity's pain and his own? Might he not rather run away, repress
closeness toward others, entirely?
Or would he prefer to transform feelings into thought and word as Crysta
does, use the
poem as a receptacle of grief, thereby, releasing the fugue-self to
In order to escape those elements of parental and social authority that
artist's ability to re-create the self on the page, the writer/poet flees
home for exile. The
poem is a place of exile, a place to create the self anew; and as a poet,
Blank enters that place just as the poet, Crysta Casey, does. For a time,
psychiatrist/patient exists in the fugue-like state; yet, each chooses
release from it. The
release is in the writing, of course. Even more, it is in the public
sharing of the writing.
When accepting the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, Toni Morrison said
is a seat of responsibility. The page is a place to discover the self in
relation to words;
it is also a place to develop a sense of obligation to others. Blank's
poems exhibit this
sense of obligation. So do Casey's. I hope you will read them. Patient,
worker, or both, you will find a part of yourself there.
Other Works cited in this Review:
Morrison, Toni. The Nobel Lecture in Literature. New York: Alfred A.
Reber, Arthur S. Dictionary of Psychology. London:Penguin, 1985.