Reviewed by Eireene Nealand
Charles Hood is out there – in many senses of the word. Whether through travels in airplanes, to Antarctica, or Africa – or through the many poems in Partially Excited States inspired by such travels, Hood spins readers into the vast sweep of the natural world, without ever letting them forget that they are, a little piece of “earth as seen from earth.” That is, part of a Mobius-like flow within the vast world natural beings, both distinctly located in from nature and deeply a part of it.
The way Hood produces the feeling of being located and lost in the natural world is striking in that it is dependent on reversals, and alternations; jump cuts and sudden leaps, that reverse engineer the minds of the readers in such a way that they feel the world anew. Take, for example, “The Life of Jasper Johns,” a poem composed of two poems, necessarily joined at the hip, since one is about Johns, an “abstract-expressionist” painter-sculptor famous for his found-object creations, the other poem is about court case against Johns’ assistant, who was convicted of stealing Johns’ art. The lines of the two poems alternate, though of course they are more one than two, since it’s impossible to read either story without mix the two tales “in the canvas of the mind.” The result is a questioning of the value of ownership, in far more complex terms than could be created through words alone. Other poems are simpler, though no less fun to read. In “The Wand Chooses the Wizard,” readers are asked to flip their perspectives, in being given a series of formal analogies, such as “the baton chooses the policeman,” as “the trailer park chooses the tornado,” and “this poem has chosen you.” “What would Picasso do?” Hood is prone to ask in other poems, but I think Hood already knows. Picasso, like Johns, venture out into worlds where “trophy-head bear skulls” sit next to “mothballed/rows of birds in drawers,” and the rouge is a makeup case is the same and different from red-desert just, the same and different just like a poet-brain-scientist engineer is, I mean. Hood, after all, is both. Whether wandering through Modern Art Museums, moseying about deserts with some beat poetry tucked under one arm, or sitting down at a National Science Foundation Center in Antarctica, it’s clear that Hood has been soaking in all that he needs to rewire our brains on the fly.