Sailing the Whirlwind
The Sri Lankan Loxodrome.|
New Directions, 2009.
101 pages, $14.95 (paperback).
The Sri Lankan Loxodrome is the Los Angeles-based African American visual artist and avant-garde poet Will Alexander's first book with the well-known independent publisher, New Directions. Author of six previous titles, Alexander's work is complex, highly imagistic, and at times humorous: here, in "The Bedouin Ark," for example, he describes a boat's hull as the wind rushes around it as 'a void of pusillanimous optometry.'
Alexander's poetry can also be so dense as to be almost impenetrable. Influenced by the surrealism of Martinique's Aimé Césaire, Alexander attempts to expand reader's minds through language pushed to its breaking point, using a barrage of juxtaposed images and a far-ranging vocabulary drawn from economics, politics, history, science, and various cultures and religions, especially Buddhism in these poems. Many of the more obscure references of his self-described ideoglossia (private language) are explicated in end notes, although perhaps having a dictionary and a pocket encyclopedia close to hand might be helpful as well.
In this collection, five shorter works precede the title poem, all filled with images and themes of restlessness, voyaging and transformation. "The Sri Lankan Loxodrome" is an epic series of monologues by a sailor who chops the heads off sea snakes as he travels across the Indian Ocean from Madagascar to his home:
I am Loxodrome
whose commission is to de-poison sea snakes
to somehow bottle their arteries in clouds
all my actions being noctambulous & wary
Often addressing the ghostly presence of fellow voyager and nemesis Gianini, the unnamed narrator recounts the various cultures and peoples he has met during his travels. In this voyage, however, African nomads are as likely to find themselves crossing lunar seas as they are the desert, and the narrator's often ecstatic declarations reach a level akin to speaking in tongues. An overwhelming wash of language, The Sri Lankan Loxodrome is an introduction to what Alexander refers to his 'alphabetic monsoons.' It will take more than one journey through both the shorter works and the title poem before readers can begin to dive deeper and crack their meanings.