THE DISINFORMATION PHASE, by chris toll
Reviewed by C. L. Bledsoe
Chris Toll is a poet and collagemaker who also co-curates the benevolent Armchair Reading Series. His collection is a study in deconstruction; with section titles like “The Ritual in Spiritual,” “The We in Weep,” and “The Ion in Redemption,” Toll prepares the reader for an exploration of the meaning of words and the implications of breaking those words down into their roots. A good example of this is “Working for the Redshift (Peachpicker Blues).” The poem begins: “I’m the sin in singer./Why is tiny in destiny?/I’m the cure in obscure…” Toll tears words apart, pulling out roots to question the meanings of words but also to imply subtle meaning, “I’m the yes in yesterday,” he says, later in the poem (line 6).
Some of Toll’s poems are less linguistically experimental, though just as powerful. In “Truth is a Pathless Land,” Toll explores the current state of American culture and economy: “Banks are the new churches…My heart is a little red fist/knocking on a big black door” (lines 1, 6-7). Toll comments on the corruption prevalent in government, specifically the elite Christian right. Later, he continues, “The white statues of Mary and Jesus/stand like fangs dulled by age and use” (8-9). He seems to imply that organized Christianity has become subverted and, therefore, meaningless. “If Christ is petals snowing from a cherry tree in spring,/how does He prepare a mansion for me?” (lines 13-14). Toll is questioning the contradiction of the pauper-hood of Christ and the wealth promised in heaven.
But experimentation is certainly not a bad thing. As Toll states in “Carbon-Based Lifeform Blues,” “The job of poets is not to explain the Mystery./The job of poets is to make the Mystery greater.” (lines 11-12). In addition to his structural experimentation, Toll also takes certain clichéd and familiar lines and substitutes certain words to affect the meaning. He often does this is titles, such as “Land of the Fee” or “The Chord is My Shepherd.” Toll is being playful with these titles. Likewise, one of the funnier poems in the collection is “National Poetry Month”:
April holds a flaring match
to the end of her cigarette.
Her hands don’t shake – too much.
She says, “I’ve lost everything –
Nothing scares me now.”
Some of the more interesting series of poems in the collection are ones in which Toll retcons poets’ lives, gives scenarios in which they meet other famous poets, often through time travel. “1776” involves Emily Dickinson meeting with Edgar Allen Poe for a tryst. Poe has a time machine, so they travel to the Baltimore of the future, where Dickinson finds a copy of her Complete Poems and writes a poem about it. Toll’s great humor shines, “I’d marry you – but I suspect you have Lice” Dickinson states, presumably about Poe (8).
Toll’s poems tend to be quite brief. There’s a lot of humor but Toll also asks some probing and important questions. He’s playing, but it’s serious play. Words control and define our lives; what could be more important than understand what those words really mean?
CL Bledsoe is the author of the young adult novel Sunlight; three poetry collections: _____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year; and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. A poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at Right Hand Pointing. Another, The Man Who Killed Himself in My Bathroom, is here. He blogs atMurder Your Darlings and has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland.