Albert Mobilio - The 50 short–short stories are based on old–time games played in parlors, basements, and fields with balls, brooms, blindfolds, and cards. As winners and losers emerge from dodge ball, word games or balloon contests, so does the theme of our inner life as ceaseless competition.
Albert Mobilio, Games And Stunts, Black Square Editions, 2017.
The 50 short–short stories are based on old–time games played in parlors, basements, and fields with balls, brooms, blindfolds, and cards. As winners and losers emerge from dodge ball, word games or balloon contests, so does the theme of our inner life as ceaseless competition. There is calculation, envy, humiliation and joy, and there is always the next round when everything might change.
Albert Mobilio, Touch Wood, Brooklyn Rail/Black Square Press, 2011.
As a writer, critic, and editor, Albert Mobilio has represented some of the best tendencies in experimental poetry over the past twenty years. Author of three previous books of poems, in his latest he pares down his chiseled writing style to bare essentials that at the same time function as gleaming ornaments. Primarily consisting of short, lyric poems whose dense surfaces are generated through accretion (“wheel’s teeth per inch; / wordage over blood pressure; / speed at which cylinders spin; / or nickels enough to fill / his fist”), the work in Touch Wood resembles a precisely sewn patchwork with edges both frayed and razor sharp. The poetic fragment arose in response to the twentieth century’s fundamental brokenness, and there is a sense of the bruised, of the suffering stapled to every happiness, pervading Mobilio’s poems: “My lovely intricacies dying / on a soiled vine; my bleak worm eating // away at life. Such vaporous declension / from the normative.” Thus, the book tips between contrasts: “the wrong way of thinking // is always next to the right one.” This isn’t the same as the struggle between beauty and art also waged in these pages. Like in a good film noir, a dangerous seduction duels with a clumsily frank masculinity: Mobilio knows the way a person wears ill-fitting and scratchy clothes—reluctantly, resignedly, and preferably not all day. Because deeper than any gender or even sex is the pulsing animal body beneath. The brain’s attempt to make sense of this unruly material world is a form of disfigurement called art, or as Mobilio perfectly terms it, “these bleary weirds.” - Alan Gilbert
“So there are rays. Strong ones, others /only splinters.” These lines from Albert Mobilio’s eerie, minor-key latest collection Touch Wood aptly describe the delirious effects a reader may experience in the passenger seat of this existential ride through a psychic terrain of “sand banks, stung with grass.” Indeed, Mobilio’s syntax spills from line to line as a light ray filtering down through interstitial spaces of speech:
you do it by letting likeness creep in,
makes me resemble you &
the other way round & it’s goodbye
to truth, which
feels quiet at first
But in Touch Wood, as in the work of Carl Phillips, such refractions often culminate in full illumination. The afore-quoted “The Whole of It Is Winged” unfurls into clear music:
Then implausibly so
how easily we play this squeezebox,
step wide & bow
to beat the band, so many loves belong
to us, our song is
a perilous thrust, a pistol really,
handheld & in consequence
so much easier to aim.
It’s that perilous thrust that provides the sultry menace behind Mobilio’s stanzas, lending a suitably noir feel to the Hitchcockian “Only Woman in the World,” where the speaker finds a cinematic opiate (“how red this redness gets”) in a woman whose contours are glimpsed “in a silent film-scene / […] fractioned / by blinds,” and whose “cast-off sighs” become “blossoms on the floor.”
An enigmatic Cubist perspective on the angst of the everyday, the “blue-black of casual doom,” divides its abode with more explicitly narrative work such as “Kin,” which informs us “He’s my brother, but I made / him up: someone older, wiser,” before spidering into eccentric narrative within what at first seems to be a secure, Billy Collins-style conceit.
Among rougher gems, the glorious suite “The Spelled Out Spark in Rooms” illustrates that the ray of the poet’s expression may travel as logically by its own laws as does light, but may prove equally unpredictable, illuminating “a sparkling disco ball or Descartes peering / through an ox’s eye.”
Obsessively visual in its journey down the slyly humorous avenues of persona and the mechanics of everyday endurance, Touch Wood turns on a reader’s eyes like headlights on a late-afternoon ride through the abyss between our life’s milestone events, dispersing “particles of nowhere.” - Jerome Murphy
The poems of Albert Mobilio’s Touch Wood remind me of a review I once read of Pavement’s first album, Slanted and Enchanted. The songs—and here I paraphrase—were like listening to a distant broadcast of a Buddy Holly tune, the music barely coming through the intermittent bursts of static. In a similar way, Mobilio’s poems delight in their clamor, even as snippets of the contemporary poetic equivalent of pop songs—narrative, autobiography, confession—whisper through the discordance: “standing: we was nearly lifelike, / even in the close-ups but how // things modify & where / the middle goes / when the edges fade” (“Conditional Tense”). Here one might misread “middle goes” as “middle age” after the deft Berrymanesque ventriloquism of “we was nearly lifelike.” Even without the misreading, the poem’s pathos peeks through the cracks in the minimalist lines, especially in its last stanza, which plucks the heartstrings like a pop song’s hook: “quick swigs, stars / on the radio, our body / an anchor amid seas.”
On the cover of this sharply designed book, Mobilio’s name in a modern sans serif typeface stands in stark contrast to the cover art, a piece of wood seemingly ink-stamped in place, overlaying marks etched into the paint of the canvas. The book wholeheartedly engages such binaries and implicitly reinforces the old saw (pardon the pun) that good poetry is a poetry of tension—here, between signal and noise, mainstream and avant-garde, intimacy and distance. So even when the poems go a little heart-on-sleeve, they challenge one to navigate their indirections and opacities by focusing attention on the poem’s moving parts, how words and lines fit together like gears. They enact, in short, William Carlos Williams’s assertion that poems are machines made of words:
pillar then pedestal &# yesAs seen in this excerpt from the title poem, each line, word, and phrase latches on to the next with a particular speed and efficiency. But unlike the poems of Italian Futurism, which such adjectives may conjure, the mechanisms of Mobilio’s poems have a grime or grit to them, often conveyed in the stutter of a linebreak; they oscillate between not wanting to be “tossed / off, left to wrecks” and “want[ing] to be saved.”
you want to be saved, not tossed
off, left to wrecks:
wheel’s teeth per inch;
wordage over blood pressure;
speed at which cylinders spin;
or nickels enough to fill
his fist, then hers, then how
many times clenched
makes revolution happen,
revolving doors stop. (“Touch Wood”)
The play of tensions may be most clearly seen in Touch Wood’s very different back-to-back sequences, “The Spelled Out Spark in Rooms” and “Letters From Mayhem.” The former presents Mobilio at his most clear—and, one might say, accessible. Here the signal to noise ratio tips toward scientific precision, each section of the nine-part sequence charting the transmutation of light to sight. More interestingly, and in a similar way as Sarah O’Brien does throughout her seeing-eye meditation Catch Light, “The Spelled Out Spark” invests the seen with a measure of the (transcendent) unseen:
The mind’s eye begins with atmosphere & isletsIf “The Spelled Out Spark” portrays the poem-machine at its most well-oiled, “Letters from Mayhem” portrays the poem as a contraption whose sometimes disconnected parts pound out a lovely discordance. Headed by a quotation from Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols”—“His inmost thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees”—“Mayhem” is itself a kind of manual alphabet. The twenty-six section titles are an abecedary, beginning with “amen)” and ending with “zeroing in).” In contrast with the previous sequence, “Mayhem” approaches its subject matter at much more of a slant, focusing greater attention on the movement of language itself, a movement seemingly—seemingly—obfuscating a deeper confessional impetus. “[E]verything is difficult,” begins “zeroing in)”, “as / I am driven by purely // directional noise but cannot match / sensation with acts.” “I’ve been with her / on roofs and on the high rocks,” ends “effable).” “Wind ballooning // our skinny jackets, the moonlight / gone dirty through our tears.”
of dust. Sorts out the various
kinds of dark—the blue-black of casual doom,
the humid shade collecting under bridges
or the charcoal hue that settles
in hospital rooms after visiting hours. Beamish
to lusterless, satellite to blacktop’s skid.
Every fleck a sun, every sun a dial to be turned—
Thematically, Mobilio is often concerned with just how, as the title poem says, “we lay down housed, / our animal griefs / intact inside such labor.” He is interested in the parts we play—how we construct and are constructed, the self being some off-kilter conjunction of the two—reminding one, perhaps, of Yeats’ consideration of mask and face. We are “lincoln logs,” both “Touch Wood” the poem and Touch Wood the book suggest—the house and that which is housed. Even as the apparently authentic face shines through the artifice, Mobilio asks, does it not become just another aspect of the mask, as poetic transparency is another level of the poem’s artifice? The poet engages these issues of the authentic and the artificial in motifs of robots and constructed identities, as in these “Lady Lazarus”-like stanzas from “Circuit Breaks”:
HumanizedHere Mobilio ultimately equates the machine of the poem, “a prisoner’s / lyre,” with the “hoax” the speaker feels he is performing. In its play of modernist precision and postmodernist fuzzy math, Touch Wood often equates the latter with an interiority unavailable publicly—a prisoner, housed. Unavailable, that is, except through the noise of lyric poetry, which here both transmits the signal and conveys the ways that interiority comes into the shared world distorted by language. It is when one accepts the inevitability of this distortion, these poems suggest, that one may see the possibility of beauty in it as well:
by purest antiquity
I’m quite the choked-up hoax
My arms inclined to climb
so physical to physical
enough to rub within
It’s dubious, this creature’s
stumbling fate: denial is
Semi-private, semi-circling thoughts,In the end, we are not just “semi-private, semi-circling thoughts”; that interiority should rather be seen as part of the complex situations we are nested within, “mixing at the mixer.” For Mobilio, we are not unlike Chaplin’s Tramp, caught in Modern Times’s factory machinery, both humorously and tragically. Yet the poet goes a step further: we are not just caught in the machine, we are of it. This is less a critique than a realization, for the poem is the machine in microcosm, and the poem, in its tensions, may be as beautiful as it is awful. As such it may also enable a certain acceptance of the rightness of the situation—an acceptance which is also a transcendence:
the season seeps beneath my hat
A head full of clauses when you
talk as if stirring a drink
with your tongue
We’re mixing at the mixer
Our brilliant bits ignite (“Social Struggle”)
the whole of it is winged, this scienceWith Mobilio, it is poetry itself—as a pocket-sized measure of our world’s large things, its awful tensions and awful beauties—that may somehow save us. “[E]ach of us flat against the glass,” the poet writes in “Despite Which Slid,” “the glass against / this cartesian forest in which we play / the stranger overly // delighted by our strangeness.” Not “his” or “her” strangeness, but “our” strangeness. As a whole, the poems of Touch Wood ultimately pray: may we always be so delighted. -
of speaking about large things
you do it by letting likeness creep in,
makes me resemble you &
the other way round & it’s goodbye
to truth (“The Whole of It is Winged”)
Albert Mobilio, Bendable Siege, Red Dust, 1991.
"Throughout BENDABLE SIEGE, virtually every line has the taut ripple of its own ongoing lyricism. One might miss a word here or there but only at one's risk. We're immediately in the realm of the irreducible"—Gustaf Sobin
Albert Mobilio, Me with Animal Towering, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002.
“Mobilio’s poetry is the ultimate detox center for reality addicts,” wrote Robert Creeley. Infused with pop culture references spanning Tom and Jerry cartoons, Spinoza, and the confessions of a stag film actress, these poems revel in roughhouse lyricism. Mobilio is the winner of a Whiting Writers Award and the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award for excellence in reviewing.
Whiting fellow Albert Mobilio's sophomore effort, Me with Animal Towering, heads off in several directions from his groundbreaking 1996 debut, The Geographics, the unacknowledged original from which so much fin de siŠcle wise-guy prose-poetry-for-prose-poetry's sake has been counterfeited. He still times perfectly his alternations between tough and schlumpy personae, gifted at finding sensuous details in the bins of dinged language out in front of literature's seedier bazaars: "Not only did I have marijuana, I told her, but I had some cocaine. She nearly trilled, her voice sounding like the bright clang of divine scales tipping in my favor." - Publishers Weekly
Albert Mobilio, The Geographics, Hard Press Editions, 1995.
This impressive first book manages the double ground of a nightmarish surrealism and a dryly perceptive wit. It's as if Humphrey Bogart were taking a good, if final, look at what's called the world.These are poems of a survivor, urbane, is an ultimate detox center for reality addicts as thinking becomes the only way out. - Robert Creeley
"This extraordinary book is wise beyond comment or commendation, so true to its way it adduces its own lucid blurb, albeit unintended: 'These documents require better lips than ours.'" -- Nathaniel Mackey
"This is the poetry of the world's prose. Mobilio's disillusioned poetics is the finest realism of our moment. His art includes that healthy aggressivity where the mind delights in violent freshness'that has been fresh a long time.' Sense here is a terrible partial ghost, and this book an uncanny feast" -- David Shapiro