The Diegesis, by Chas Hoppe and Joshua Young. Gold Wake Press, forthcoming, 2013. 106 pages. $12.95, paper.
When reading The Diegesis by Chas Hoppe and Joshua Young, one has to know the definition of “diegesis” in order to fully appreciate it. This fantastic word is a style of (traditionally) fiction which presents an interior view of the world through the narrator’s experience. In this collaboration, the poets have taken this idea to task and created a life full of multiple layers and enough provocative ideas to keep anyone mulling over it for a long time after they finish reading.
From the first page, the reader is hurled into the narrator’s mind with a stream-of-consciousness-like piece. While the poem itself is well-structured, the way the speaker jumps from point to point evokes a sense of being inside their mind, watching one thought trigger another, and another, and so on. It’s like latching onto someone’s thought process and hanging on for dear life as your fly among their synapses. Right away, you are confused, watching everything blur around you, invigorated and anticipating the moment you can slow down and truly appreciate what it is you’re seeing.
Where Hoppe and Young are taking the reader is to any city in the U.S., into the mind of any twenty-something guy who has any average life. What makes it magic is how deeply into his mind The Diegesis delves. It isn’t just about finding out what’s going on in this guy’s head, but what has gone on before and how it has shaped who he is. The theme of film is a major player throughout this work and one of the best things about it is the ways in which it is used to represent the human mind. The narrator repeatedly references cutting a film, shooting it, editing it, but the brilliance of Hoppe and Young is that it becomes like memory. The film is our mind’s eye, constantly recording, editing our memories, and playing them back in order to gain a better understanding of who we were in those moments and how they shape who we are now. When the narrator examines his life, it is done in such a way that the reader can’t help but empathize. His memories are presented as poetic snapshots, ones that often demonstrate the replaying-for-understanding by conjuring moments of struggle for an adolescent/young adult identity:
this wasn’t shot in sequence
and three-point lighting isn’t natural.
today we’ll check our schedules
and block out a couple of hours
before some other task crops up.
we’ve got to get this first scene in the can,
otherwise we’ll never understand how this begins.
By treating life as an editable thing, the possibility of altering personal history and its outcomes in order to change one’s future becomes a concrete idea instead of an abstract postulation.
Another major force of voice in this work is the use of footnotes. While these can be, and often are, ignored in academic texts and most classics, their use in The Diegesis enhances the effects of the poems they accompany. At first, they’re a bit a trying: are they supposed to be read in the middle of the poem, when their number pops up? after? before, just so there’s a context? The answer is really: any and all of the above. While footnotes often come across as superfluous in literature, these serve as just another way the diegesis is being created by the narrator, as if he still feels the need to edit himself in the midst of what he is saying: “62 this here’s the only place i can be myself. that’s the only reason for the first footnote.”
While The Diegesis is a complete poetic narrative, it doesn’t always stay the same. There are bouts of internal rhyme that are subtle enough not to overwhelm the reader’s senses, yet demonstrate the authors’ keen sense of detail and structure. Some poems have titles, others do not. At times, this can be to the reader’s detriment, only because if a favorite piece isn’t marked right away, it may be hard to come back to later. However, lack of titling does lend to a sense of the blurted thought, the moment of clarity that must be recorded right away.
Of the pieces that are titled, two favorites are “Wi-Fi Voyeur” and “No Tchaikovsky.” The first captures the experience of writing in a coffee shop to the T. This nod to writers everywhere pays deft attention to the experience of the people-watcher, while managing to give the sense of being observed. This is not the first time the reader is asked to consider who is watching us, but the treatment here is so sublimely new that the question becomes not only about who is watching, but what it is they are seeing in us. “No Tchaikovsky” is a tad more abstract, but the language is so beautiful and the images so rich, that it begs to be read again and again:
he conducts the blows like her body’s an orchestra
reaching the crescendo of the 1812 Overture…
The most fascinating thing about The Diegesis is the fact that it is a collaboration between two poets. It is quite a feat to create any text and give it a singular voice, but to be able to meld the minds of two poets in order to create such a cohesive project is truly worth celebrating. Even in moments of the speaker’s struggle with duality/identity, there is never a sense that he isn’t one person. Hoppe’s and Young’s creation is truly an interior view of the speaker’s world, and the reader is lucky to be a part of it. The only problem is trying to separate from it when it lingers so tantalizingly in the mind.
Jillian M. Phillips’s reviews and essays have appeared on the Cellar Door blog, NecessaryFiction.com, and are forthcoming in others. Some of her poetry has appeared in Cellar Door, Jerry Jazz Musician, and NOTA. She is studying poetry at the University of Nebraska’s MFA-in-Writing program.