Picking the shrapnel of a thought from the softness of an opened
mind once the concussion has stilled into a barely ringing silence
is referred to as gleaning a slow harvest in the village of Mataghori.
Michael Bazzett’s chapbook, The Imaginary City, highlights the unlikely partnership of humor and the long syntax of suspense. His poems often center on a fear, something frightening from childhood, from an unknown place where everything familiar is off. Apples appear as in Magritte’s paintings, unexpected and misplaced. Mirrors become spies from elsewhere; they are creepy and sentient, thinking of “Dutch interiors that grace the museum’s hush” before they grow “reflective once again.”
Bazzett’s humor is subtle. A poem entitled “The Old Now” has a first line that reads: “You might know it as yesterday.” The lack of specificity in another poem, “The Limb” (in which the narrator possesses an extra limb), is hilarious. Discussing an aunt who knows of the narrator’s extra limb, Bazzett writes:
Her only accommodation had been to acknowledge it in her knitting. The
result was the limb stayed warm in winter, but remained unmentioned in
blended company. This arrangement might not have garnered approval
from child psychologists, but it developed in William a keen sense of the
Bazzett is comfortable in these strange waters. One poem, “From the Book of Time,” describes exact moments (e.g.7:42 a.m.) in character sketches where “the experts” and Heraclitus offer insight:
(11:14 p.m.) This minute passes with tremendous exactitude, year
in, year out, performing its sixty seconds with the piston-like
reliability of a Bosnian porn star in spite of our general fatigue &
Imagination and a droll sensibility keep these poems away from the edge of being twee, (though 0:00 p.m. may be too cute for some readers.)
In “September Picnic” the speaker describes a distinct memory, his but not his—rather it’s a memory belonging to one of Saul Bellow’s protagonists. In a Borgesian declaration, Bazzett writes of pears: “I can taste them, / even, after all these years that never passed / between me and that honeyed moment.” Whether it truly happened or is fiction, there remains a sensory memory for him, something real.
The speaker of these poems often sounds mysterious, an oracle or storyteller of urban legends. The poem “Report from Beyond” is written after a Zbiegniew Herbert poem, “Report from Paradise.” Bazzett seems to be of the lineage of the 20th century Polish poet. Perhaps it’s that The Imaginary City takes its silliness seriously; nothing in these poems reads as snarky or flatly ironic. Both Herbert and Bazzett use humor like a bludgeon, with absurdity so smart and cutting that the reader trusts the voice and comes away rattled, even delighted.