A Few Thoughts On The Latest Collection From Louis E. Bourgeois

The Animal, subtitled Prose Poetics, was published in 2007 by BlazeVOX. I was taking a class under Mr. Bourgeois at the time, and remember the sort of incomprehensible response my brain conjured up when I first skimmed through the collection. Prose poetry was unnervingly new to me and the references to Artaud and Heidegger sent me scrambling to Wikipedia and then some. I remember liking the succinctness of his work but finding it hard to overlook what seemed like cynicism and pure unadulterated morbidity.

I came back to this collection several months ago, and ended up finishing the entire collection in an hour or two. The brief amount of words Mr. Bourgeois uses is indeed well-chosen, as the reader is immediately drawn in by unique phrases and circumstances, and if nothing else, the juxtaposition of his beautiful wordplay on such depressing subjects. His affinity for the work of Wallace Stevens is evident in the sheer craftsmanship of this collection, as well as in the way he takes a look from many angles at his most consistent subjects: deformity, the minds of men, death and philosophy, in particular the existential school of thought. It seems like the most common thread to the collection is Bourgeois’ examination of the behavior, existence and importance of human life in relation to the unknown. Below are a few of my favorite poems from The Animal:

“If All Our Yesterdays Were Tomorrows”

He’d spent two days in a row leaving behind $6,232 dollars worth of dental work performed within the boundaries of the tallest city in the world.

His teeth were exquisite and none compared to them that he knew of.

On the way home, he was hit in two different directions by two mid-size economy cars.

When it was all said and done, his teeth were not teeth anymore, just a mass of gruel where his anus used to be.

How stupid of anyone to talk about tomorrow, or to spend so much time and money on one’s teeth.

“The Animal”

A man without arms was eating lettuce in a diner. We all stood around him and watched. He didn’t seem to mind very much. He looked up from the plate with innocent eyes. Someone in the back of the crowd exclaimed, We should kill him for not having any arms. In turn, another said, We should kill him for having such innocent eyes. And yet another said, We should kill him for eating alone. The armless man ordered seconds and the crowd gradually dispersed.

“A Voice from the City”

And why, Nephew, does this engine make you sad?

The night before the Communists invaded the city my uncle sat at the stone table and was transfixed by a dozen ripe bananas lying there. “Aren’t they wonderful, Nephew? Isn’t it wonderful that we should have such fruit in our house? We are luckier than all the kings who ruled Cambodia–they could have all the bananas they wanted but as sated as they were, they could never eat them.” My uncle was not an optimist; he had simply grown unclear in the head. He didn’t sleep, he sat up all  night at the stone table staring at the bananas–two days later they dragged him to the outskirts of town and shot him in the face for wearing eyeglasses.

1975

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