Dana Ward’s The Crisis of Infinite Worlds performs the opening lines of Comte de Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror in reverse, where rather than threatening to have our souls dissolved as “water does sugar” by the text itself, Ward’s book lands like a Lautréamontian crane on our brilliantine post-modern marsh. Floating above and aware of an avant-garde still obsessed with signs signifying signs signifying signs and conceptual writing that we don’t even have to read to understand, Ward invites us to love again.
While the titular piece may have the most direct allure, a paean to Krystal Cole, Youtube vlogger and co-conspirator in what was almost the largest LSD production ever, it's when Ward drops into longer prose-like pieces such as “Things the Baby Likes: A to Z” and the closing piece, “The Squeaquel,” where this book really moves. The absurdity of these titles we can later understand to be another kind of formal constraint, just as anxieties about his own sonnet series, publisher’s deadline, and missing “p” key become his ars poetica for writing with constraints, amongst the constrained, obsessed with the longing to grow from them, and perhaps become blissfully free.
At times the form seems so wild that one would be hard-pressed to call this merely poetry. It flies under the banners of prose and then drops into stunning observations like “when the baby was born I felt money.” Lines like these are Ward’s internal crises of Marxist-self split with father-self. His voices and influences proliferate across the literary board, taking cues from Rimbaud’s destructive brooding, Goethe’s Romanticism, Kerouac’s spontaneous prose, and Alice Notley’s poems about how wonderful and terrible a poet’s life can be. His toying with the sentimental is at times operating on the level of Hollywood suspense, and while his style is loose, it never feels flip or uncalculated. The text’s references to its own creation act as refrains structuring the whole. And, for all the allusions to pop-cultural artifacts, canonical artists, and contemporary poet’s first names, it is immensely readable.
“Things the Baby Likes: A to Z” offers Ward’s own encyclopedia, first delivered as a list of proper and improper nouns without a numeral or asterisk in sight. From Brecht to Mordor to Kasey Mohammed to “X-Box repair,” he delivers as if concocting his own Las Vegas strip, replete with things and their neon names. Then he does something oddly surprising—he defines every word and phrase in the list in short passages that relay his deep relation to these objects in the world. While other poets may use references such as these to highlight the gravity of the timeless, or as examples of capitalism’s grotesqueries, or because it allows them to relax into a snarky and ironic distance, Ward honors each allusion as the site for a potential epiphany.
One of Ward’s encyclopedia entries—“Kasey Mohammed”—highlights a peculiar monster that runs through the backrooms of some poetry circles today: cruelty. He describes a reading in a San Francisco apartment where one poet was clearly invited because she was of a different aesthetic than the other poets, and was subject to quiet ridicule. He describes the flarfist and sonogram writer Mohammed as having been one of the only people present to actually approach and compliment the reader. This reminds Ward of his younger self, who “feared then, that in order to live, [he’d] do better to perform a kind of cruelty.” He then goes on to correct this “equation” by suggesting the replacement of “living” with “perceived integrity.” Indeed, here and elsewhere, reading The Crisis of Infinite Worlds is such a lovely experience because Ward refuses to be cruel, but also never gives in to naiveté.
In “The Squeaquel,” Ward describes standing around with a bunch of artists waiting to watch the computer animated sequel to Alvin and the Chipmunks, complete with candles, TV, and DVD player (already antiquated), but before succumbing to easy sarcasm, he renounces this type of reading the world, admitting that when watching the ridiculous film in such a context, “to bring an elaborate critical apparatus to bear, or to make taste an operative schema, either choice seemed ridiculous or snobby.” This is a difficult book to review because everywhere Ward is already reviewing himself. He describes the sky as “softcore apocalypse kitsch” in a poem about a sacred pack of Lifesavers, and it is as though this could describe Ward’s own sublime experiences with what many would consider trash.
It is tempting to draw a connection to John Ashbery as Ward moves from engaging the culturally transient to essay-speak to “thought about thought” to momentary sonic pleasures, but I think this would be overly reductive. Ward’s references are manifold and directly stated, and he holds a singular quality amongst them. In “The Squeaquel,” Ward compares “poetry time” to what is called “garbage time” in professional sports—that moment when the players know they’ve won and are running down the clock, and “the heart beats and pumps infectious garbage through a body over which another kind of time has already claimed a numb, decisive victory.” The Crisis of Infinite Worlds reveals in slow-mo, transporting us into its contemplative head, coasting across page and line-limits with only a blip of anxiety. If we, our stuff, and this book itself are just objects locatable on the new internet and wedging us apart in an evermore self-centered malaise, in Ward’s worlds, we’ve never been closer.
Will Vincent is a poet and a graduate from the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College. His poems and articles have appeared in Inlandia, Scythe, Word Magazine, Keeping the Faith in Education, Chinquapin Magazine, and MobyLives. His poem "Tree Fort" was the winner of the inaugural UCSC broadside contest in 2010. He currently resides in Mt. Vernon, NY.
The Crisis of Infinite Worlds
$16.00 paperback, ISBN: 978-0-9822798-8-5