Ben Mirov has no idea what he’s doing… or so he claims. In his latest chapbook Vortexts, out recently from the small press SUPERMACHINE, the poet creates an insecure persona who bravely walks the cliché poetry-about-poetry line, often bewailing writer’s block and a perceived inability to feel in control of the creation process. Of course, writing about being a young, anxious artist is hackneyed, and on the surface Mirov’s work seems simply meta-obsessed (“Can you picture me / slumped towards a window hunched over / a white piece of paper?”). Yet, Mirov manages to reinterpret this subject matter with linguistic cunning and humor.
Mirov’s insecurities are not without cleverness. In “Snowliloquy,” he writes, “Loneliness is something more / than nothingness. It’s Snowbody / touching your thigh in bed. Snowbody / chopping the peppers for the soup. / Snowbody calling your name from the control room late one night.” Mirov’s speaker is at once punny, making light of sexual anxieties, and deeply pained. The more he repeats “Snowbody,” the more we recognize it as a kind of character in and of itself, and the more tangible his solitude becomes.
Elsewhere, a similar repetition demands readerly contribution. In “Ribbon,” Mirov describes his work as a “slipstream of mistakes / trailing out into the future / into the abyss of the of of of of of of of of of of of of of / of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of / Are you still there?” Into the abyss of what? The poet defers and defers, leaving us to sift through a sea of “of”s with no resolution. He turns the word into just a hollow sound, and we are forced to flounder with him, trying all the while to fill in the empty space.
This playful stumbling over words is what gives Vortexts its charm. Take the opening lines of the first poem in the chapbook: “I can see your wolf in a parallel dimension… / Your wolf is built of purplish light… / I use my eagles to touch your wolf. / Try harder to carry your wolf, I say.” The word “wolf” feels clunky and strange, like an awkward voice-over. As with the hypnotic string of “of”s, “wolf” begins to lose its meaning and we come to think of it as a stand-in for something else entirely. What this “something else” is, however, the poet never lets on, and we begin to wonder whether “wolf” is supposed to mean anything.
In the best way, reading Vortexts is like perpetually trying to recover one’s train of thought mid-sentence but always failing. In “Light from Dead Stars Doesn’t Lie,” Mirov even admits, “What am I trying to tell you / I don’t know.” Me neither, but somehow, it’s working.