I Am Your Slave

I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say by Anthony Madrid

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Let us consider a poetic tradition in which the legacy of Sufi poetry—specifically Urdu poetry, poetry inspired by the Qur’an and Persian poets Sadi and Hafez—has been thoroughly absorbed. A poetry resplendent with internal and external rhymes, which resurrects the strophic structure of the ghazal (though a form of the ghazal that disobeys some of its fundamental rules): a sensual union, in other words, of form and content.

Let us consider a poetic tradition in which the responsibility of poetry to instruct is alive and well—a kind of occasional verse in which instructions to the “you” (whether as putative reader or addressee) predominate (alongside expertly crafted poems smarting with raucous turns of phrase, pitch-perfect odes, and poems which exult and abase the objects and subjects of their attention to an extreme not seen since the likes of Hamlet or King Lear).

To consider this imaginary tradition is to consider the debut collection of Anthony Madrid, author of the air-tight, surround-sound phantasmagoria of I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say. These 64 poems dare the reader to find an internal structural inconsistency. If Stevens was right, and it is in “flawed words and stubborn sounds” that poetry inheres, then this fully-realized book ranks among the classics of this generation for its fierce originality (inasmuch as this quality still bears value in a poetry scene influenced by post-conceptual poetics, with its emphasis on “uncreativity” and what K. Silem Mohammad calls the “aleatory differend.”)

Disinterested in the trials and travesties of selfhood this book is not. The “Madrid” that populates the pages is not a persona, nor is it necessarily the poet himself: not dissimilar from Berryman’s Henry, Madrid is, according to the poet, “the truth about my inner climate.” In an age whose agon is that the poem’s consequences (if any) are absorbed by the “speaker,” not the poet, Madrid serves as a kind of historical cipher for what transpires on—and becomes of—the page. (Eliot may have stoked the fire of poetic impersonality, but I doubt even he foresaw the degree to which poets of subsequent generations would seek to disidentify with their poems.)

From “What With This New Body”:

I AM impatient, I am irreverent, I am addicted to giving pleasure.

You could say I haven’t the scholar’s cast of mind . . .

HINDUISM! that fractal religion with gods sticking out of the gods!
Every time you open the faucet, you get a sink full of gods.

MADRID, do you not see your poetry gives comfort to the wicked?
It does give comfort to the wicket—but it also makes wiser the
wise.

No hand-wringing over the hyper-secularization of poetry here. These poems mimic, invoke, perturb, and take the place of dead and living gods, usually within, as noted earlier, the classical structure of a fable or religious exhortation.

From “Heaven Help the Right-Handed Man Who Has Had His Right Hand Cut Off”:

. . . A kicking horse made of earth and water can spill a man on the
    rocks.
Can pitch him headfirst over the curling spout . . .

For I have ruined my high-stepping new shoes, the wine-colored
    ones, made in Milan.
I used them for tracking back and forth through my portion of
    wedding cake.

And today I see before me, in dazzling motion on their white
    lotus,
Those horrible coupling deities, like a SUNBURST of arms and legs . . .

Easy does it, MADRID. Take care whom you denounce. Else
    You’ll end up in heaven and have to give up this ironizing pose.

***

If this collection didn’t have one again questioning the origin and provenance of poetry (other than the intellect or empirical self), the poems would be getting short shrift. They are genuine oddities, as if hurled at the reader from the future or the distant past, dragging long skirts (MADRID is a gender-bender) of feigned contrition as if parodying both reverence and apostasy. This approach seems more honest than an outright avoidance or holier-than-thou sneer against all religious traditions, some of which (ask MADRID) are intertwined with poetic tradition in ways that do justice to both the religion and the poetry that issues therefrom.

This book readily lends itself to citationality while remaining a prima facie totality, in all its strangeness. Each line anticipates what follows (in the sense of feeling inevitable) yet the actual lines (“The dropped opera house chandelier has the look of a sunken/ Navy destroyer”), taken individually, and in couplets, are so visceral and mind- bendingly “other” that the readers of this text become witness to Valéry’s own self- description: “a unitary mind in a thousand pieces.”

The erotics of acquiring and imparting knowledge are omnipresent:

To teach is to go back in time; to learn is to visit the future. But to
Stand there like a mule, not a thought in your head—that’s ‘living
in the moment.’

I was wrong to ask your opinion when all I wanted was praise.
You were wrong to take a tone of patient instruction.

We have a tradition in our poetry that babies give off light.
Actually, the naked human body gives off darkness . . .

The gestures herein range from the salvific to the peevish, but always as a gesture toward “sacred theatre”—the point of performance wherein theatre becomes not a shadow of the real, but a species of the hyperreal: the gauntlet—and index—of the best poetry being written today.


Virginia Konchan’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Best New Poets 2011, the Believer, and The New Republic, among other places. A recipient of fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center, Ox Bow, and Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, she lives in Chicago, where she is a doctoral student in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. More from this author →