Derange

Dérangé by Doug Lang

Reviewed By

Somerset Maugham said if you want to eat well in Wales, read Doug Lang three times a day, and Doug Lang said, “All breakfast food is sexual.” Regarding the first tidbit, I kid, of course, but be that as it may, I hold the following syllogism to be true: Doug Lang’s new work, dérangé, is breakfast food / All breakfast food is sexual / dérangé, is sexual. How else to construe 106 pages of sonnets constructed by the man who in, but not of, a world of bad music, bad news, bad puns, knows no bad whiskey? In dérangé,, poetry enters the squared circle to take on art, math, science, language, the classics, the weather, politics, gossip, friends, foes, faith, history, health, disease, code, tragedy, comedy, the tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, love, hate, vengeance, the Renaissance, plague, the Enlightenment, death, Romanticism, confusion, Modernism, war, Post-Modernism, Colonialism, wealth, Post-Structuralism, poverty, and even poetry itself, and instead of every man for himself, they establish an alliance that is both holy and whole. There are no holes. The range is complete and every sonnet is unique. Take for instance, the very cerebral and ballsy “Nogoroboro sonnet” (71):

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Then, once you’ve come down from your “WTF?”—and yes, even the lingua franca of the internet gets its due diligence in “Paradise Dude sonnet” (29)—you get a double sonnet, “Lakeland double sonnet” (72-73), in the form of a travelogue of the topography of the turf of the Lake Poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge & Southey.

Every poem is singular and intriguing. No stone is left unturned; all subjects are left upended. Every form takes on a new form. Some sonnets enjamb into other sonnets. Some return, recur, in the form of cryptogram, such as the early “Stein of Moggok sonnet” (10, 12) the later “Big Box sonnet” (20, 21, 23), and the very late “Vasko sonnet” (101, 102).

The three sections that compile this ever so slightly, almost seemingly somewhat eponymously titled collection—dérangé, réarrangé, and Strangé—comply to form an interesting triptych of intermingling images and identities of now and then and whatever the hell may come next. These poems are not hyper-reflective; rather, they are concerned with testing patterns and challenging poetic parameters. Still, nearly forty years of living and writing in the land of documents and monuments has given him plenty to work with. In matters political, Lang lets the right wing know what the left wing is dealing with a blow that can really be felt in the midsection, réarrangé, especially in the piece “Fane-changer sonnet”:

Don’t let Issa’s verbal ineptitude or crime-ridden past fool you: Issa is itching, Issa is an idiot, Issa is the Arabic translation of the English name Jesus, Issa is on Twitter, Issa less said. It is raining in the capital, I’m in DC but DC ain’t in me. Ah, ha ha ha ha stayin’ alive stayin’ alive, ha ha ha stayin’ alive. All the creatures in the world are but one being. Stem-cell wikileak halt prescription obama dalai lama multipolar 10% cairo speech hat deat-heat negative sweeter data-storage bauxite… (37).

But in “Europe sonnet,” he concludes this ample third of the book by treating us to a trip back to Wales in a sonnet that serves as a kind of thesis, or mission statement, or perhaps most revelatory précis to the overall big piece:

I spent time with Alan Burns in July 1966 at the Royal St. David’s Hotel bar. He was Calder’s wonderboy. I heard him read Artaud translations to a good-sized audience consisting largely of middle-aged and older Welsh Methodist women in the Great Hall at Coleg Harlech. “I fuck you in the ass, God!” Total silence. Taking its title from a painting by Max Ernst, Europe After the Rain established him as a kind of infra-realist. Set in the unspecified future in a Europe devastated by internecine strife within “the party,” it deals with ruined figures in a ruined landscape, purposelessly dedicated to “the work” which is the only thing the party will reward with the food necessary to keep alive… (45).

The result, as the poem concludes, is a “surreal assemblage of events, images, even syntactical arrangements/that challenge the reader’s comfortable assumptions…” about what a poem is or can be.

This book is a tribute to poetry, man’s constant companion, for better and for worse and even the worse is better. One gets a real sense that every word and bit of space is tended with the kind of “moral botany” that gets pointed out in “Gizmondo sonnet” (59). In dérangé,, Doug Lang shows us that though intimacy between time-tested traditions and truths and one’s own may be intricate, it is still very possible with hope for endurance. Let’s just say that if it can be thought or said, then it is all thought and said right here. Poems as authentic and intense as these are as rare as any belied with false compare. Or shall I say, well done, and in the spirit of Welsh football… Up the Swans!


Michael Zito has taught English at the U.S. Naval Academy and Rider University. He lives in Washington, DC. More from this author →