Artificial is the Only Way to Fly

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For anyone interested in the book-length poem or the potential issues that arise from combining science and capitalism, The Odicy is well-worth the time.

In The Odicy by poet Cyrus Console, the central character Tony questions the sustainability and validity of a contemporary society that consumes soft drinks made with artificial color, sugar substitutes created by pharmaceutical companies, and pesticides made with the same Agent Orange chemical used in the Vietnam War. The Odicy is a book-length poem about one man’s inner journey to make some sense of his world, but there is another more intriguing piece to the story; Tony is in a private cold war with society, a war that should not be fought, but which he finds himself in nonetheless. Given the title’s pun on The Odyssey, this internal struggle is very reminiscent of the Greeks’ position in Homer’s Iliad.

I was drawn to this book because of its epic qualities. I am writing one of my own, and wanted to see what another poet was doing within this genre. Console writes in pentameter to bridge the ancient epic world with our own, yet his voice is blue collar. He divides his poem into five sections, and in four of them he uses three sestets per page. In an interview with the publisher, he says he worked three stanzas at a time, and readers can see these mini-poems at play. Some pages are more obvious than others, such as the Y’s that end each line in the following three stanzas:

We have no rest. Wakeful is our enemy
Neither solitude. O he is many
No Dark Chamber. For iniquity
Is always working. Sad irony
We barter enmity for enmity
Alone. Alone we sing close harmony

Walk away Anthony. Walk away
Alone among the lilies of the valley
Of the shadow of mortality
On water deleterious to memory
Unaffected by renown or money
Loving every person equally

Go now, Tony. Else you got to stay
Tony. Fix a stocking to the chimney
Decorate a tree this holiday
Artificial is the only way to fly
Walking is the best activity
In your sleep is the better way

Note the Y’s within the lines as well, providing internal rhymes (always, enmity, every, Tony, way).

In the third section, what Console calls The Ophany, there are two stanzas per page instead of three, and there are seven lines in each stanza. Every stanza is acrostic, spelling the word RAINBOW.

Roundup, the number one selling
Agrichemical of all time,
is brought to you by people at Montsanto.
NutraSweet’s another of Montsanto’s
Bright ideas like putting caffeine
Or vanillin in the soft drink Coke.
We drink Coca-Cola long time.

There is a mythology in the poem as well, as Console provides religious undertones to Tony’s dilemma; indeed, Genesis is brought forth in the very first lines of the poem.

I returned, and saw that the garden
Had not moved from me but that some illness
Of the garden carried it away
From me regardless.

Religion plays a subtle yet significant part in the book, or perhaps the lack of religion (atheism) does. Indeed, atheism is almost a character itself. Tony’s internal battles are fought between a mythological need for the world to make sense and the realistic fact that it doesn’t. While I have mentioned the pun on the word odyssey, Console found the title of his work to be a little silly, but kept it more for its religious undertones than anything else. He writes:

I liked the way the introduction of a single en space turned “theodicy” (OED: The, or a, vindication of the divine attributes, esp. justice and holiness, in respect to the existence of evil; a writing, doctrine, or theory intended to ‘justify the ways of God to men’. Cf. optimism n. 1.) into “the odicy,” which refers both to the epic and to a more general idea of wandering.

Each section is titled (The Opathy, The Omachy, The Ophany, The Oktony and The Olepsy), and though they may not make any sense at first, upon reading the sections their titles become clearer. With each section there are quotations that provide the reader with some clue of the upcoming section’s theme. These prose quotations stand alone without their source (who are listed as endnotes), because Console wanted them to play a part in the overall poem, rather than as introductions to each section. For the readers, they pique our interest and enhance the overall experience.

In the first three sections, readers get an idea with what Tony takes issue with, the antagonists behind the internal struggles, but it’s in the forth section, The Oktony, that we get a better sense of Tony’s personality. He is a grumbler and a pessimist. He questions reasons behind actions. This section moves from a narrator’s point of view to a character’s. Emotion takes center stage.

…You know your vows
Like the back of my hand but go on
Ahead and cry why don’t you

The punctuation in the books is interesting. I have seen some poets not use punctuation, but use natural cadence or line breaks as the punctuation. I have seen other poets use punctuation a lot, perhaps to help clarify meaning. Console is a hybrid, just like his pentameter verse and blue collar voice. He definitely uses punctuation, but then oftentimes he won’t when it’s expected. The lack of a period in the the open ending of the poem is most likely intended to be symbolic.

Consciousness, hollow without volume.
Typographers would call this space “air”

No Trojan horse is built in these pages. There is no homecoming. Tony’s battle with society’s failings shows no clear victor; his quest for enlightenment goes unanswered. This is not a poem to find answers, but one to ask questions. I do not think I can call this a story, but a philosophical inquiry. For anyone interested in the book-length poem or the potential issues that arise from combining science and capitalism, The Odicy is well-worth the time. Readers may finish the book a little frustrated that Tony’s inquiries went unsolved, but I have a feeling that’s just what Console wanted.

Joshua Gray is a published poet and the DC Poetry Examiner for, where he writes articles on the Washington DC poetry scene and reviews poetry books by local authors and publishers. He busts poems that inspire him on his Web site, where some of his poetry can be found as well as the definition of a sympoe, the poetry form he created. He is a member of the Takoma Part Arts and Humanities Commission, and his most current projects are writing a book-length poem about belonging and publishing a children's version of Beowulf written in Anglo-Saxon verse. He can be found on Twitter using the jgpoetry handle and on Facebook at More from this author →