REVIEW: Fur Not Light by Jeff Alessandrelli

Fur Not Light by Jeff Alessandrelli

Burnside Review Press, 2019

To remember is to represent: remembering is the condition of not being exclusively in the moment. The title of Alessandrelli’s work is an homage to Daniil Kharms (sometimes spelled Charms), a Russian avant-gardist and absurdist poet that lost his life to the asininity of Soviet political injustice. ‘Fur not light’ is a line from Kharms’ untitled narrative prose poem that tells a story that “happened with a fish and, more appropriately, not with a fish but with a man named Patrolev or, even more appropriately, with Patrolev’s daughter.” As the absurd story goes, the poet toys with the reader’s ability to understand meanings, points of view, continuity of a single narrative, unexpected conclusions, and representation of memories. Even the character’s name, unusual for a Russian ear (Patrol-ev, with the clear root ‘patrol’ and the ending ‘ev’ that signifies a formation of a Russian last name), indicates the circular nature of any experience. For one who is trying to remember the things of the past, memory is not the most reliable source of representation. As a result, the epigraph foreshadows that nothing in Alessandrelli’s book is what it appears to be. Fur not light, eyes not knee, water not tea, and prose intertextual-referential-ironic-absurd poetry not postmodern. Yet, everything is something, and this something is very specific that can uncover its significance to the one who looks for information.

Alessandrelli’s poems appear to be self-aware; he calls attention to the meta-nature of human experience. The opening prose poem that can also be understood as a foreword, ironically titled ‘Fin’ (The End), takes on global histories and politics, mimicking Kharms’ style, only to underline that “Death exists at the border of fact and imagination and some fatal acceptance seals it.” The experience addressed in the poem is poignantly ironized, as Alessandrelli achieves an emotional effect that focuses attention on the otherness of the past and the laziness of a common reader.

Learning about the past cannot be mechanical, undertaken for the sake of finite knowledge, but the virtue of learning about one’s self lies in the possibility to analyze the ideas, concepts, and examples from the past in order to improve the state of the things of the present. This idea liberates Alessandrelli’s intellectual strivings and allows him to redirect his work, becoming a representative of a new theoretical approach to poetry. The foundation of the poet’s approach can be characterized by Foucault’s quote “[w]hat is found at the historical beginning of things is not the inviolable identity of their origin; it is the dissension of other things. It is disparity.” Consequently, literary works that address the complexity of the past, present, and future display the ‘disparity’ produced by the sense of otherness because the voices of such works’ speakers and narrators are different despite sharing the same authorship. Apparently, Alessandrelli made some thematic choices lending himself to a metafictional representation – another example of the disparity of meanings in Fur Not Light.

Although Alessandrelli’s speaker appears to be consistent, his poems act to represent characteristics of reason, the disparity of otherness, and techno-social symbiosis, as the voices of different poems interrupt the narrative distance, indicating the disparity of the past, but also affirming the allegory of an intertextual underlying significance that allows critics to access knowledge useful to the contemporary society. Kharms is not the only point of reference that Alessandrelli employs. An attentive reader may recognize the poet’s allusions that border with adaptations of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, W.C. Williams, Wallace Stevens, Allen Ginsburg, Alexander Vvedensky, and many others. Alessandrelli’s poems are reminiscent of specific cultural artifacts, so the proximity of internet search engines (while reading the book, duh) is beneficial if not mandatory. Such a deep connection to other poets’ works, along with Fur Not Light’s employment of contemporary Internet-terms and images (like actual emoji), offers a reader a very specific challenge. Consider the following poem, for example:

Yesterday stands all over today violently genuflecting unto tomorrow—I

don’t know. Америка-это как раз всё время is the shit my supplier

says every time I pay him in cash. Мой дом-ваш дом, дорогой друг,

но вы не срёте, где я сплю, не правда ли? It’s the question that don’t

start that don’t stop. Will the stream run a long distance from the word

compliant to the word revolution, the word nonononononononono? Power

isn’t. I can’t un

(‘The 32nd of December’)

The first sentence yields curious connections to Stevens’ ‘The Auroras of Autumn’:

Turn back to where we were when we began:

An unhappy people in a happy world.

Now, solemnize the secretive syllables.

Read to the congregation, for today

And for tomorrow, this extremity,

This contrivance of the spectre of the spheres,

Contriving balance to contrive a whole,

The vital, the never-failing genius,

Fulfilling his meditations, great and small.

The elevated spiritual tone manifested by Alessandrelli’s ‘yesterday’ that trumps over present ‘genuflecting unto tomorrow’ resonates with a similar clergy-nuanced manner of Stevens’ ‘solemnize[d]’ call for action, creating a sense of sanctified presence unified with the echo of warfare. The next sentence’s fragment “is the shit my supplier says every time I pay him in cash” completes the phrase written in Cyrillic that translates from Russian as “America-it is precisely all time”. The sentence is reverberating the disparity of human will for power, referring to the Cold War, the acidic sixties, and the speaker’s attempt to comprehend the actuality of the present. Logically enough, the next Russian sentence translates “My house-your house, dear friend, but you don’t shit where I sleep, do you?” as it emphasizes the disconnection between ages, generations, regions, ideologies, and periods, evoking Ginsberg’s contempt towards clandestine motives of powerful governments. Alessandrelli ends the poem abruptly as if the poet concedes to the idea of his helplessness because the past, the present, and the future are so net-like given our contemporary age of media power seasoned with hypocritical ignorance of human unique experiences.

It is clear that Fur Not Light does not have a single stable voice. These voices enforce the internal struggle that postmodernists define as a presence/absence conflict that shows the difference between Alessandrelli poems’ humanistic appearance and their arcane philosophy, which suggests the poet’s willingness to underline the irrelevance of authenticity in the process of searching for the evading real. Fur Not Light demonstrates a theoretical ideological shift; it marks an occurrence of significant changes in the system of human values that are redefined by the influence of technological progress. Alessandrelli’s poems illustrate the model of human conscience that takes a form of a conceptual net-algorithm that combines and unifies different minds that do not function in the same way when the connection is broken. The ‘net-metaphor’ applies to Alessandrelli’s book, as it links the problem of one’s individual freedom in its social aspect to modern ethics that relate to the stigma embedded in the concept of otherness. Fur Not Light addresses a new system of values and relationships that redefine human agency and place at the core of society, exposing the ongoing poetic evolution by assessing the concept of contemporary Internet-unity, a social system of cognitive connections that submits to environmental and technological changes, creating a new form of interdependent organism and forcing other poets to rethink their artistic principles, postulating new rules that describe and explain these changes. Fur Not Light can be a great addition to any poetic collection; but those who have professional interest in poetry would find the book irresistibly rich with prosodic data that needs to be accessed, analyzed, and solved.

Jeff Alessandrelli’s Fur Not Light is a collection of poetry rife with intertextuality, metafiction, pastiche, hyperreality, and irony, not to mention a few instances of maximalism. As a result, the book appears to be an example of postmodern work, as other reviews suggest. However, Fur Not Light holds a potential of something bigger and more influential, as it embodies a novel approach to poetry, characterized by its profound connection to the contemporary digital technologies progress. To interpret Alessandrelli’s poems is to accept that works of literature can only be created via a substance that already exists – the book is an amalgamation of familiar art and unexplored theory, and these foundations do not exist in isolation. Fur Not Light connects three things: an ambiguity of past that retains the actuality of real, an extremely speculative present that offers a social critique of the authentic modern present, and a subtle commentary on the possibility of a new prosodic future, one that appears to resemble the future we are likely to have.

My name is Akim 'Kim' Golubev and I am a teaching associate at California State University, Sacramento. I am an immigrant that spoke no English upon arrival in the United States but turned to be an English teacher and an emerging writer. The focus of my academic study is the Long 18th Century, and my thesis paper topic explored a connection between humanist ideas in Alexander Pope's works and posthuman ideological shift of the contemporary speculative fiction. In the past, I was a poetry editor of the Calaveras Station Arts & Literary Journal, CSUS. My works appeared in The Stardust Review Press and Cathexis Northwest Press.