Review: ‘Madness,’ by Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué

“Madness” is composed of 10 sections: an introduction, selected poems from eight fictional collections, and a concluding section of “Last Poems.” Throughout, the character moves—from Cuba to Washington, DC, to Los Angeles to Philadelphia and beyond. With each change of time and location, his writing style changes as well. The work moves from short lyrics to multipage poems whose excessive repetitions almost beckon to be read aloud. They discuss a range of topics: mental health, environmentalism, migration, queer love. The tone stays fairly consistent, with an anxious introspection, often addressing a “you” who generally seems to be the poet’s partner. Consider the poem “On Moss”:

these realizations I keep having
as I get older are becoming tired
as they consistently remind me
of my poor shape
the subtle lilt in your speech …

The poem meanders in image and introspection, before continuing:

I must preserve the mental image
of moss and the moss itself
the sound of water trickling past a stone
I am just so mad at you.

The tone of this excerpt can be found elsewhere in “Madness,” but the nature of the project means that no single quote is emblematic. Here for instance is a passage taken from the middle of the book, from a section labeled “Excerpts From the Diaries of Luis Montes-Torres,” which retains the tone but completely changes the approach to capitalization, punctuation, line breaks and conceit, rejecting even its framing as a poem:

I feel like a videotape. | Am I a good writer? | Saw an air show
today and enjoyed it, but now I keep imagining them crashing. Try-
ing to turn that off. | Do frames matter that much in visual art?
Lecture on frames today at the library and am still not certain. | | | |

Considering the book’s range of forms and treatments, it is brilliantly assembled. Each section starts with an “editors’ note” to introduce the work that follows, describing the social context of the poet’s life (“Montes-Torres had become fascinated by the flooding and collapse of the New York City subway system in early 2027”) as well as his craft decisions. This strategy lets Ojeda-Sagué guide readers, setting their expectations. For example, the note in a section called “The Ocean as It Shouldn’t Be” explains that Montes-Torres’s “interest in the lyric, the simile, the non sequitur, the ordinary and forms of difference are all still here — just flatter , more conventional.”

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