The Underwater Typewriter

poems by Marc Zegans

Pelekinesis Press • 2015 • 136 pages, paperback. ISBN: 978-938349-29-4 $22.95

A chapbook review by Carol L. Skolnick, Santa Cruz, CA

Poet Marc Zegans Chronicles Life’s Tempests with
Skill, Grace and Humor

Is the job of today’s poet to observe brilliantly and comment socially in either stark prose, pretty poesy or hip-hop? To honor the battle and the beloved, or to make sense of the past? To leave you with indelible images as no one else has word-painted them before? In The Underwater Typewriter—Bay Area poet Marc Zegans’ optimistic and ambitious new collection—he does all of the above while eschewing fealty to any of it, without a trace of self-consciousness or self-importance.

Zegans’ title poem concerns the siren song that compels writers to dive deep and tell their stories; but thematically, the poems chosen for The Underwater Typewriter reveal an authentic and good-humored perspective on near-drownings. The collection is a lyrical chronicle and how-to of salvaging valuables from the murk, honoring and saying goodbye to that which cannot be recovered whole, living well and meaningfully in spite of lost loves, youthful health, family mythologies and cultural innocence. It is also a mature perspective, as deliverable only by one who has lived long enough to know first-hand the pressure point of a manual keyboard or the satisfying clunk of a hard return.

“The times demand/Williams/not Whitman,” says Zegans who in “P(un)k Poets: Too Fucked to Drink” writes about events that turned the tide of America and with it, the changes in us: no longer willing to Howl like Ginsberg (or the Sex Pistols) at the injustices, but rather go post-hipster, cease posturing and take action, or at least get real.

And yet with humor and ironic self-awareness, he moves freely in this poem between a Ginsberg-like (but somehow slam-cadenced) reportage of seeing a generation screwed over by madness:

But I saw the news crews
Spilling rage, as spilt Milk

Mayor of Castro

And de-centered Moscone
Were shoved aside, TV slap
at gay pride…

…to the economy of language that, as William Carlos Williams wrote, says it in “no ideas but in things.”

consonant
diamonds
bent light
facet play

Typically Zegans, like Williams, does not waste words, using metaphors that feel immediate, such as “She kills truth as indelicate razor” (“Broken Sandwiches”), or condensing a romantic history into a pithy description of an undergarment tossed in passion and left behind by a lover who may or may not return for it.

But Zegans—well-known as a spoken-word artist on both coasts—has a visual sensibility as well, and includes here works that are constructions meant to be seen in print, such as the poem “Out”—a playful work that begins tersely confessional—“I suppose I am out now/out of excuses, out of art,/out of contrivance, out.”—and concludes with a wide philosophical wave that sums up the entire collection:

And there is a strange justice in it all, feeling it all and not letting it condition me in any way, learning to hold on as best
I can to nothing, and that, refusing to cling, staying out, trapezing off the side of a small boat on hard tack in high wind, is the hardest thing of all, and it’s fucking wonderful, and now that I am out I hope that I never forget it, and that by example I teach it to my boy
as I was never taught, and that he savors being out, struggles never to enter the hollow ring, and lives rich and full every day of his life.

Those of us who make it back to shore in midlife, covered in barnacles and gasping for breath, have stories to tell. Marc Zegans tells his, not like some ancient mariner, but as one with a healthy respect for stormy seas, witty and smart and happy to have found his land legs.