Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jena Osman: Public Figures

Public Figures, Jena Osman (Wesleyan UP, 2012)

Is it an essay? (even a "lyric" essay?) or is it a longish poem? Who cares; it's writing, smart and engaging, impassioned. Public Figures begins as a conceptual-art kinda thang – check out the statues in the public spaces of Philadelphia, rig up a camera to snap images of precisely what their stoney/bronzey eyes are gazing upon, then meditate upon those gazes. So far so good: there's lots to think about there – the tradition of memorial statuary in the New World and the Old, urban development growth and decay, the ironies of history. But something else emerges over the course of this meditation. The poem-essay-commentary, which begins in a plainspoken this is what my idea was and this is how I started doing it register, shifts into the ultra-contemporary now, as transcribed drone observations – from the Iraq theater of operations, one assumes – start running along the bottom of the page like the "crawl" on the CNN screen; and the poem becomes not just a meditation on statuary (paging Dr. Ozymandias) but a larger consideration of the decline of the "heroic" "ideal" in the age of remote-controlled war.


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