Fernandes lets us enter his poetic mind the way he might let you into his home, and you know at once you won’t be a guest there. You’ll be permitted to browse the bookshelves, to finger the drooping flowers and to examine his half-built machines, asking, “What are these for?” Though the answer may surprise you. “There’s this time I’ve always / wanted to talk about with someone…” Raoul Fernandes writes in the opening poem, addressing the reader like a confidante. Transmitter and Receiver may be Fernandes’ debut but it does not feel like the work of a debutante. Astute, wry and reassuring, these poems contain a gentle yet insistent lesson for us.
Scenes in slow motion, saturated with the blue lights of nostalgia, are presented to the reader like a handful of creased snapshots. “A flower delivery driver / is lost in a bad neighborhood,” a marble long forgotten in a coat pocket, a memory of his teenage friends with their “bare feet on a dashboard,”—Fernandes constructs poems like a house of sticks, laying one wispy image against each other until it encloses the reader. Every vignette and object is given careful attention and even an ATM slip’s “cold swirling data” might be read for some “personal narrative.”
Fernandes questions the value and transformative power of the small moments as if trying to solve the puzzle of how they add up to a life. He has a tendency to refer to this act of capture now and then in his poems:
Missed the last bus home, wrote
a run-on sentence in my notebook, watched
it slink off the page and scribble darkly
through the streets. Years later,
I’ll be living here, still editing that sentence…
It’s a kind of telescopic time game that Fernandes is playing here, where even the moment of writing a poem becomes a moment in the past that eludes poetic encapsulation. The poems are also determined not to tack on a tidy conclusion. The reader may search for verdicts from the poet, but what right, he seems to imply, does he have to sway our minds about anything? This approach feels both novel and disconcerting in an age that sanctifies public outrage and gives platforms to unadulterated opinions.
Transmitter and Receiver contains many experiments with syntax and structure, such as poems like “Attachment,” a list of evocative .jpg file names. Occasionally there is some prosiness and predictable language. Fernandes’ main difficulty is in keeping the personal nature of his poems from feeling sentimental, though there is no fault in sentiment as long as he can keep surprising us. Even so, he achieves so much with the plainest, most translucent language:
This ceiling, this frame, this room, these windows.
It is not so strange to be sad at the thought
that you are the only person you’ll ever get to be.
To be heartbroken, to be dangerous, to be beautiful, according to Fernandes, is “not so strange,” even as his poems allow for surprise and disbelief. It is one way Fernandes shows us how to live in the space between what is most familiar and what is “just outside/ your field of view.”
Phoebe Wang is a graduate of University of Toronto’s MA in Creative Writing program, and her chapbook, Occasional Emergencies, appeared this fall with Odourless Press. More of her work can be found at www.alittleprint.com.
A HANDFUL OF ARC IS A A HANDFUL OF POETRY