Mitchell W Feldstein, Even Change, Paradigm Publishing, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2017, ISBN 978-0-9986061-2-5, 84 pages $20.00
Mitchell Feldstein’s poetry collection, Even Change (Paradigm Publishing) is deceptive as well as smartly tender. The poems included in the thin volume, the first of the publisher’s pocket poetry series, lead the reader in a few directions at first. There are some adventurous format decisions that might give the impression that the author is an acolyte of e.e. cummings. Feldstein was a member of the band Lungfish alongside singer and poet Daniel Higgs, but his poetry is something outside that of Cummings, or his former band mate’s. The book prods the reader along with a tangible propulsion, but it also crafts a collective hopefulness from the midst of inner city strife.
When he read from Even Change in Baltimore near the end of October, Feldstein snared the intimate gathering’s attention with the poem ‘never not talking’ in a way that differed from the written version nestled 2/3rds of the way through the book. On the page, the poem’s energy draws much from its typeset presentation–short sentences bleed into long screeds, font shifts bloom into italics and so it comes aggressively at the reader. In person, Feldstein gave the poem more gauziness. But that’s also something he does on the page too. More structured poems feather in and out of a Black Mountain School style. Others tread less angular more hallucinatory musical territory. In ‘never not talking,’ Feldstein rumbles with an immediate cadence punctuated by a shifting refrain.
I ain’t never not talking to you no more
I ain’t never thinking of you no more
followed quickly by,
I ain’t never being with you no more.
Finally the bough breaks as desperation leaks into the last shift, also the poem’s last breath,
I ain’t never not looking for you no more.
Sometimes Even Change offers a spell of poetic invention. Phrases will come to life in enigmatic staccato three word bursts. Other sections utilize the language of advanced education and even cite block grants, the money governments allot for institutions to cover a wide spectrum of need. These references likely derive from Feldstein’s own life as a social worker. But, also, they acknowledge a city where people become transparent as loss overwhelms their lives. It’s an astute design.
In the poem ‘the proof of resistance’ that elegiac struggle is given vibrant focus.
manufactures seismic fortune
revealing section buyouts
tinsel displays seizing
pirate sonnet domains reading
migraine manifests intoning
Like many of the poems in this third book of Feldstein’s, ‘proof…’ is complex and succinct. The balance flows back and forth between those two poles in a wave of kinesis. He charts the care contained inside with a sophistication that is neither ostentatious nor lost to stylization. The poems are rhythmic. They seethe. They wriggle. And sometimes, they snuff out wicks. But each comes back again and again. That’s the daringness of this writing. Feldstein’s best poems move out of idiomatic singularity into literariness.
Weaving these civic instincts, the individual poems navigate everyday chaos and happenstance joys. So the book is haunting and caressing. The poems connect to each other with color and motion and Feldstein generates a distinct systemic poesy of his own, call it present participle poetry doused in a scatter of -ing moments. While sometimes he slips into past tense, that never lasts for long. Even Change’s poems are immediate. The –ing can overwhelm at first, but as the book flows, it becomes the through point, the heartbeat, the propulsion.
Feldstein also distributes some mystery in his poems. Not everything comes as an answer. Sometimes his word combinations wont fully unravel from their abstract jazz. Sprinkled amid references to exotic bird diseases, musical theory and Christian separatist sects are mentions of Morse code and the use of what might be termed hieroglyphic grammar, where Feldstein plants lines of periods and brackets and mathematical symbols to elicit a visual sense of what he’s writing about. Some things in life remain obscured. And not all of his symbols invite clarity. Still, he does it sparingly so it remains spry and intuitive rather than operating as a strained device. But bracketed by incongruous phrases- consequential cinematic prayer warrior vows in the poem ‘1800 dollars a day,’ circumstantial surrogate spacemen from ‘the plain sect miserablist,’ and iron substance schemes from ‘before electronics’- the sum is greater than its parts.
The poems in Even Change are also draped in ebonies, tangerines and greens. But those colors also transfer into more meditative classifications. There are sparrow toned suits, infra-red readouts, and pastel day-glo. As such, the colors fix with the beat of the poems, creating an emotional synesthesia (the psychological state where colors and sounds mix together- Arturo Toscanini, who had synesthesia, was said to once have demanded more yellow while conducting the NBC orchestra.) Dreams have corners, the ground is painted, abstract-ness becomes occult. At the end of the book, Even Change’s second to last poem is perhaps the strongest. Another writer would have led with it. Feldstein has understood the power of letting it wait till the closing.
truth to power
intone (the phrase)
piso mojado…………(breathing deeply)
The piece, entitled ‘she used to call me “big daddy got it going on” but she doesn’t anymore’, is entrancing. The reader might not look up the meaning of piso mojado. That would be folly.
That meaning- wet floor- is a signpost planted boldly one page from book’s end, a guide for exit.
Even Change never forces the reader along. Instead, the poetry deftly ushers you into Feldstein’s present participle humanistic universe. It continues to expand long after the book has been closed.
© Mitchell W. Feldstein and Henry Cherry
Mitchell W. Feldstein was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and lives in Baltimore, Maryland. He has had two previous books of poetry/prose: hurl on apathy press and teen cardinal on shattered wig press. He also played drums for the rock outfit lungfish.
Henry Cherry is a writer from Baltimore, based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in the LA Weekly, Los Angeles Review of Books, Buffalo Art Voice, Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Santa Monica Argonaut.