Imago. Latin for image, but in biology also the last stage of metamorphosis wherein an insect reaches maturity. It is during this stage that winged insects achieve functional wings. Matthew Cooperman’s latest work, Imago for the Fallen World, released this fall by Jaded Ibis Press and available in full color or black and white, is both an image and a threshold. We as a society have reached an apex of sorts, but it remains to be seen whether our wings will propel us to a fuller maturity or let us down the other side of ascension.
Into this wild Abyss / the womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave
Cooperman prefaces his latest collection with this line from Milton. This is what is at stake in this work. Imago is in many ways a reflection on and response to Cooperman’s 2011 collection, Still: of the Earth as the Ark which Does Not Move. Again he endeavors to index and navigate our chaotic world through still shots that encompass and compartmentalize cultural, historical, and individual artifacts from life, news, and the media. While the picture in Still is bleak, a hesitant optimism persists. In Imago we revisit this world of increasing ruin, only to find the ark still stuck in the mud, but the poet still has not given up. These poems suggest new associations with which to revision this world—not better, but as it is, as we’ve allowed it to become. They list, categorize, and define in order to truly perceive and redefine.
This work is a textual mosaic produced in collaboration with Romanian-born artist Marius Lehene, and the poems in this collection, upon first reading, seem fragmented and disorienting. The key is to view each part as an object, an image for the reader to perceive and take in similar to how one would consider a painting—through its parts, but then as a whole. The poems compliment Lehene’s equally stunning images in a manner that makes the direness of our situation palpable, but their relationship is suggestive rather than direct. As the poet astutely states, “this poem is work” (62), but it is necessary work. These poems assume the significance of historical artifact—the last testament of a society on a trajectory of self-destruction.
The broken utterances of this collection are interrupted at intervals by passages of prose—pauses of sorrowful clarity amidst our busy current sound-byte experience. In these lucid lamentations, the poet bears witness in an effort to understand this ruinous path we are on. One such lament implores:
We are spinning, no doubt, but aren’t we spinning somewhere?
What is the dilemma at the crux of Imago? Our impending ruin “in this great hour of swallowing darkness.” The poet’s charge: “to make this dilemma seem visible.” His impetus? His baby “thrills and yearns for tender hearts and futures” (10). This is a collection with a purpose and force. This is poetry in action. The work isn’t easy—“a fresh look and a fierce listen induce a lump in the throat” (11). But this collection demands that we redefine the tired world we’ve grown complacent in—not in a better way, but an honest way—and that we stir from our sleep.
…and yet: and yet, we are a world of triggers, hands in our pockets, hands
in the air, the lamb was slaughtered long ago, but it wouldn’t be prudent to
loose the animal
There is frustration in these poems, and irony too. This poet is no benevolent prophet, no detached observer, and “this is no fantasy, this is a damning list” (131). In order to see the world as the poet does, to see the “world of triggers” still supposing itself in service of a symbol “slaughtered long ago,” we must confront it. To this effect, Cooperman uses both language and format to destabilize our perception and undermine the illusions we have inherited. We are players in a play, and at times the structure of these poems slips into a script-like sequence, further implicating the reader in the act of the poem:
Irrationalist: you cannot write a script for war and
expect the actors to play for peace
Actors: we weren’t acting
Numbers: we were counting
Silence, too, is utilized, and blank pages and incomplete entries suggest secrecy and mistrust, as in “Still: Policy,” in which a number of acronyms are listed and followed by colons, but no definitions or associations follow. The critical information is withheld. There is no transparency.
Will we bury the world that has nurtured us, making a grave of that womb? Imago calls us to awareness, and to realize it will not be nature’s grave, but our own. What is at stake in this collection is not the natural world—it would thrive without us—so much as it is our own small existence in it. Inevitably, we are “finitudes, not beings, a list of diminishing possibilities” (204).
One can’t help but feel these words of the poet will survive us. In the case that our ears remain shut, “whosoever wakes here heed these words…” (24). Haunting, elegiac, above all insistent, in Imago the poet invites us to join the conversation, because “anything you can tuck away into the clouds” does not get better, does not go away. How do we lift this fallen world? How do we stand it on two feet, on solid ground, visible, demanding to be seen, as it is?
Chant: by way of tragedy great happiness, by way of distance and breakdown a
proximity, by way of ourselves a revealing edge, the body is a call in the dark,
“hello? this is reception, can you hear me now?”
Imago for the Fallen World is available from Jaded Ibis Productions
Abigail Kerstetter is a poetry MFA candidate at Colorado State University and an editorial assistant for Colorado Review.