While Ben Fama’s Ugly Duckling Presse chapbook Aquarius Rising has sold out since its 2010 release, it is safe in the archives of the organization’s free online archives. Here, we can almost feel the letterpressed pages – the polymer plate constellation printed on a practically Pantone 3258-teal cover, the Sabon-set text’s clean lines running beneath the fingertips as he says, time and again, not loudly but still insistently: wake up!
As a new Fama reader and a longtime lover of the physicalness of the book as artifact – especially books constructed with as much care as UDP consistently offers its publication – I was struck by how quickly the pages turned. Fama teaches us deftly how to read his poems from the first, and when we get to “Glitter Pills,” placed just after the title poem and nearing the end of this 20-so page collection, the compactness, straightforwardness of
To live a serious life
that’s a fucked up thing
I would have to rent out a cabin
beneath terrible angels
when you want to leave you can
I’ll stay there just me and my heart
bigger than the sun
it is a mission etched into the underside stone of a bridge we cross over daily. Reaching back to the opening Hakim Bey epigraph (“the universe wants to play”), Fama is finding a balance around the poles of levity – lightness, because there is so much to hold our hopefulness, and weightiness, because what is divine can destroy. It is not simply messed up to abide by a code of seriousness, so much as it is “fucked up” to posture ourselves into these modes without sincerity. The collection read quickly not because there was any lacking depth, but because the complexity spoke to a difficulty I found incredibly accessible. More so, the poems’ forms are often without line-end punctuation, but generally end-stopped, as if to say the grammar or sentence structure might not continue, but the ideas have no need to be so formally discontinued one from the other.
In many ways, Aquarius Rising searches for the sincere. Fama writes not distractedly, but allows easy movement of the pondering mind, as if mimicking on the page his line from the lovely “Joe Brainard’s 21st Tan” –
I know too the sorrow wanting love
refuse to tame my vulgar emotions
and I’d like to go home
the long way if I remember.
If “home” is a place where our thoughts, like our bodies, find rest, let us wander a bit longer to stretch our legs, along with the last bits of that imagining of our marriages to moons. And what a pinch of regret to think the wandering way is forgotten, the play Bey encourages, the space for a less serious living, is something we broke, made docile or domesticated.
Or worse – that “the world thrives on misunderstanding / a cloud full of mature situations.” In the chapbook’s closing poem “Tauromachy,” a piece sequenced almost in aphorisms (perhaps, a nod to us over-analyzers, those of us inclined towards seriousness-seeking? The easy question of why enter us into Aquarius and exit us several signs over with Taurus? Well, perhaps, because the water-bearer and the bull…) we are again shown sequins and magic, animal life and our seemingly contemporary impulse or illness away from the beautiful, the simple, the unexplainable. Aquarius Rising is a collection to keep close at hand, a good literary friend to help us linger somewhere unknown. Because we can.
Ben Fama’s Aquarius Rising is sold out in its print edition but can be found for free at Ugly Duckling Press’s Online Chapbook Archive. Fama’s first full collection, Fantasy, will be published by UDP in 2015.
Aquarius Rising is available for free from Ugly Duckling Presse
Christine Holm began writing poetry while employed in social services and continues to find spaces where creative work overlaps with community service, from writing with palliative care patients through Poesia del Sol to teaching inmates with The Writers in Prison Project.