The phrase “the resignation” can mean different things — for instance, something politicians and others are often forced to do when they grow too old, corrupt, or villainous to productively carry out their jobs. Amid the flurry of recent male apologies in film and TV, politics, art, literature, and poetry, and as more toxic behavior by male public figures is exposed, Lonely Christopher has said he is interested in language as unaccountable and nutritionless, in his words, “speeches that mean next to nothing.” With his latest collection, The Resignation (Roof Books, 2018), the poet plays around in this hollowed-out form — empty vocabulary, bankrupt signs, theatrical platitudes — and transforms it through glitchy translations into something that posits “… deposition, giving up, letting go, being forced out, usurpation, ending it all, or stepping down, as existential questions to the hetero-patriarchy.” Christopher is also a fiction writer and a filmmaker, but he considers himself a poet foremost, and, secondly, a Socialist. Even after garnering a responsive audience in these other genres, Christopher has turned back to poetry, following his instincts.
The Resignation engages with place and identity like a municipality, with certain recognizable icons cropping up, including New York City, Abraham Lincoln, Tom Sawyer, former New York Governor David Paterson, and the Gettysburg Address. They all appear for their mythical resonance. Christopher wrote his previous collection, Death & Disaster Series (which has a picture of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion on its cover), between 2011 and 2012, and published it in 2014. The bulk of The Resignation actually predates that book. Some of the latest collection’s poems were begun over 10 years ago. An earlier version of the manuscript was sent out to a few publishers and rejected. Then the author spilled a 40 of Ballantine on his laptop and lost the file.
The publisher of Roof Books first asked to see the manuscript after attending a reading Christopher did in 2011. Rescued from a broken computer after several years, The Resignation is a much different creature now than it was originally. The title poem is a kind of remastering, you could say, of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer circa 2008:
As for I every of years me it considers as the governor who uses direction, whether the person, and I where government employee I who what kind of should be surprised cooperate receive those many, that and could do a so certain thing many in the while I place it, but. The shape it is many that, my range depending, you know the work of the person who my weakness, that is not left in the annoyance which is private use.
Blank verse and other prosodic techniques construct a sestina, a handful of sonnets, nonce words, and lyrics or lines organized in quatrains, some using internal and end rhymes. There are poems in The Resignation that could be described as private and somewhat diaristic, as in the author’s previous collection, in which his family were cast as recurring characters. But the pronoun “I” is never the same subject, from poem to poem, and never refers to Lonely Christopher, the writer and social worker. The parts in The Resignation that might come off as deeply personal, almost diary-like, are fiction and do not directly reflect the author’s lived experience:
My poor father
his wives died
his two daughters.
There are also straight-up erasures of historical texts as well as the use of different processes, such as alphabetization, repetition, variation, (mis)translation, appropriation, recombination, bricolage, and détournement. There’s a personality (or many) in this book, too. And there are human problems, the stuff of a poet engaged with both language and life.