A Camera Obscura by Carl Marcum
From the edge of a singularity and across desert roads at night, A Camera Obscura teleports its readers through deep space nebulae and the constructs of cityscapes to arrive at what it means to “see.” Lovers embrace in sonnets and meditations move through artworks and Hubble Telescope images as these poems employ ekphrastic visions to balance the profound displacements in the most mundane aspects of our lives with science, fact, faith, and song. In the ceremonial blades of Aztec sacrifice and the anonymity of undocumented lives, these poems accrete into a solar system of images seen true, seen askance, seen in error, seen entire. A Camera Obscura is the dark room of the imagination where sīgnum—the sign, the act—becomes the tangible testaments of living.
“Carl Marcum takes inspiration here ranging from the gravity of living on Earth to the extremity of contemplating the stars. He writes his way into stunning imaginative identification with ‘Xipe Totec, the Flayed One’ and into science-smart reflection on images gleaned by the Hubble Space Telescope. The reach of the book is gorgeous, all attended to with an appetite for language that seems itself a kind of soul hunger. The ‘smolder and spark’ of Chicago’s cityscape, the word ‘cute,’ the Drake equation ending in Fermi’s paradox, the star called ‘Ojo de Dios’—all seek to ‘unite the mind with the unknown’ in these fine and engaging poems.”—Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Stairway to Heaven
“Heady and full like a hearty glass of Petite Sirah, this intelligent collection of poems displays the best of ‘American’ fusion. Both aged and fresh, these poems blanket the tongue with their flush of lush language. High and low culture blend with the Native Spanish of the Southwest in this poetry of sanguine saguaros set in the windows of Chicago high-rises and the spoils from academic ivory towers, those ‘robots’ less than human, ‘more than semiotic ghost’—all woven together into A Camera Obscura, which holds ‘every heavenly hypothesis.'”—Lorna Dee Cervantes, author of Sueño
“I have been a fan of Carl Marcum’s work for years. His first book, Cue Lazarus, rented a room in my head for a while. It’s great to have him back in there, kicking the furniture around. Orale, poeta!”—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels
“Carl Marcum is that rare poet who dares to peer into the darkness and give name to the unknowable (‘the land you could never pronounce,’ ‘the horizon between us’). Like an old Stoic in the age of dark matter, Marcum understands that we are, at our best, ‘a quintessence of dust.’ His is an investigative poetics of the untranslatably profane and sublime: the etymology of cuteness and passion, the spatial logic of Walmart, the mysteries of a José Clemente Orozco mural, indigenous histories and cosmologies, the light of a Chicago autumn and its stone. The poet’s imagination is as ‘synthetic and pervasive / as microchips’ but attuned to the ‘meander of Andromeda’ and the ‘movement of thought against light.’ Marcum claims the physics of poetry and the poetry of physics in a liminal poetics of ‘anisotropic apostrophe’ that values ‘the interval. / What’s between, / what’s missing.’ The in-between here is also Chicago, ‘the prophetic city’ and its speculative fictions: ‘City of the aborted future, shroud of parallax.’ Like a Midwestern, half-Mexicano Whitman, the poet becomes part and particle of the city in a (meta)physics of dérive: ‘Soy tanta cuidad.’ In the spirit of modern poiesis, A Camera Obscura maps how ‘Chaos works through its agenda of dust,’ but it never gives up on a visionary poetics of ‘incantation and renewal,’ where ‘sound is stretched / to color, color stitched to light, light solidifying / to absence.’ You won’t read a smarter book of poetry this light-year! Come for the trippy ‘SciFi-ku’ (‘We should be a space- / faring people, if only / to leave and come back.’). Come for a stunning sonnet and its high-voltage volta (‘of dividing lines and the sun’s far off fusion.’”). Come for the geek-chic hijinks and virtuoso/rasquache world-making (an ‘interruption’ of One Hundred Years of Solitude, a riff on the Drake equation). Then stay for the lovely cosmic blues (‘How does this field escape its naming?’), for a poetry that maps our other-worlds and other-words in the here and now: ‘O, this present tense, this wretched skin. / We are something always to be sketched in.'”
—Urayoán Noel, translator and author of Buzzing Hemisphere/Rumor Hemisférico
Carl Marcum is a Chicano poet from Tucson, Arizona. He is the author of the collection Cue Lazarus, and his poems have appeared in the anthologies The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry and Latinx Rising: An Anthology of Latinx Science Fiction & Fantasy. He received his MFA from the University of Arizona and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Marcum has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, and the Taos Writers Conference. He served as a Canto Mundo Fellow from 2011–2015. Marcum taught for many years at DePaul University in Chicago and now lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he is the managing director of a small engineering and environmental consulting firm in the Marcellus Shale.