Book Review: The Feel Trio by Fred Moten
The Feel Trio
Poems by Fred Moten
Letter Machine Editions, April 2014
$20.00; 104 pp.
Reviewed by Alyse Bensel
In a trio, each performer must be perfectly on point or on pitch—whether singer, dancer, string or brass player, or a different configuration—and Fred Moten’s The Feel Trio proves to be no exception. Across three distinct sets that fully utilize the page and the tonal range usually available only to the instrument, the collection ducks in and out of the image in a fluidity reminiscent of long session jazz. While the melodies may fade in and out, the beat continues. Readers are encouraged to dip and in out, as the poems have neither titles nor employ capitalization, a seemingly even yet textured terrain to mediate.
Speaking these poems aloud helps capture the rhythm and cadence of the speaker and the assortment of images that comprise these poems’ inherent musicality. At the beginning of the first section “block chapel,” the speaker tell us “played hymns for cinema and moth / and hot house epinonikon in a rocky / church with a club-bound feeling of / elbow.” This is a convalescence of the concrete and the tactile, where “freedom fighters” are “the cats who can tell a story.” The deluge of the first set, where small poems appear in highly visual blocks on different parts of the page and then diffuse into sinuous columns where the reader can choose to follow them across or down (“place her trill / inside. see if you / can find some place.”), the imperative is variation.
This deluge continues to stretch in “come on, get it!” where the moments lengthen into segmented numbered sections, like when “in studio, at sam cookie’s theory of yesterday, till be get out with nothing in reserve, read on sending / till you on your way and I’ll rub you till you get that little curve to speak in tongues.” The playing on the instrument, on the voice, becomes key: “the string’s / intestine / struggles buzz with small intention, like Octavia, her various release.” Here, more intense song, staffed on the bars and yet bleeding past the measures.
By the last set, “I ran from it and was still in it.” the reader is no closer to discerning the pattern through this enacted improvisation, and should revel in it. At times this section serves an elegy to those lost, such as when t the burial of a friend “something about the music the music / curls up in boxes yeah but stretched out quietly with his / head off to the side like it would when he was singing.” Even the dead can hear a certain kind of music. And in reviving those dead and unremembered, Fred Moten keeps the dynamic resistance at play, where those “unfurled in tongues that won’t belong in / anybody’s mouth,” in asking “o, for a muse of fire music.”
Alyse Bensel is the author of two chapbooks, Not of Their Own Making (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) and Shift (Plan B Press, 2012). Her poetry has recently appeared in Mid-American Review, Heavy Feather Review, and Ruminate, among others. She serves as the Book Review Editor at The Los Angeles Review and Co-Editor of Beecher’s, and is a PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Kansas.