Ivan Argüelles, Hapax Legomenon (Pantograph Press, 1993)
[originally posted 3Dec2002]
The ninth installment in Ivan Argüelles’ long and surreal poem Pantograph is the eighty-eight-page Hapax Legomenon, a book it took Argüelles only ten days to complete. Eighty-eight pages of poetry in ten days leads to one of two conclusions: either the stuff blows goat, or the poet is of a singular construction, the kind of person who can spin out, well, eighty-eight pages of at least salable writing in ten days. Argüelles is very much the latter, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a single piece of his work that is only “salable.”
Argüelles is one of the few American authors extant who is capable of capturing the essence of Surrealist writing and translating it to American culture. Argüelles’ obsessions are spilled out onto the page in stream-of-consciousness format, and we are left to interpret them as we will. It’s not quite as hard as figuring out tea leaves, but it’s close.
As with most surreal poetry, however, meaning takes a distant backseat to the single question every pot should ask upon completing every poem: does it sound good? In Argüelles’ case, the answer to that question is always “yes,” be the poem a few scant lines or an eighty-eight page piece of a much larger epic. When picking up a book by Ivan Argüelles, the one thing of which a reader can be sure is that everything contained therein will sound good; this is no exception. Get out of it what you will, but allow the syllables to flow over you like the waterfall they are, and you will have extracted the true essence of the work. ****