“Be light”: TFT Review of The Disinformation Phase by Chris Toll
Baltimore based poet and futurist metaphysical collage artist Chris Toll has published a collection of poetry with Publishing Genius. The Disinformation Phase (2011, 60 pages) wafts toward the reader, intoxicating the oxygen in its path, oozing a slow morning fog along the way. I mean this in a profoundly positive sense, of course.
Anyone who has spent a number of hours in Baltimore knows that the city and sprawling communities just outside of the metropolitan region are enveloped by a sense of greyness, a melancholy which actually provides an interesting backdrop, if not motivation, for a very thriving underground arts scene. Like art itself, Baltimore— riddled with controversy and the pressure cooker illnesses of poverty, class war, and a general underbelly understanding—encompasses a harsher, hardboiled part of the country. From its wellspring issue glorious glorious “tough cookie” personalities, who choose to live deeply throughout the area, and are in fact some of the country’s most unknown, upcoming and intuitive talents. Enter authors like Michael Kimball, Justin Sirois, poet Jamie Gaughran-Perez. Enter Baltimore-based small indie publishing house Publishing Genius. Enter one of a kind poet Chris Toll. These are some of the voices of the future of literature, they are to be read closely.
Toll’s collection, like Baltimore itself, oscillates between distinctly gendered writerly climates. If one were to take apart Baltimore in, say, a spiritual sense, there would be a cooling factor in the low-fi eternal hum generated from the gray backdrop, a sadness in female aquatic waves. There would be heated, masculine, formed, thickly layered boiling Mid-Atlantic summer temperatures. As sprung from Baltimore herself and himself, Toll’s work is polarized and clearly engendered. In this poet’s androgynous shapeshifting, we find an academic and esoteric reasoning; we find higher thought. In Toll’s poems we have some incredibly female modes and some intensely masculine modes respectfully, when some authors do not even consider to consider gender, do not consider sexuality in thought, and here it provides a glorious reading throughout.
From “Perfect Love”:
let the eternal divine feminine energy
awaken within you.
We find a shift in voice, an expansion of strength in “Why Is Go in God?”:
Live would be love
if a scowl were different.
I repair a fable
and it wanders the galaxy.
The power towers are marching.
Not all of Toll’s work is so plainly stated. In fact, many of the poems sing vulnerability. In the grey Baltimore sadness, we are opened to a heavy hearted man, writing toward redemptive, emotive longing. We are reading questions asked, we are heavy hearted with our poet in his honesty, in his vulnerability. This is a guy we want to sit with at the end of a long bar counter and just kind of, well, sit. “The ache in my heart lets me know you exist.” He paints.
Toll beckons the reader ‘opened’ to a question of consequence, a question of responsibility. The poet weaves social signifiers throughout: “(unfortunately, not against vampires – and how our hero lost her lightsaber is another poem).” The author writes. In “What Have You Done for Global Warming Today?” we are given a fictitious translation, or a literal translation, as interpretation, as the work is signified in humor, with a “by John Keats (translated by Chris Toll).” Further fixing the work through extra dimension.
From “I Expand Before Nebulae”:
I am lost in the dark wood
and you becalm my mansion.
The work moves from historical reference to varying examinations of the self, and returns in both cases, toward a deeper sense of a wonderment and concern for the world. Toll writes from Dickinson’s perspective. The narrative is woven further. In “National Poetry Month” Toll writes: “[s]he says, ‘I’ve lost everything -nothing scares me now.” Later in “1776” we travel in time to Dickinson’s words through Toll in “Irregular Galaxy”: “I’ve lost Everything – I’ve lost Everything Twice.” (Note the capitalization of ET in the latter sentence.) Attention is drawn to subjects greater than, though ultimately the self, and how and why one is in this universe to face the questions Toll posits. A light flashing, signals, signs. Later from “Why Is Go in God?”:
A woman stands on a bridge,
tears spill from her eyes,
and she asks a constellation,
What am I being saved for?
In Toll’s disinformation, insight informs. Humility and bravery abound, the conscious is ever-shifting, and our understanding of our understanding equally moved. Toll’s concern is not entirely with why, but rather, how. One gleans the growing sense that Publisher and Poet Adam Robinson has advised Toll on the order of the poems directly. When we open the pages, we are immediately met with a sense of calm, rather, a sense of trust, which earns us the stamina to follow on through these beautifully crafted, painfully rendered works. Toll’s first poem closes with “[b]e light,” offering a sense of stability, strength through two words. We are cared for, not talked at. Toll has the gift of minimalism within him, the talent of spare economics. This poetry collection transcends the self because of its outward orientation; in Toll’s self-examination, perhaps in his brooding, we are given comfort in commiseration.
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