Macgregor Card took the title of his debut poetry collection Duties of an English Foreign Secretary (winner of the 2009 Fence Modern Poets Series) from an essay written in 1852 by the Spasmodic poet Sydney Dobell (above). Spasmodic was a term used (often pejoratively) to label a type of poetry popular in the 1850s, verse dramas with the poet as the protagonist.

In his own verse drama starring himself, Card dives into the influence of the 1850s and turns poetic nostalgia inside out. His book is hilarious in its preciousness, and its best humor comes out of the extreme earnestness of perpetual failure and woe, as in the title poem:

I want to play my dove
in a magic show about John Donne
but everybody does
but everybody does

The poet constantly intersperses stodgy Victorianisms with moments of realism or reflection that keep it firmly locked in the present, making the voice of the poems both a relic from the past and that of a modern-day poet joking about relics from the past. As in "Gone to Earth":

by the way
what are cockchafers
in Systema Naturae
by Carolus Linnaeus
Can't be Latin—Gone to Earth
...
but everywhere you turn
a circumprecious juror says it
my what dashing mantles

I've been carrying this book around with me for a few weeks. I've been trying to figure out why I'm so attached. I can't seem to get enough of its vague sadness (faux or real?)* or its play with repetition and slant rhyme.

As in "The Sleeping Monk of Innisfalls":

or like
the poets say
a pretty girl
lives down the lane
or like
the Polish say
I live in Warsaw
and a pretty girl
lives down the lane

Or in this short interstitial "Poem":
London, it is very ornery
Heathrow Airport, it is a nudist colony.

You can read five poems from Duties of an English Foreign Secretary at the poetry project.



Macgregor Card reads with text collagist and fellow Fence author Brandon Downing tonight at Open Books, 7:30 pm, free.

(Photo of the two authors via Rain Taxi)