Fritz Ward. Dopplegänged. Lawrence, KS: Blue Hour Press, 2011. 44 pp. $10.00, paper.
Each poem in Fritz Ward’s debut chapbook, Dopplegänged, includes a reflection or refraction of the personal: a sometimes physical, sometimes metaphysical double. Andrew Webber, appropriately, finds a particularly German tradition for the literary apparitions of the dopplegänger, but does not end his categorization at simply the autoscopic action. The dopplegänger is typically male or masculine, usually nefarious, and absolutely “displacing”: there is no longer an original individual, no possibility to be unique. Ward’s idiosyncratic play with that malleable concept is a perfect choice for poetic investigations of language and identity.
Ward’s treatment of the dopplegänger is different than Søren Kierkegaard’s usage of the pseudonymic narrator. The dopplegänger trope allows Ward to live in double worlds, to offer the “multiple exposure” of the collection’s first poem. Ward shifts between prose poems and lineated pieces, and this first prose poem ends with a crisp sentence: “He stood there, shirtless—a camera at arm’s length, snapping himself at half.” The image is a nice introduction to the strangeness that follows. In “The Dopplegänger as Buddhist Trucker,” Ward creates a smooth, almost placid tone:
When the feathers separate
from the body, he remembers
how important his arm seemed
when he couldn’t move it,
and how, slowly, the trailer tipped
its glow of Florida oranges
onto the searing asphalt—
the interstate suddenly ripe
with bruised citrus, accidental
zest, pulp and shattered glass.
Even the delivery of these images feels extra-corporeal, as if the narrator is both absent and present in the moment, aware and detached. When we later hear the narrator say “Here’s the first person, no strings / attached,” we know he is lying, that duplicitous dopplegänger framing his moment in terms best suited toward his meaning.
That meaning, or focus, becomes clear a few poems into the collection: love. This is no ordinary romanticism. Ward extends his penchant for play to this emotion, and the choice is very successful. “Parenthetical Match” is clever, both in delivery and content. From the desire to “meet in secret,” to the anaphoric doubles in the center of the poem, to the concluding lines, Ward is most in his element when he lets his words spin:
It’s all thresh
and no hold. Come,
let’s bind ourselves
together—like a book
our parents dream
The play continues in “The Dopplegänger’s Descant.” “Now teach me how to undress in a poem,” the narrator asks, before moving to the duality of the dopplegänger:
You should stare
and I should star. Yes, stare close
enough and I’m a lily that lends
to unending bending. I’ve never been won,
but one that is too.
Besides the love poems in the collection, Ward wanders into film, a medium absolutely suited to the dopplegänger. The action of viewing, the reversal of image from reel to mind, fits the title of the collection, the noun made verb: dopplegänged. Ward presents a drive-in, where “the screen is silver and immeasurable,” and “like us, the villains / are poorly lit. But we nibble, we gnaw, / we lick what we like.” In another poem, John Wayne’s “grit scours / the tongue in the sweat lodge of my mouth” and “One deep / breath from his solar plexus / is the nexus of excess.” The poem is titled “The Dopplegänger’s John Wayne,” and the next poem admits the dopplegänger might be “just his stand-in.”
Ward’s love poems and letters coalesce with his filmic approach, and for the result, think David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Lost Highway. “Dear Cannibal Quivering with Lipstick and Moonlight” has a great title, but Ward still works for his images: “I stayed . . . to watch your soft hands flutter and flay / the green skin of the mango, its glistening flesh exposed, / alone on the white cutting board.” Ward’s wit is amply delivered in his ear for the texture of sound.
So what do dopplegängers and epistolary prose poems that conclude “love is merely a suggestion” have in common? That question needs further clarification. Ward’s dopplegänger opens so many poetic possibilities. Is this a double of the author, the narrator of the entire collection, or the narrator of individual poems? When the narrator states, in “The Dopplegänger at the Drive-In,” to “just up and fuck me, / I’ll mime the rest of my lines,” assumed gender becomes unclear. Such a move might be appropriate for a literature of the dopplegänger. Susan Yi Sencindiver’s contention feels appropriate here: “the dopplegänger decisively decenters the subject by subverting the logic of identity, [so] it cannot be presumed that gendered identity remains miraculously intact.” Words might connote masculine or feminine concepts, but letters are without sex. Ward’s collection decenters the reader, too, though his dynamic words make that displacement enjoyable.