Table of Contents - Vol. VII, No. 2
Alan C. Reese
The Disinformation Phase by Chris Toll
Reviewed by Alan C. Reese
[THE DISINFORMATION PHASE. Chris Toll. Publishing Genius, 2011] I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and went down to the kitchen to fix a cup of chamomile tea. A strange throbbing hum, low and persistent, grew louder, but I couldn’t tell whether it was coming from inside my head or inside the house. Then I noticed a light emanating from my study. There on the desk, bathed in a pulsing green glow, was a book. I thought about Kryptonite and the light at the end of Daisy’s dock and then picked it up and read the title: The Disinformation Phase. It was a collection of poems by Chris Toll. I wasn’t sure how it arrived, but I sat down in my favorite chair and began to read; the book grew warmer in my hands and seemed to purr.
Reading The Disinformation Phase is like entering a world where the interstates all lead to mansions or to nowhere and where dinosaurs roam free as UFOs soar overhead. It is a parallel universe where things have turned around on themselves to show their true nature. Many of the words and phrases sound oh so familiar, but are odd and out of kilter like Bizarro Superman reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance or “The Lord’s Prayer.” It is a world where nonseqiturs make beautiful sense.
The collection is divided into three sections, a trinity containing fifty poems. These are poems about the spiritual nature of human suffering and longing suffused with love and yearning. It is a gentle love. This is a little book with a Big Heart filled with small poems with a large vision. Toll writes with a romantic’s machine gun that fires flowers, balloon animals, and soap bubbles filled with nitrous oxide. The poems interrogate you with questions the Cowardly Lion would ask after taking a massive dose of LSD. “Who pays the rent in coherent?” “Why is us in Jesus?” “How long can I stay at the inn in innocent?”
They are populated with a mishmash of religious and cultural references and icons that have never been assembled together under one rooftop. They whirl in a galactic swirl of word play and alliteration and stretch across time and space with references to everything from pterodactyls and Cortez to vampires, Jedis, and antimatter logarithms. Cameos feature such luminaries as T.S. Eliot, Edward Hopper, Mary and Jesus, Bob Dylan, and Jackson Brown.
A parade of saints you will not find in Butler’s Lives of Saints, but who should be there, march through the poetic lines in a religious pilgrimage to the one true God, a woman, “who is so busy praying/She doesn’t have time to answer my prayers.” Here you will find the Saint of Long Dances, Second Glances, and Wrong Prepositions in the procession.
Then there are a group of poems purporting to be recently discovered works by John Keats, Eddy Poe, Sylvia Path, and Emily Dickinson. In short prose introductions, Toll explains the odd circumstances by which these literary treasures came to light and into his possession. Each of the newly unearthed works is written in a language not native to the original poet, and Toll offers his translation. We are thankful for his efforts in bringing us these new insights into the work of these writers and adding greater understanding of their body of work. It is a commendable feat.
Chris Toll is the Yoda Jedi master of metaphor, the Kay Ryan of the lonely and broken hearted and the High Priest of the Disenfranchised. At times, you may feel as if you are a stranger in a strange land, but as he says in “Carbon-Based Lifeform Blues,” “the job of the poet is not to explain the Mystery./The job of the poet is to make the Mystery greater.” And Chris Toll has done that.
By the time I finished reading, the rosy finger of dawn was stretching over the horizon and I found myself dozing off into blissful slumber. When I awoke, the book was gone, so I am not sure whether it was all a dream or not, but today I will make a pilgrimmage down the interstate in search of a copy of The Disinformation Phase by Chris Toll to still the turmoil in my heart and bring me inner peace with the suffering of the world.
© Alan C. Reese