By JOANNA C. VALENTE
There’s a lot to be said about short forms, but we as writers often don’t praise them. They’re often ignored, trivialized as being trite. But, thank god for Joe Pan (seriously), because he decided to write his second book “Hiccups” (Augury Books, 2015), solely in a variety of short forms which both capture humor in the mundane, and the silence in being human.
The irony of technology is immediately apparent in “New York City,” and aptly so. The poem starts off with the image of a laptop on a bench, while a man watches a movie of people in a park—illustrating the hilarious tragedy in that we crave connection but don’t know how to peek up from the metal. The perpetual motion, and chaos that results because of this motion, is perfectly captured in a way only a true New Yorker would understand: “Man caught in the subway doors; / sometimes changing your mind hurts” (Pan 16).
But, it’s not just about New York City, it chronicles the various places the speaker has travelled, and all of the contradictions and multitudes and convoluted histories the speaker attaches to them; how can we truly get away from the self, even when we try to invoke the spirit(s) around us? In “Pecos River, Texas,” the image conveyed is one of intimacy and longing and isolation across cultures and time and space: “My hand upon a man’s hand / blown red with paint dust / ten thousand years ago” (Pan 23).
From Yoda to gay pride parade to men kissing in the Midwest to dead artist’s notebooks and everything in between, the collection reads like a blueprint of modernity. Loneliness, even in intimate acts like sex and birth, are completely isolating, in that it's an experience felt as a singular being. In “Barcelona” and “Sevilla,” the world is plagued by ghosts and nightmares, isolating the speaker further from reality, and internalizing into the self: “still peering through the rose / ribcage of a stillborn” (43); “you wake up blue from sex, palms / wet as palms drowsing / in sunny summer rain” (43).
For me, however, one of the most intriguing parts is the last section, “NyQuil Lucid Fever Lucky Dream Light Emporium.” It is strange, like a fever dream or hallucination—full of philosophical and psychological nuance, using the illustrative formulas to connect the disconnected. This is precisely what the collection strives to do—create connections amongst chaos.
Everything in this collection is about nuance, contrasting the different selves and times, where human interaction is juxtaposed by nature both physical and intangible. Basically, Pan gracefully and poignantly connects and interweaves all the mysteries of our lives in such a way where it’s not just keenly observant, but fiercely unforgiving of the world around us.