Michael Hessel-Mial on Michael Hessel-Mial.
A review of Michael Hessel-Mial’s Pangur Ban Party e-Book: I Am Rainbow
by Michael Hessel-Mial
This work gives a strong sense of having many somewhat strong moments that sometimes sustain entire poems, but overall giving a sense of being written over the course of perhaps 3 to 20 minutes at a time. There is little by way of guiding narrative or stylistic thread to help the reader maintain interest here. What is irksome is how Mr. Hessel-Mial appears to be an ‘academic’ poet, in the sense of making vague allusions to Jacques Lacan and moebius strips, as well as a mostly meaningless use of French in the title ‘petite observation.’ Such nominal referencing indicates a loose and unstructured undergraduate education, offering enough material to inject into the poetry without really needing to understand it, or prove to have read it.
The greatest cause for concern in these works is a wild stylistic divergence with just enough repetition to suggest he could neither find a consistent style, nor play at the edges. The line “the women are beautiful here” closes the poem “finger snap,” the lack of capitalization appearing to be a poetic affectation of inconsistent usage and dubious aesthetic worth. The ending is especially strange given how the style for the poem is a relatively shallow use of the tone of Frank O’Hara’s poetry. As a poet, Frank O’Hara connected his poetry to his gay identity in subtle but important ways, and the closing line almost performs a perverse heteronormative appropriation of O’Hara in the service of, well, what? No signs are offered here, rather, Mr. Hessel-Mial ushers us along to the next transcendent moment in the final poem, which is almost embarassingly heartfelt. He seems like the type of poet who would say, in a voice wavering between respectfully quiet and awkwardly loud, “make that bank” or “money cash hoes,” looking behind him in the hope that somebody was paying enough attention to notice.
It appears that Mr. Hessel-Mial’s poetry is marked by a lowly simmering but potent sexual uneasiness, and not in a fun way. His work, especially in such one-offs as “phone sex,” “looking” and “finger snap,” attempt to present a vitally active sexual and romantic life that suggest a more internalizing, desiring state than any real, concrete and actualized activity beyond the typical range of disasters accompanying young sexual experimentation. I am reminded of Hitler’s chief architect, Albert Speer, who remarked that seeing the Fuhrer at parties was like seeing “a ghost trying to prove himself human.”
His attempts at minimalism, seen in “moebius strip,” “petite observation” and “emily dickinson poem,” are oddly the only sources of color to support the rainbow thematic of the piece, in the vague sense of the author’s having a ‘colorful’ personality. I had to read “moebius strip” twice before I picked up on the concept, and now I don’t think I need to read it again. “emily dickinson poem” I continue to return to in the hope that there is a “there” there, but it seems to be merely a factual statement about “[the poet] really feeling shakira / and prince.” I don’t know what is actually happening here. I find it vaguely alienating in its nonsymbolic relation to capitalist popular culture, but vaguely calming that Mr. Hessel-Mial just sort of tells us something. For this reason, I believe whatever secret poetics is endorsed in this poem and in “this poem is pissed off at the other poems” is possibly a more interesting place for the poet to continue writing from.
All in all, the combination of his strange, unfortunate and almost deliberately stupid aesthetic choices with his clear awareness of what he at least wants from his poetry, indicates that he is straddling a line between avoiding a more rigorous poetry for ideological reasons and making foolish decisions with a sort of dramatic, blind gusto. I hope he fails at both. He is the best of the worst of the best of the worst. If he ‘gets real,’ as my colleagues in the hip-hop community like to say, he might be fortunate enough to shake this off and be happily mediocre.