Chris Hosea’s “Across the Boss’s Desk” is a poem alive with the grammatical gymnastics one associates with Language Poetry yet imbued with the spirit of personality: in passages syntactically dense, Hosea’s poem speaks in voices simultaneously solemn and light, humorous and serious—combining within a few lines the sublimity of the ridiculous and the absurdity of reaching toward a sublime. It is a work awash in a veritable tide of grammatical and apparitional personae:
who says I don’t have feelings
I have plenty
you are, like, a hurricane
The space between “who says I” and “don’t have feelings” leaves us with both the continuous reading “who says I don’t have feelings / I have plenty” and also the two discreet thoughts “who says I[?]” and “don’t have feelings[?] / I have plenty.” The first reading implies a continuity of ego, of voice, while the second connotes a fragmented self that has feelings to spare (or a feeling of abundance)—further the “me me” that follows serves as an answer to the implied question “who says I,” almost as though different voices within the poem are attempting a dialogue across syntax, each vying for authority. And of course the “me me” is also a severed semblance, a broken trace of the French meme.
This “babble” resolves into a liquid image (a “babbling brook” of words falling over a cliff?) of “waterfalls” repeated in a visual cascade. The early sections of “Across the Boss’s Desk” are more reliant upon a “visual” aesthetic, utilizing irregular spacing between words and lines to emphasize both discordances and correspondences of sound and sense, while the later sections employ a more compressed diction. The verbal “babble about / waterfalls” (also an auditory image—the sound “about” or around waterfalls) is juxtaposed against a physical impossibility, “swim in / waterfalls,” which itself is followed by the brilliant “you are, like, a hurricane.” This last line invokes the swirling voices personified above as well as the “natural” imagery of the “waterfall”—but it is also an ironic repurposing of a lyric from Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” an epitome of epic, grandiose seventies rock here rendered a bit of casual conversation by the intervention of two commas.
This process—the combining of naturalistic imagery, pop culture references, allusions to “high art” through a virtuosic manipulation of grammar and syntax—is a central aspect of Hosea’s poetics, a poetics that touches on the political through its defamiliarizing of the everyday and its willingness to recontextualize even the most austere titans of American letters:
T. S. Eliot might watercolor
Sundays all his life though in peanut colors
his greatest maxim:
keep it to yourself
The “peanut colors” on “Sundays” recall the cartoon strip, Peanuts (published in color on Sundays), as well as the various shaded smokes of Eliot’s urban settings. The image of the dour modernist painting watercolors, much less watercolors in the style of Charles Schultz, is delightfully absurd. But having deflated the older poet, the tone turns serious again, imagining an Eliotic “maxim” that might profitably apply to Hosea as well: “keep it to yourself.”
For “Across the Boss’s Desk” is not a confession but a revelation—one feels after reading it that one has been drawn into the workings of an impossibly refined imaginative vision, a vision that, remarkably open to interpretation, manages to reveal almost nothing about its creator, the poet beyond the page, while disclosing volumes about the contemporary reality in which that poet lives. Though there is a unifying tone present here, the poem’s voice has nothing of the directed, teleological quality of a confession, much less of a Confessional Poem. It is instead a voice that seems to have been over-penetrated by the world, by words and voices talking through and to each other, by the fictiveness inherent in the real. It emanates from a time “when to my confessions booths slam shut no,” which might be a comment on contemporary religion, on contemporary poetic schools, or, perhaps most amusingly, a confession of the failure of an early confessional period in the poet’s own genesis—to paraphrase Eliot, “it is impossible to say just what he means” and that is, precisely, the point.