Nightwood Editions | 96 pages | March 2015 | $18.95 | Purchase online
Review by Clay Everest
Raoul Fernandes’s debut collection Transmitter and Receiver by Nightwood Editions is an amazing collection that explores intimacy and interconnectedness. The poems are fragments, bits that are collected and re-purposed by Fernandes, like the friend from the poem “Mixtape” who “collects his friends’ broken walkmans// and builds a flying machine out of them…” The use of moments as poetic devices and signifiers of a truth that we only scratch but rarely delve into gives this collection and early morning dawn feeling.
The poems in this collection are aware and explore of the give and take that relationships require. In the first poem, “By Way of Explanation,” Fernandes writes, “You have this thing that you can only explain//by driving me out to the port at night//…I have this thing I can only explain to you// by showing you a pile of computer hardware//chucked into a ravine…”. It is the moments like these, where Fernandes explores the small moments that occur in life that are important to understanding another person, that this collection is at its strongest. In particular the first two poems, “By Way of Explanation” and “The Goodnight Skirt” stand out as humor and intimate portraits of tenderness and understanding, the speaker listing the shared memories and metaphors that they exchange with “you”–
I’ve been wanting to write about
the black skirt we’ve been using to cover
the loverbirds cage. The goodnight skirt.
In exchange I’ll let you have
Our drunken mailman, the tailless tabby,
And I’ll throw in the broken grandfather clock
We found in the forest. One more, she says.
Last night, I say. The whole night.
These aren’t only poems about lovers’ exchanges or memories of close friend: strangers enter these poems with as much ease and tenderness. In “Transmitter and Receiver” the speaker revels in a pizza deliveryman’s unspoken understanding that “He must have known there was someone// sleeping by how I whispered at the door…” Or we have the moment in “Passing in the Hallway” when the speaker becomes sad at the thought “that they are the only people they are the only people they will ever// get to be…” and the thankful turn they take when they write, “in the particular case of your wife,// how miraculous it feels. That in this only life she has,// she called you into it.” Moments like these take these poems higher than the realm of a catalogue of tender moments, becoming an intimate exploration of what it means to be human. Fernandes’s poems are filled with observations and questions and refrain from judgments. These poems feel more like welcoming vignettes than just happened moments.
Fernandes also touches upon the simultaneous movement of people in time and space. In the poem “Affordable Travel Through Time” the speaker recounts an evening spent smoking with friends and the meandering conversations that are naturally part of an evening. In “Night School,” the narrator remembers their first journeys into the city, when everything was still new; at the end of the poem the speaker becomes acutely aware of the passage of time: “…Years later// I’ll be living her, still editing that sentence…I’ll cycle through// whole neighborhoods I didn’t know existed back then…” This awareness of space in concurrent time is present in a number of the poems in Fernandes’s collection.
Not every poem in the collection hits the same high, though. For example, the poem “Grand Theft Auto: Dead Pixels” starts with a broad statements and, unlike other poems in the book, seems unconnected. The list poem “Attachments” stands out because it is a collection of moments, like other poems in the collection, but they come in the form of .jpeg file names which seems more like a clever device. These are some poems that capture the spirit of the collection but don’t hit as hard as the ones mentioned earlier–these poems highlight the strength of Transmitter and Receiver at its height, when Fernandes explores explores the intimacy of life and the beautiful mysteries that are other people.
Transmitter and Receiver is an astonishing first collection that feels like lingering campfire smoke, morning dew, and fresh air.
Clay Everest likes boats and acted as a founding editor for The Impressment Gang.
Transmitter and Receiver was shortlisted for the 2016 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.