Often the most recognized, even brutal, events in American history are assigned a bifurcated public narrative. We divide historical and cultural life into two camps, often segregated by a politicized, racially divided “Color Line.” But how do we privately experience the most troubling features of American civilization? Where is the Color Line in the mind, in the body, between bodies, between human beings? Ed Pavlic’s Visiting Hours at the Color Line, a 2012 National Poetry Series winner, attempts to complicate this black-and-white, straight-line feature of our collective imagination, and to map its nonlinear, deeply colored timbres and hues. From the daring prose poem to the powerful free verse, Pavlic’s lines are musically infused, bearing tones of soul, R&B, and jazz. Meanwhile, joining the influence of James Baldwin with a postmodern consciousness the likes of Samuel Beckett, Pavlic tracks the experiences of American characters through situations both mundane and momentous, and exposes the many textures of this social, historical world as it seeps into the private dimensions of our lives. The resulting poems are intenseat times even violentambitious, and psychological, makingVisiting Hours at the Color Line a poetic tour de force, by one of the century’s most acclaimed American poets.
By the time the second tower fell the Humanities lounge had filled up
with staff and professors and students. I stood there and stared into
the dust on TV. I was suddenly conscious that I’d spent years coaxing
what I saw and heard, charting it was I traveled oxbow routes thru me.
The dust disappeared the building. As I went thru the doorway, Bill
said, “It’s gone.” I left the lounge and walked cross campus, the upstate
sky unbroken blue. Kids on the library steps weeping in groups. I’d
had a recurring dream where the student and faculty of the college
paraded between classes holding their brains in glass jars, suspended in
clear fluid. My thought then, “I guess neither approach is much good.”
Jackson Garden is back behind the Campus Center. I walk thru the
stone gates feeling the towers and the dust and the broken glass of bodies
pulse in my arms and legs where I’d coaxed the world to go. I see Thanha
Nguyen, an exchange fellow in Modern Languages. When she met she’d
told me that she grew up in Hanoi during the American War.