The Poetic Equation of Forms and Ideas, A Review of XEOTEOX by Edwin Torres
Poetry is a playground for language, and for years poets have used words to warp the line between story and art. Edwin Torres offers readers a balancing act between Plato’s Theory of the Forms and Dadaism, hybridizing visual art with the written word. The visualization of language is just as important as the sound, and both carry the critical weight of Torres’s messages throughout. With a background in graphic design, the shape of Torres poetry is geometric and complex, like code written by the human soul. It is the unionof the human language-numbers, words, and form-and the reconciliation of our symmetrical and chaotic natures that Torres uses to explore these unpredictable times and uncertain future. Torres is a neo-age shaman, offering his tribe hidden wisdom and scrying the astral for possibilities.
The precise design of Xoeteoxdoesn’t limit Torres’s message to a singular all encompassing truth but instead acts as a catalyst for thought that allows the reader to create infinite interpretations of truth. The title of Torres’s 2018 collection of poems, Xoeteox: The Infinite Word Object, is a precursory clue to the menagerie of visuals and language within. Even the word ‘Xoeteox’, a palindrome, plays with the reader’s sense of sight and sound. The immediate reaction to the word is its pronunciation and palindrome form, which in turn opens the question to its meaning, in both surface and subtextual intent. The title describes the infinite possibility of words. Torres is giving his audience notice that everything and anything is possible within. The word is the object and like any physical object it too can take on a number of warped forms, each equally real to the perspective of the viewer but bound to the creator’s original design and intent.
Torres continues to push the idea of infinite language and meaning by mixing languages like French and Spanish.The Spanishnot only codifies him as a Latino poet but drives forward his experiments into the infinite. For Torres Spanish and other languages offer the same infinite potential as English. The first poem in the collection “A Otro”, meaning “to another”, is a preparatorystatement to the reader to be “another”---another set of eyes, another perspective, another possibility. He gives us another language and another dissection, each spiraling into this infinite intent within the scope of our endless imaginations. A Otrois not only an address to us, the “anothers” but a call to action. It becomes the definition of an action, a verb, that calls us to be these new and unique interpreters of language and truth. Torres is asking us to break the limitations of poetic intent, as he does, to excavate the unending layers of meaning buried by our preconceptions of poetry and its form.
We see similar techniques of taking the common and introducing layers of meaning in the Dadaist painting “The Treachery of Art” by French surrealist painter Rene Magritte. The painting, which depicts an unassuming tobacco pipe, is coupled with the phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” which is translated as “This is not a pipe”. Magritte takes a common thing like a pipe, replicates its form, and with that phrase unravels our understanding of objects, language, and our relationship with both. The pipe is not a pipe but rather the imperfect visual depiction of one. It elicits different moods and can never function as a true pipe. This is the truth of the object, like the truths in Torres’s language, that can be manipulated and flexed to individual intents that go beyond the original creation. The “pipe” is real and we can recognize its form in the same way we can understand Magritte’s purpose in the phrase, but the pipe coupled with the phrase serves as a metaphorical door for the viewer to step through into new and ever expanding meaning and response.
Torres depends on his readers to create endless meaning and response, recognizing that words and images without ears and eyes to digest them are finite and not infinite. The reader’s perspectives are essential to creating multiple layers of intent because without them we have only Torres’s own narrative. Torres’s second poem in the collection, “The Collagist AtThe Edge”,moves us from the introduction into this multifaceted analysis of his work and brings the spotlight on the audience. Collagist, meaning, “a technique of composing a work of art by pasting on a single surface various materials not normally associated with one another,”explains the division between the poem and its audience and Torres’s efforts to unify these two seemingly different entities into a singular vision. As he states in the poem, “why would I give you my thinking in bits/-so much space/between thought/s/seperations/between words, people” (pg.3, stanza 2, lines 8-12). Torres’s message lies between blocks of obvious meaning and the subtext between them and continues to exponentially alter with each new reader who must reconstruct these hidden pieces.
But Torres’s poems are not like a puzzle, with exact cuts and curves, but are more like Legos that offer infinite combinations. Like Legos, his poems rely on the imagination of the others to gift them with this infinite potential. The readers are being asked to read between the lines, in the “spaces” between the objects. Like space, which appears void, the “between” places of each word and object are not empty. Shape and the absence of shape all contribute to Torres’s purposeful open ended meaning. He speaks of the “presentation” he has given us and all the combinations we can construct within ourselves and asks, “how do I want you to follow me, where will you go/if you don’t—should I worry” (pg. 3, stanza 4, lines 21&22). Torres invites us to go where he takes us but if that place is limitless in possibility he knows the audience will drift into new places, new understandings that exist even outside Torres’s original narrative.
The idea of the object and word taking on an independent existence free of the initial design and function the poet intended is again reminiscent of Dadaism as well as Plato’s theory of the forms.Torres, having already established the value in the object and potential for limitless interpretation and response to the interpretation, recognizes the presence of the form- the truest truth. In the realm of Xoeteox,Torres is the Unmoved Mover who sets in motion events and governs the ultimate design and its purpose, but cannot interfere with the myriad of new shapes borne from the audience or the physical sphere of consciousness. Each human mind dilutes the intent with a new surrogate one created by the audience, who cannot create the ultimate truth but can creative duplicates of it, some close to Torres’s pure intent and others more aberrant. As he states in “The Collagist AtThe Edge”, “between you and me/a skin of cognition” (pg.4, stanza 9, lines 41&42)Yet, no matter the form these new interpretations take, whether a close or far cry from what he initially meant, they still exist authentically. The only difference, the one concrete divide, is the immutability in what Torres has crafted, the timeless form and the essence of his original intent, and the mutability of his readers’ perception and analysis.
In the poem “To The Things We Name” Torres continues his dive into language and its link to Plato’s Theory of the Forms. Even his own language, whether it be English, French, or Spanish, is borne from confusion and a dilution of the original. Words, like the Forms/Ideas, are the degradation of their initial definitions and the definitions themselves are only arbitrary movements of air. All purpose and reception is rooted in a network of continually devolving language that no longer mirrors the original. Language is by nature “etheric” and spiritual because of their relationship with air and sound. Where Plato’s Forms make a distinction between the physical and non-physical, language can only exist as the non-physical. The physical, the printed word, can be made concrete, but the interaction of the reader is by its very nature an incorporeal thing present only in the sphere of the non-physical, the essence. Still, the essence of thewordisnotentirelyremoved from the physical as it relies upon sound to give it a new complete vision of a Form/Idea.Torres notes this relationship between himself, us, and the Forms, stating, “define/mistake/as the one/that defines you/ this is/-WE-/inside/the/grand/WE/of/THINGS” (pg. 33, stanzas 4&5, lines 11-21). Words, written and spoken, sit in a sort of Purgatory of the Form and their derivatives. The “WE” is a Form and with each of Torres’s words a new “WE” Form is produced, followed by the understanding of the objects (real or incorporeal) or the “THINGS”.
This would mean that language exists dualistically between the initial truth and its diluted self after exposure to the elements of human understanding and the physical (existing as sound, vibrating air). As a result language has a unique power that Torres recognizes as potentially harmful or even dangerous. Language is not powerful for the sake of being powerful. After all, half of its nature is etheric and subject to mutability of the creator and reader. Language is a strong influencer on both the spiritual and physical planes because of its duality. It is the combination of the pure truth or Form and the degradation of truth. That does not make it a lie, but rather it gives the new derivative Form/Idea equal footing with the original because language cannot be severed from its essence. Truth is not truth but it isn’t the opposite, a lie, though it can create the illusion of one.
He acknowledges as a creator that his creation’s very nature is dualistic and sometimes contrary, thus creating a sense of chaos that sits juxtaposed to Torres’s own ideas of geometry and symmetry as a graphic designer in a field where numbers are exacts and not etheric. He writes, “let me write/my cover/and let you see/how/I write it/you know, make good/the fissure of reality” (pg. 80, stanza 9, lines 33-41).Torres warns of this in the poem “Totem”. He goes on to write, “free will is bought/by the seducer/the longevity of the seduced/ proves/creativity is a personality flaw” (pg. 80, stanza 8, lines28-32). Torres closes his collection with this admission that his presented language, despite the precision in its meaning cannot avoid becoming an artifact of confusion and misunderstanding, but therein lies the understanding of language and in summation the suffering of human existence as we rely upon an object-language-whose very nature is ever changing.