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In Exile’s Recital, Andrew Mossin locates the no man’s land between separation and finding-place. Mossin reconstitutes this ragged, rugged terrain as a pathway. “Everything proposes what it cannot say,” he confesses: “There is this essential miscreant inside language.” Nonetheless, the language of this poetry tumbles forth—groping, exalted, lamenting, resolute. Imagining what is not his, the poet-orphan invokes companions on the way. One hears the voices of classical poets, of H.D., Duncan, Jabes. But the exile’s recital is ultimately his and his alone. What he enunciates is deep poetic purpose: “Not to claim essence but to see its pattern.”
These spells, prayers, incantations, and shards of mythic narratives compose a single hymn of return, to a natal if not native “Egyptian Grecean homeland.” Line after line, an ancient Mediterranean world awakes. Exile’s Recital is a memorial for the woman who brought the poet into that world, and who sent him from it, to America. It is an inquiry into identity by one who has been named, unnamed, renamed, by an exile who finds that a life divided from its source has schooled him in his art. At the heart of this brilliant book is poetry’s vital capacity to both curse and bless, sometimes at once. That is, to name. Page after page Mossin works a classic magic: the Orphic call of life out of death. These marvelous and dazzling poems speak a mother tongue none of us has ever quite heard. Whoever we are, these words could be our own lost ancestral speech. We might even wonder as we read, and read again, who we ever thought we were.
The lapsarian mythos that guides so much of the Western imagination is essentially a tale of semic exile—we’ve been ruptured from the signs that give life to our meaning and, since that abrupt fall, we’ve been hunting among stones for their traces. In Exile’s Recital, Andrew Mossin gives voice to the alienated querent’s sonic ruefulness and to the corrective lexicon of the rapt holy mages who drive the effort to “survive / the end of the Book of Spells.” At turns matronymic plaint and estranged hymn, thaumaturgic inscription and choric incantation, Mossin’s is a book of slain wind, litanical surge, and the strewn vertebrae of Zeus. Henry Corbin would recognize its muse and so would Shelley.
With Shelleyan lavishness and sonorous diction, Andrew Mossin has constructed a richly allusive mythological narrative and ritual. In a sequence of 13 poems, he tracks the haunted remnants of his own selfhood and existence. The whole book, tracing an arc from Greece to Egypt, is a work of ceremonial oratory, building palimpsest upon palimpsest of the erased and reconstructed. The rituals abound: quest, purification, naming, decoding, crossing between past and present, evoking the living and the dead: as a whole Exile’s Recital is a work “part myth, part epigraph.” An ambiguous nostos (homecoming) and unmendable ruptures suffuse this compelling and haunted work.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Andrew Mossin is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, The Epochal Body and The Veil (both from Singing Horse Press); the chapbook, Drafts for Shelley (Facture Press); and a collection of critical essays, Male Subjectivity and Poetic Form in “New American” Poetry (Palgrave Macmillan). His poetry, creative non-fiction, and scholarly work have appeared in a number of journals and magazines, including Conjunctions, Crayon, Hambone, Talisman, Golden Handcuffs Review, New Ohio Review, Callaloo, Contermporary Literature, and The Iowa Review. He lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, with his daughters, Mia and Isabel, and his wife, Monica.