Monday, March 28, 2011

Poetry Review: David Trinidad, "Black Telephone"

David Trinidad's "Five Ways of Looking at a Telephone" is an imaginative little poetic exercise.


“Black Telephone,” by David Trinidad, is featured in The Best American Poetry 2010, edited by Amy Gerstler & David Lehman. It originally appeared in Tin House #42, Winter 2009. The BAP 2010 anthology can be purchased from Powell’s Books. To go to BAP 2010’s page on the Powell’s website, click here.


David Trinidad’s short poem “Black Telephone” might best be described as “Five Ways of Looking at a Telephone,” although I don’t think Trinidad has as much on his mind as Wallace Stevens did, at least not here. The poem is essentially an exercise: it focuses on a single object—here an old-model telephone—and spins analogies and other associations out of it. The first two “ways” focus on the telephone itself, while the latter three are concerned with the telephone’s parts, namely the cord, dial, and receiver.

Trinidad’s two “ways” of looking at the whole of the telephone are the most interesting. These combine an awareness of the device’s obsolescence with a portrayal of how contemporary eyes might see it. Specifically, one would look at the telephone and its ring as a story element in a period movie, or as an antique of interest to a collector on eBay. The latter depiction comes with an enjoyable irony: Trinidad notes that in its new role, the telephone will have to be shipped “the distance it once / miraculously bridged.”

Trinidad’s treatments of the telephone’s parts aren’t as sophisticated. These only focus on obsolescence, although he does manage to evoke a feeling of portent from each one. Tropes such as “web of / dead roots,” “a circle / of interminable clicks,” “a lead weight / pressing cold / dead silence” may seem rather histrionic, but I still like them. They do remind one that all objects contain multitudes.

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