The judge’s citation: “It is a long road to Moxie,” notes the speaker in “The Reality Show,” one of the twenty four contemplative and ultimately hopeful poems that make up A Conversation With My Imaginary Daughter. Moxie, a throwback expression denoting the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage; aggressive energy; initiative; skill and know how; derives from the name of a soft drink first manufactured in the 1880s and sold as medicine. So the poems in this chapbook give us the view, forwards and backwards, along that long, strange road. The speaker, an observant, guides us through literary allusion, pop culture and pageantry, noting the rules. “The script/ compels the enemies to hold hands,” we discover early, in “Beyond the Rocks.” Though these poems escape into the movies, they don’t refuse a duty to engage. Instead, the screen provides space to rearrange elements of narrative and there(by) find possibility and humor. “Bang, Bang! Yip, Yip!” asks, “If art lives outside of chronology, why not costume it like a Harlequin?” Noting “There are 1,649 shades of gray,” “The Projectionist” moves from Matthew Arnold, recognizing the sea’s supposed sadness lies within himself, to Anita Hill in the classroom, unrecognized by her own college students, before returning to Paul Henreid, Casablanca’s Victor Laszlo himself, in a white dinner jacket, the man who, when told, “We read five times you were killed, in five different places,” responds, “As you can see, it was true every single time.” A sad, shrewd humor permeates this collection, as well does a palpable sense of gratitude. What’s Franchot Tone to the fight one wages for identity against one’s mother, or Moses to the zeitgeist, except, in every life, connections to a vibrant imagined past marks the borders? As the speaker notes in “Second Banana,” “Unity is the moment when living becomes history.” Creators in the picture with the obligation to mark each performance, throughout, we find, “We are wiser than our actions. …We see that now is always happening, it never ends.”
James Cihlar is the author of the poetry books Rancho Nostalgia (Dream Horse Press, forthcoming), Undoing (Little Pear Press, 2008) and chapbook Metaphysical Bailout (Pudding House Press). His writing has been published in the American Poetry Review, The Awl, BLOOM, Court Green, Smartish Pace, The Rumpus, Prairie Schooner, Lambda Literary Review, and Forklift, Ohio. His poems appear in the anthologies American Tensions: Literature of Identity and the Search for Social (New Village, 2011), Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Writers on Faith, Religion, and Spirituality (Sibling Rivalry, 2011), Divining Divas (Lethe, 2012), and American Society: What Poets See (FutureCycle Press, 2012). The recipient of two Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships for Poetry and a Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner, Cihlar teaches literature and publishing courses at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.