[Sibling Rivalry Press; 2022]
In a workshop last summer with the poet, Marcela Durand, a dozen poets deconstructed and reconstructed sonnets. Through this process, I came to realize that dreams were sonnets and sonnets, in turn, were dreams. Thumbing through my dream journal, each dream I’d recorded from graduate school perfectly fit into the sonnet form of matching iambic lines. I quickly retyped each dream into the elegant and compact form, recounting the terror, humor, and unconcious processing of gradschool. Most dreams centered on the synonymous themes of this time in my life: ambition, joblessness, searching for housing, and unspoken rivalries among my peers. It is in both dreams and sonnets the stark and uncanny images of our realities can arrive and, in many cases, enact change before our conscious minds realize it.
It only seems appropriate to write about The Moon Over Edgar when the moon is full faced and pink, just like the way it shines on the whimsical cover of Ian Felice’s novella of sonnets. The joy of the sonnet form is both the rhythm — iambs remind the reader of their own heart rhythm — as well as the economy of language. A sonnet requires concise, imaginative world play, which Felice does in a dreamy way, each turn bringing surprise, sometimes anachronism, sometimes a deeply truthful line, “Was it just me or was there something scary / about Little House on the Prairie?”
To begin discussing The Moon Over Edgar, it is important to enter this book alongside Felice’s other work as a musician and painter. The book’s cover, an Ian Felice original, portrays a headless man (Edgar), dapper in a suit with cane, and two women floating over him in blackness. Above them all the blood red moon shines. The moon is a common theme in Felice’s paintings and songs which often hold tension of animal and human, nature and culture, and always use color and texture to create evocative scenes that feel as if they rise up from the dream world. His work often feels like an edgier Leonora Carrington, who’s painting also brought dreamscapes to canvas.
Felice’s attention to color and painted scenes are one influence that makes this collection a surreal success of imagism. With an ability to oscillate between the concrete — often describing the color of garments and locating both the reader and the central character, Edgar, (who one might argue is not as central to the story as the reader) in places from Memphis and New York to rural Kansas and Los Angeles, enabling the reader gets the sense of a larger theme — and the absurdity of late stage capitalism we’ve normalized as living.
Felice braids both narrative and non-narrative images through two parts. Part One: The Objects Described opens the reader into a world that is equal parts present, past, and future. The clocks are in disagreement as children in Far Rockaway throw garbage to gulls. In one sonnet Edgar both descends and ascends from the underworld. Two sonnets later, it’s 1955 and Edgar the insurance salesman is born, which begs the question: how many times is Edgar born and to what degree is Edgar alive? Part Two: The Salesman, The Outlaw, and the Volcano continues the ebb, flow, and rollercoaster of Edgar’s life as an insurance salesman where he again dies, and lives out his life, often confronted by waiting rooms and commentaries on his mental health. On his Instagram account, Felice calls The Moon Over Edgar “the inner life of a man.” I would argue this 60 page collection of sonnets is so much more. It is an album, a collection of paintings, and an invitation to the imagination to really see absurdity, and ask what is truly absurd in today’s world? “The joke is on me in the 21st century,” he sings in 21st Century, which is more than a hint to the inner and outer experiences of Edgar.
The moon plays a central recurring role, both of night time dreams and unfulfilled dreams in a way Fitzgerald might appreciate as a modern commentary of all the ways the American Dream has ceased to change since the publishing of Gastby. “They tell us this is progress / We split the atom, warm our hands / By the fire we hold the twin scales / But who can justify this age of hearts gone public, sold for shares.” In his debut solo album, Kingdom of Dream the musician croons, “I don’t want to be at the xerox machine in this kingdom of dreams,” which feels like a sibling, perhaps a fraternal twin, to Edgar.
This collection largely hinges on the concept of past and present to merge into an infinite timeline we are most familiar with in sleeping and waking dreams as well as art. “To be simultaneously in the future / And the past we must let this life slip away / like an unremembered dream…”. This collection advocates for attention to dreams, the uncanny, the mundane, and the moon as if now is the time to devote ourselves to that possibility rather than, like Edgar, letting our life pass before us.
What one might find absurd in these sonnets, someone else may know as experience, which is another success in the way Felice navigates the uncanny of dreaming and waking. Several years ago, I worked on a play in which people had cabbages for heads. That may sound absurd until you read Edgar’s “Sonnet 42.” What may seem like a constricting of formal form, Felice doesn’t use sonnets, the sonnets weave a tapestry of realities in a myriad of colors. Each set of 7 cuplettes unfolds into the next while also creating its own world. Unlike some other narrative sonnet collections, these poems also stand alone, another sign of a skilled musician who can both write individual songs that thread into the experience of a well crafted album. In one sonnet, Felice asks, “What happens to the shape of a dream / When it is bathed in torrential rain?” I think the answer is The Moon Over Edgar.
Amy Bobeda holds an MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics where she founded Wisdom Body Collective. She is an editor of More Revolutionary Letters: A Tribute to Diane di Prima. Her work can be read/is forthcoming in Entropy, Vol1 Brooklyn, Denver Quarterly, TYPO, and elsewhere. @amybobeda on twitter.