“Try to think of all this as a seduction,” Kara Candito writes in the poem, “Notes for a Novice Flâneur,” and by “all this,” the poet means the sights, the smells, the sensations, the observations on a street in New York City, and yet, this can very easily stand as a description of the entire collection. To read Taste of Cherry is to be seduced by the splendor and the horror of the world.
The seduction begins with the titles, particularly the title of the book, Taste of Cherry. What a terrific title for a debut collection. In her notes, Candito tells us the title is inspired by the 1997 Iranian film of the same name, in which one of the characters says the taste of cherry (“mulberries,” in the subtitles) persuaded him not to commit suicide: seduced to live by the power of sensation. Of course, the implications of the end of innocence, sexual and otherwise, cannot be ignored, either. In a way that’s what the collection amounts to, in William Blake’s sense of the contrast between innocence and experience. For that’s what these poems spell for the reader: experience and a distillation of the knowledge gained through experience.
But the way she seduces you most essentially is in the overall sense in these poems of an intelligence exploring the border between civilization and chaos.
Titles of individual poems also seduce the reader: “Self-Portrait with an Ice Pick,” “Barely Legal: Upon Finding My Father’s Porn
,” “Sleeping with Rene Magritte,” “Strange Zippers: A Poem in which the Heroine
________,” “On the Occasion of Our Argument During a VH1 Best Power Ballads Countdown,” “Last Happiness.”
Candito seduces you with her startling lines and images. “How we swore we’d drive out to Los Angeles/where the fog unzips its white dress” (“Carnivale, 1934”); “I like to watch it//until the world dissembles like air after/an apology.” (“Epic Poem Concerning the Poet’s Coming of Age as Attis”); “so the plot can spin on oblivious/as an empty soup can down Lexington” (“A Necessary Fiction”); “in a bar thick with regret and red lampshades.” (“He Was Only Half as Beautiful.”) “So, if all of our synthetic//pastimes and paid-for transgressions amount to more/than broker’s fees and rug burn, then I’m sure a woman//covered in creamy car wash suds will meet us on/the hood of a red Corvette at the end of the countdown//and I promise, my love, that her pussy will be shaved.” (“On the Occasion of Our Argument During a VH1 Best Power Ballads Countdown.”).
But the way she seduces you most essentially is in the overall sense in these poems of an intelligence exploring the border between civilization and chaos. Indeed, Candito is the flâneuse in the Baudelairean sense of a “stroller of the streets,” who plays a double role in the detached observation of and the active participation in the life of the city. But where Baudelaire’s flâneur is a deliberately aimless pedestrian, the characters and voices that Candito, the flâneuse, uses, are not necessarily so detached, despite a certain passivity that creeps in at times (“You the enamorer.
True to the Baudelairean spirit of the work, there is a notable absence of sentimentality in the poems. This is not to say there is no passion, heartbreak or humor; in fact, quite the opposite.
Me, adrift on that sea//of clever” - “Floristic Elegy for the Year I Lived with You in Coconut Grove”). The book is divided into three parts. The poems in the short middle part are inspired by other literary works - Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury
, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, etc. The voice and characters in the first and third are edgier and ring with a more personal tone.
The epigraph to the first section could be the flâneur’s motto: “Sometimes a journey makes itself necessary,” from Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. And speaking of autobiographical, do these poems fit the description? Possibly. It could be that Candito has been to Sicily and Egypt, lived in Coconut Grove, and in the poem, “La Buffera,” she does tell us how the name “Candito” was originally “Candido,” but these poems are more about the personal she’s created than the facts.
The Candito persona walks “bare-sleeved where/the guidebook says DANGER and the street is a garish//human theater, the bazaar a winepress of cheap consolation/prizes…” (“Egypt Journal”) Whether in New York, where “By the end of your second winter,/when everyone has slept with everyone;//when everyone has overdosed,/moved away or just disappeared” (“A Necessary Fiction”) or in Florida, where you will find “lovely boys dressed up for the closeted CEOs cruising/Flamingo Park – the Ricardos, the Alejandros,” (“Floristic Elegy for the Year I Lived with You in Coconut Grove”) or in Italy where “At night,/families arrive – men holding their sons high, like props;//women blowing smoke in imperfect circles and whispering/behind manicured hands about their husbands affairs,” Candito takes us places and shows us things we are not necessarily permitted or invited to see. The effect of exposure to the forbidden is a way of “reminding you of a transsexual’s/personal in the Voice last week;/Forceful sex care provider. Fucking, really fucking one night/after the bar, you feel in the friction a union with//the energy outside…” (“Strange Zippers”)
True to the Baudelairean spirit of the work, there is a notable absence of sentimentality in the poems. This is not to say there is no passion, heartbreak or humor; in fact, quite the opposite. The poem “California” is a comic masterpiece, and while there is a real poignancy to poems like “Polarity,” “Barely Legal” and “Necessary Fiction,” there is also a strong sense of the ironic, the absurd. The title poem begins this way, clobbering you with the strange, the illogical, the dreamlike: “How she said, Come with me/and you did, you followed her into the bed/of a stolen truck, into that bar/where you shot the bartender.” (“Taste of Candy”)
Ultimately, Candito leaves us with the impression expressed in the lines with which this wonderful collection ends, summing up the experience of the flâneuse:
as if pleasure were the one brief, brutal
impersonal thing in the world.