“Intertwining Place, Meaning, & Permanence”: J. Michael Wahlgren looks at Matter No Matter by Joel Chace

Matter No Matter, Joel Chace, Paper Kite Press

What’s at stake here in Joel Chace’s Matter No Matter is the preservation or death of the “self.” Seeming wish-washy at times, which may be quite necessary, is this actual death or moving away from the self that figuratively stabs the reader. The writing seems quite aware of itself: the imminent occurrences are foreseen by events foretold or hinted at within the writing. As the text references a means of transportation, the train, the writing seems to predict this form being sampled in shifty letters & explanations which vary themselves, leading the reader to wonder where is the actual caboose. There is a certain mystery to the wordplay in this text with some being appropriately enough for the death of a self stream of consciousness.


An example of this foreseeing is Chace’s use of the word “crazy” in a poem entitled Upstate which sends the whole text into an organized type chaos: “don’t kid yourself/ purple white gray-white blue/ yellow black don’t a basketball/that grimes hands and/ bounces crazy off every/ goddamn gray little black/ knob of ice to walk over/ the bridge home through purple air…” The organized chaos appears as rainfall on the pages following spaced out wording such as: tier/ tier/ tiers/ destitu/ its ettrs/ used side/ trusd/ sire turd/ destitu…”


We return to the self in the text with the poem Given: “That self rides two/ Entirely different trains passing/ Each other icebergs in/ the night.” Given seems to reference this train of self, striving for meaning and to be read. It is a self that perhaps like the icebergs is chilled as the last poem touches upon the meaning of superficiality: “surface and water that/ are not do not matter but/ do mean the matter then/ cannot mean the meaning is/ nothing…” There is a sense of permanence in making sense out of the sentences, just as with the self, take the poem The Story: “about a line/ all about and around/ it two distances and/ the longest point/ he/ is one who/ keeps reading and keeps/ each time saying a/ sentence must lend itself/ to vigorous analysis.” In this poem there is a sense of “standing out” as if analysis is necessary to do so.


It seems as though Chace’s poems are tough enough to not get hurt, having some violent references which make the reader want to kidnap the author’s word choice. There is also a quest for a sense of place as in the poem Godhead where the character seeks a place to settle referencing it as “seeing a face” in something. The analysis of the ‘I,’ the sentence, and its death and meaning are lasting images when the text is over. The form of these poems sometimes makes it a complicated read. However, what’s at stake (the search for place, meaning, and most importantly, permanence) intertwines to pay off with an interesting read.




J. Michael Wahlgren edits for Gold Wake Press (goldwakepress.org). He is author of Silent Actor (BeWrite, 2008).