Review: Language Is a Revolver For Two by Mario Montalbetti

Peruvian born poet and linguistics professor Mario Montalbetti’s latest collection of poetry Language Is a Revolver for Two showcases his incredible ability to use poetry to rhythmically unfold a prophecy to his reader. Throughout these fourteen poems, Montalbetti consistently uses the motif of movement, particularly its risings and fallings, as a way of tracking his exploration of language’s, and by extension, the world’s economy of supply and demand. Essentially delineating the reason that law cannot be fully applied to love: “one thing and only one thing affects love: / the demand for love. / … supply doesn’t affect love.”

The collection unfolds beginning with the first poem, “As I Conceive It We Are Climates,” which is set against the void-like landscape of a man in Lisbon looking out at a river: “He doesn’t write, doesn’t drink, doesn’t think / about the things he sees or the sounds he hears.” From the onset, water is used as a key symbol, along with fish and salt. The fish often speak to this coldness and this sense of violence, acting as an omen for man’s inescapable mortality even though “language is faster / than the world.”

In the poem which harbors the collection’s namesake, Montalbetti begins by establishing the manner in which other species use language to combat each other: “cow—cawing / goose squawking,” etc. By the end, he sets man and woman against one another, but not without highlighting their common condition of humanity: “man, wo / man—speaking, speak / ing, until the heart / is pulp / silencing—a bonze on fire.” Montalbetti likens the act of man and woman successively silencing each other to a sacrificial act by a monk. Man cannot express his love without the use of language, which is destructive by its very nature. Hence, one cannot love without acknowledging this greater, cosmic sacrifice.

As the reader moves towards the collection’s close, the motif of movement accordingly shifts more heavily to the evocation of descent, gravity, and the sensation of falling. A personal favorite of mine is the poem “Magnifichant,” in which Montalbetti follows a night of lovemaking by a sunrise whose color he describes as “that dawn orange / as a ripe papaya / falls from the sky / and shatters upon the pavement.”

Montalbetti ends the collection fittingly with a poem titled, “Goal and Object of a Poem,” noting the paradox of poetry’s central objective: “trying to express a private sentiment / in public language.” The necessity for total intimacy is what governs all the greatest poetry, examining their subject until it’s “Smashed to bits against a dark hillside / that wasn’t in the charts” with nothing left but “the wreckage.” It’s as if Montalbetti is daring his reader to seek permanence in poetry’s aftermath, to maintain remembrance in spite of the difficulty. In this sense, every reader’s experience of his poetry will differ depending on his or her willingness to dare, dream, and seek possibilities where there may be none.


Photo courtesy of Ugly Duckling Press.

About the author

Juliana Clark is a writer who splits her time between New York City and Los Angeles.

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