The Ego and the Empiricist (Paperback)
Two Sylvias Press, 9780998631431, 44pp.
Publication Date: October 4, 2017
The Ego and the Empiricist by Derek Mong is the finalist for the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize.
Praise for The Ego and the Empiricist:
"Whatever I take from this forest floor," writes Derek Mong in this gorgeous new chapbook, "I borrow." And, true to this statement, Mong adeptly gathers a wide swath of source material and produces poems that honor their origins, spring off from them, and, ultimately, give back. As Mong explores the journey of the body over time, his lines are both charged and solemn, with turns of phrase at once unpredictable and spot-on. This is a haunting, riveting collection. -- Natalie Shapero
A reader can open any contemporary journal of poetry and quickly pick up characteristics of the current mode. If the magazine is serious you'll also find good poems, and many more bad ones, and what falls between-the largest group. In this our age is like any other. Derek Mong's The Ego and the Empiricist, though its music is very much of our moment, takes as starting point poems and poets distant in time and worldview, and from first poem to last the difference is stunning. Mong has made of original medieval and renaissance works a grouping of wholly transformed new poems that sound contemporary, but retain the urgent intimacy of un-ironic spiritual "exercises," as the Jesuits might have it. As I read I began to think of these poems as a new species of retablos, with verbal objects in the place of iconic imagery. There is the same na ve, unmediated closeness of address to Christ-"You're smoke, you're/ thunder's anti-static rope," the same heuristic feel to the pieces, as if intentionally made for devotional purposes. How strange Not since Lowell's Imitations ( which Mong acknowledges in his notes) have we had a grouping of poems so alien in tone and tilt to the current secular mind brought into contemporary American idiom, fully alive, fully human. And human they are; these are not the words of the elevated or pious: "Still, I can't explain my fear/ of flies, nor the time I beat a man for smiling." There is everywhere an offhand grace, "Later a green glow, like the inside of a swept cape, / hung where the sun crossed the bay," coupled always with the modesty of a true religious-"I am still building a theory for just what that means." I can hardly say how much I like these poems, which are shocking for all the unusual reasons. -- Jeffrey Skinner
A poetry of transformation, The Ego and the Empiricist blurs the space between translation and homage, and shapes a free-ranging and symphonic landscape populated by monks, farmers, philosophers, bees, and all manner of amazements. In making lost voices come alive again, Derek Mong demonstrates the poet's most profound skill: the gift of speaking in tongues. -- Ann Townsend