The Enduring Value of Linguistic Play: Thomas Fink and Maya Mason’s Collaboration: A Pageant for Every Addiction

 It’s a remarkably cold and windy New Year’s Day, and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than to sit with a small stack of Thomas Fink and Maya Mason’s playful and intelligent poems and let them take my mind wherever it wants to go.

I love the way their poems are an invitation to a dance: they spur a conversation with the future, the past, and the present.  I enjoy seeing how the anxieties of antecedents play out: one visual allusion leads to another, one set of topics and tropes leads to thinking of other authors, and so on. 

Sometimes this approach leads to specious connections and I wonder which corners of my mind produced them, which is something akin to finding YouTube has created “My Mix” that contains principally opera from Henry Purcell and Mexican rancheras performed by mariachi bands from the 1950s.  

Thomas Fink and Maya
Mason. A Pageant for Every Addiction.
East Rockaway, NY: Marsh Hawk Press. 2020. 77 pages.  ISBN: 978-0996991209

The cover art is what captivates first: It’s compelling,
especially on a cold New Year’s Day when one is obliged to trot out one’s New
Year’s Resolutions, even if they constitute little more than cleaning out a
closet and ordering vegan protein supplements and Vitamin D on Amazon and
“Favoriting” a morale-boosting podcast on YouTube. A man holds elongate objects
in his hands (lumpy anise treats?) and a woman holds what appear to be $100
bills between her hands.  Multi-colored
dots give the painting an effervescent, playful feel.

The first poem made me smile. “First Date Questions” – I
could not even imagine anyone asking me such questions, but if some did, I
would immediately pay attention. The questions move from the concrete to ones
that are clearly playing with cultural assumptions, asking you to look at
things in new ways:

… Don’t

you just hate when you reach the


and the zebras have been sent

out for cleaning?

I love the whimsy and way they ask one to consider the basis
for our underlying mindsets:

I hate to think of

worms eating my

dog’s eyes; is that love?

The questions are a perfect form for a collaboration, and an
ideal way to start a collection since they embody a kind of conversation.

Addictions are judgments. They are condemnations of sorts,
and impugn the character of the addict, even if the addiction is to something
as innocuous as hoarding blank journals. So, it is only fitting to see a poem
entitled “You’re Morally Inferior If” and to see that each 4-line stanza
contains at least one criterion upon which to judge and condemn a person.  They also made me smile.  Here are a few:


               you keep

fingernails long –

hands useless




               …. you


               buy two
of the same

you’re too

to kill


As a geologist with a soft spot for paleontology, I was
drawn to “Substitute Fossil,” wondering first, how fossils relate to addictions
although I can easily envision a Fossil Pageant in the A Pageant for Every Addiction.

Fossils are fairly meaningless unless they are classified;
fossils are not only remnants of the past, they are used to time-stamp a layer
of the earth (formation), since many fossilized organisms lived in very defined
spans of time.  Fossils then, invoke
classification systems, and as such, naming and identity.

If you substitute fossils, it’s possible to completely
subvert the entire classification system, and suddenly the system will have no
connection to a stable time frame, orientation, or even meaning.

That’s exactly what is going on in “Substitute Fossil,” and
it’s up to the reader to create a new set of relationships of time, meaning,
connection.  If fossils are indicators,
they can be both the alphabet and the syntax of meaning. If we substitute, we
have the arbitrariness of classification laid bare:

… convict

our glad workhorses into gold


deficits – to

a new alphabet for potpourri to

maneaters of grammar castrate

the chairmen of prattle …

The final minimalist long poem, “A Few Promises” makes the
reader smile with whimsy, sometimes schadenfreude:

“A staircase for

every stiletto”

“A straightjacket


every extrovert”

The verses incorporate professions, physical phenomena, and
life forms. They also relate back to the realities of uncertainty,
unpredictability, and gambling, including market plunges. They are not only
promises to fulfill dreams, but also to solve problems (or even create them –
“a shark for every bathtub”). 

In the end, the collection touches the experiences of
readers and triggers one’s own “conversation” in a Bakhtinian, carnivalesque
manner, while showing ways to restructure assumptions and gently subvert
generic expectations.


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