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Lauren Russell
The City Has No Memory of You: Kostas Anagnopoulos’s Moving Blanket

The City Has No Memory of You: Kostas Anagnopoulos’s Moving Blanket
Lauren Russell

Moving Blanket, by Kostas Anagnopoulos (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010)


The title of Kostas Anagnopoulos’s first full-length collection, Moving Blanket, offers multiple points of entry into these mercurial poems. The term may evoke the instability and anxiety of daily life—“moving” as dislocation—yet it also suggests a magic carpet’s offer of transformation and escape. The threat of sudden exposure and the need for a quick getaway both prove very real in Anagnopoulos’s writing, in which the dreamlike and prosaic merge without the poet batting an eye. Certainly the theme of invisibility hangs over the book, though it’s subverted at every turn by the presence of a nearly ubiquitous “I.” Perhaps this speakerly conflict accounts for the work’s understated tone, a deliberate flatness accentuated by the end-stopped lines. In the collection’s many prose poems, a similar effect is achieved through syntax, though the frequent absence of sentence transitions suggests collage. These poems, like the lineated ones, are characterized by allusive phrasing and surprising images and juxtapositions that work against the deadpan delivery. It becomes increasingly difficult to tell if the speaker is preparing to hide under the blanket or to hop on board and enjoy the ride.

In “A Lesson in Disguise,” the risk of disappearance comes at a certain remove, applied to an unspecified “you,” who may or may not be read as the self,


The book makes you look small

In the new edition this line will be deleted

Though it’s unclear why

I know we’re going to lose you

To the painting across the hall

The one of Guido

The city has no memory of you


A few lines later, the city itself disappears,


Eventually the streets will freeze over

There will be no host, no welcome wagon

Only one extraordinary item of laundry

That lost its family


The speaker himself experiences abandonment and loss in the poem “Invisible Boy,”


Adding to the heap of misshapen conventions, I was defrocked. I knelt to kiss the ring. Eventually, I’ll be forgotten by my handsome peers, will proceed along a solitary path, always eating alone. It’s as though they never knew daylight and were unable to spot me. I would need to weigh the matter, perhaps write a petition to dead relatives. A father drives away forever. On the other hand, we should learn to support ourselves, ask questions and promote via satellite the holes from which we grow. Suddenly it hits me — darkness is seconds away. Don’t argue.


The disjunctive singularity of each sentence, the sudden tense changes, and the studied resistance to narrative development all indicate some kind of collage method, but the sense of constant refocusing is too characteristic of Anagnopoulos’s poems not to treat these elements as a poetics of their own. Most striking in this poem is the sudden shift from the victimized identity of the shunned “invisible boy” to the ironic self-assertion that arrives only sentences later: “we should learn to support ourselves, ask questions and promote via satellite the holes from which we grow.” The urgency of the speaker’s final pronouncements, “darkness is seconds away” and “Don’t argue,” may be questionable and only half-serious, but those statements lend momentum to a mood of encroaching isolation that can be traced back through every turn the poem makes.

Anagnopoulos returns to these themes in “Eleven Poems,” one of the few poems in the book that runs more than a page. Each of the eleven short lyrics presents a new perspective on the questions of isolation and invisibility. In the third poem, a vivacious speaker revels in self to the point of bursting:


Hide from the others

Avoid instruction

The mailbox is a friend

Inhaling bits of life

Relatives snore

Duck them as well

I am a balloon or a lesson


I pop

Bach is on the box


ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPOULOS is obviously a reference to the author’s last name, and I imagine this authorial “I” swelling full of the alphabet until letters explode out of him, flying everywhere and falling where they may. He is like the hero in a children’s book, a linguaphilic adventurer exulting in his freedom while everyone else is asleep. This sense of the exploration that comes from living as an outsider stands in stark contrast to the ninth poem, which concerns the social invisibility of the recent immigrant:


I was the first in my family

To come through without a scratch

America a blank slate

Place to rest my head

Slip off my boots, encore

Tell me you don’t see me with your eyes


The last line can be read two ways: Tell me, by looking me in the eye, that you don’t actually see me, forcing you, in fact, to confront me; or, tell me that you don’t recognize me by sight, though you may hear or smell or sense me in some other way, and by telling me acknowledge my presence. Either way, the speaker is claiming recognition from those who would ignore him. But this gesture of defiance, this refusal to be discounted, proves difficult to sustain, as in the following poem, in which the speaker again chooses “to leave the party”:


On foot I maintain a certain speed

Gradually become invisible

To understand me you must lose me

Just as I need to leave the party

In order to enjoy it


More than anything, the speaker of these poems appears at odds with himself, wanting to and not wanting to be seen, always looking for the possibility to make his escape. The opening of the poem “Louisiana” encapsulates this push and pull:


They are not in the business of noticing

But today they looked my way and guess what

They noticed

So look my way

Let me tell you a story about the ties that bind

All claims must be made within five days

Yet I have a desire for a clean slate

I’m always starting over


An untitled prose poem early in the book engages with the same conflict while also critiquing our systems of education and evaluation for instilling feelings of inadequacy that continue to haunt us:


The holes in my education. I am graded and come up short. How free the birds are! They walk, too. I follow them but they are fast. The books are small and short but slow. I study the night sky and its holes. But you travel with a black nimbus lighting your way. Thunder interrupts our class, leaving us dyspeptic, squabbling over nothing. We see stars without being struck. Teacher pushes our buttons, our limbs fatten without regret. We are after all in a land where books are left out in the rain. I’m in the lowest percentile, having horsed around like a musical top or a page torn out. Will the future reach me before I die?


In a book in which hope is often absent—“Mr. Hope died today at 100” in the poem “Old News”—the future is not to be taken for granted. Nor is it to be dismissed.

In “Appearance Alone,” Anagnopoulos writes, “Logical places exist in illogical books,” which would be an apt observation about this one. The poem ends, “The house is empty now / Fragile as eyes.” Reading Moving Blanket reminds me of the part of an eye exam when you’re asked to peer through an array of rapidly changing lenses. Each shift in focus requires a sudden recalibration as you meet a sharper or hazier world.