"The Comfort of Consciousness: Brendan Constantine" by David B. Newell

A man always on the go, Brendan Constantine creates poems that almost seem to move from the page, swirling into the mind of their readers and creating a sense of enlightenment. Raised by two accomplished actors (Michael Constantine and Julianna McCarthy), Constantine’s road to creativity followed countless avenues.

While pursuing such things as drawing, photography, singing, and theater in college was immensely rewarding, something wasn’t clicking for Constantine. And then he found poetry:  “What confirmed poetry for me was that I persisted when it was difficult, when it became work, when no one offered praise, when I understood at a gut level that I would never (ever) master it or know if I was any good. Ever. (Ever, ever).” With pen in hand, Constantine undertook the arduous journey of connecting to people through prose and thought, while developing a deeper sense of connection with words on paper.

Constantine took off from the ground running, creating works that now show him as one the most established poets in Los Angeles. Finding gun violence a pressing issue, Constantine produced various poems around the theme, such as “Letters to Guns,” and, more recently, “The Opposites Game.”  When asked about his creative process and the selection of such themes as gun violence, Constantine said it’s quite spontaneous: “Every poem seems to arrive in its own way. They all ‘want’ something different. I have no set time to write, no regular hours. I don’t even have an office.” From teaching, working a second job, partaking in community activities, and comforting family members, inspiration seems to fall from the sky at random times, landing on his head with a certain “aha!” The poem “The Opposites Game” was struck from a specific event. Constantine's friend, Patricia Maisch, was scheduled to speak at a gun-violence rally and asked him to participate. While initially believing his poem would be a damper on the occasion, he soon came to the realization that it was a hit. With multiple videos of people taking part in the interactive poem, it has proven to have quite an impact on its audiences. The following part of the poem struck strongly, as the students in the poem attempt to identify what the “opposite” of a gun might be:

It's a diamond, it's a dance,
the opposite of a gun is a museum in France.
It's the moon, it's a mirror,
it's the sound of a bell and the hearer.

Creating an entire environment around the disagreement of what the opposite of a gun is, inevitably creating discourse, was very interesting to me. In trying to get to the core of pure harmony, disharmony ensued. It is in poems like these that Constantine announces himself as a writer of unique talent.

While the awareness of gun violence (and other subjects) is important, Constantine's primary goal in his work is to make a connection with his audience. I asked him if there was a specific message he wanted to convey in his work, and he explained it was to have a deeper experience of the world: “I suppose one could extract from the work a consistent priority if not a message and it’s this: Savor absolutely everything, be totally present, for the beautiful and terrible alike. You won’t know one without the other, so treat every moment as your first on earth and take the time to wonder at the unlikelihood of it all.” Constantine’s poem, “In the Ear of Our Lord,” is a good example of how he connects with the reader, transcending our earthly experience to reach the surreal understanding of this piece, while making a pun on “in the year of our lord”:

I thought you said you love

the coal train's horn

                     the loneliest monk

playing piano     Such distinct

sounds     I had to wonder how

you knew to love them

In the beginning was the whir

I thought you said & the whir

was good

Didn't you say     each verse

should end on a pyramid

                                         Now

the crowds are coming home

Cross our eyes & dot our lines

I could swear you said the time

was wow

               the time handsome

Hark that horn     the monk's

lonely fingers     Doesn't it just

break your harp

                         None of us

will be remembered

Free alas     you said free alas

When first reading this poem, I wondered, did his computer autocorrect his words? But, of course, upon further inspection, the decision to “mishear” the words we expect to hear was intentional—for instance, “free alas” for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “free at last.” Constantine changes MLK’s triumphant declaration of freedom into a much more complex, and ultimately heartbreaking, admission that we are so “free” that we are entirely at the mercy of time: “None of us / will be remembered.” I am not a religious person myself, but I can only assume that embedded in this poem are various lines referenced in the Bible, intentionally slightly off. I related to the poem after realizing that, when I was forced to go to church, I could not remember anything spouted from the preacher. So seeing this poem give off almost a comedic tone to misremembering things, I saw a different side to Constantine. While he engages in darker tones with “The Opposites Game,” this piece was more free in its identity. Being able to play many sides of the spectrum, Constantine is a truly talented poet, able to draw any and all readers into his work.

Editor