Tag Archives: Ahsahta Press

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Beyond the Chainlink

7 Jan

BeyondTheChainlinkIn the supporting author’s statement for Rusty Morrison’s most recent collection of poems, Beyond the Chainlink (Ahsahta Press, 2014), the poet mentions that her new book attempts:

to be honest about my dishonesties—the unreality in my truths and the truth of my unreality. I want to trust the useful disarray of dis-believing what I am sure of—to examine the ways I’m in two places at once.

While I’m unsure of what the poet means by being “honest,” the quote does act as a incitement for working through binary thought in such a manner that it dissolves partitioned concepts by employing chiasmic modes of engagement.

To this end, the title’s invocation of both the words “Beyond” and “Chainlink” is important. As she notes in the aforementioned author’s statement, the word “beyond” highlights or brings attention to “both here and not here,” while “chainlink”–which most frequently appears as a modifier for the word “fence”–signals a limit or a divide separating two areas or states. In this sense, the title engages the idea or desire to disassemble reductive, either/or (i.e. binary) patterns in service of something more complex.

Not coincidentally, then, the incipient poem of Beyond the Chainlink, “History of Sleep,” opens and closes with the following stanzas:

The ivy across our back fence tangles gray
into a green evening light. (3)

Years later, the spine of our backyard
appears to have always been crooked. (4)

The delimiting fence that separates the speaker’s backyard from what lies beyond it, paradoxically, is by its very nature uncertain and permeable: it “tangles” the colors “gray” and “green” into a strange light that permeates the evening. This initial image eventually leads the speaker to an understanding that her fence, “the spine of our backyard,” has “always been crooked.” In other words, the fence never cleanly or clearly demarcated; instead, it always confused and blended boundaries, whether the speaker noticed or not.

A recurring trope throughout the book that functions as a site of boundary confusion and crossing is the body. The second permutation of the poem “Sensework” reads in its entirety:

I lean

on my body, hard enough to feel its resins crack.

I court the cracks.

Squeeze every breach.

What leaks is, at its end, stifling and sweet. Patience, patience. The dead-animal

smell will be the last trailing hem

of outbreath. The body is a cosmos

of hidden atmospheres—each with its own ravage

to erupt. Every loss

is my accomplice. (15)

Why does the speaker “court the cracks”? Because when she does, out “leaks” something of her that is both “stifling and sweet.” This, of course, is not just a moment of loss of the self or something internal; with a little “patience,” she realizes that while she might lose something of herself, she’ll also gain something from the world outside of her to replace what has escaped. Yes, it could be the “dead-animal / smell,” which is the “outbreath” of road-kill; but it could also be something more glorious. Good or bad, we can’t be sure; but it is through the grand permeation of the self into the world that we become one with the world.

The body communing with the world and the world communing with the body, no doubt, sounds vaguely Whitmanian; and, moments later, the speaker offers a more telling gesture that acknowledges the egalitarian poetics of the gray-bearded poet when she says: “The body is a cosmos.” Indeed, this claim echoes Whitman’s own statement in the preface to the 1855 version of Leaves of Grass that “the attributes of the poets of the kosmos concentre in the real body and soul.” Yes, the cosmos concentrates itself within the “real body” of the poet; when the body cracks, the cosmos leaks into the world around it.

Toward the conclusion of the book, the final permutation of the poem “Backward Rowing” corroborates the idea of transubstantiation with our surroundings all the more:

Words are such thickness.

Stranding us between too much and too much.

I want to hear our body
of silence, not my speaking voice,

not read form the book we’ve built,

which obscures the inner story—
its continuous firmament

displacement.

As a listener, I won’t retain
by absorbing, but by being absorbed.

Being

sucked through. (71-72)

The body transforms from the corporeal vessel of a singular subject to a universal entity through the plural-possessive modifier “our,” highlighting the interconnectedness of all beings. And it is this interconnectedness that “obscures the inner story” of the individual, championing instead a “continuous… // displacement” of the self through absorption of our surroundings. Yes, the inside becomes the outside and the outside becomes the inside, tying these concepts—traditionally conceived of as binary opposites—into a tight chiasmic knot formed, at least in Beyond the Chainlink, in a “thickness” of “Words.”

And in this thickness of words and language, Morrison “displace[s] the subject // with objects” (21) by acknowledging the fact that “You” has “always been / I,” as well as its reciprocal: that “I” has “always been you” (75). In doing so, she echoes the age old song of herself:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Forty-One Jane Doe’s

26 Jun

41JaneDoesCoverLast week, I wrote a review of William Waltz’s Adventures in the Lost Interiors of America, which focused on the differences between a naturalist’s and a poet’s use of nature. In the former instance, the man of science observes and categorizes the natural world in order to demystify and, thus, command it; in the latter instance, the poet revels in its mysteriousness and unquantifiable aspects in order to create an art imbued with the unknown.

Immediately after reading Waltz’s collection, I read Carrie Olivia Adams’ second full-length book of poetry Forty-One Jane Doe’s (Ahsahta Press, 2013). I reference Waltz’s Interiors not simply because it was the book I read immediately preceding Adams’ collection, but primarily due to the fact that the two books contain thematic echoes. Whereas Waltz juxtaposes the poet and the naturalist, Adams explores the relationships between the poet and mathematicians/scientists.

Skimming through the epigraphs and notes reveals several scientific touchstones that Forty-One invokes: Leonard Euler, William Harvey, Stephen Hawking, and Pythagoras. But, similar to Waltz’s book, Adams does not attempt to mimic the scientist’s drive toward enlightenment through empiricism. Instead, she uses poetry as an antidote for science in order to articulate her confusion and revel, linguistically, in the unknown. Take, for instance, the following passage from her opening sequence “A Mystery Story”:

Moments after asking
what is the meaning of love
she makes love.

This does not answer
the question. (8)

The speaker runs what one could call an experiment on love in order to discover its “meaning.” Of course, once she conducts the experiment (i.e. “makes love”), she realizes that “This does not answer / the question.” No, love is not something that one can capture or define through a series of tests. It is something too ethereal for such operations.

In the second poetic sequence, an epistolary prose poem titled “Pandora’s Star Box,” which is addressed to an “Astronomer,” the speaker asks:

What do you do during the daylight? Do you train your telescope on people across the way? Are you curious at all about earthly perambulations? Do you chart them—map them—trace them from point to point with a protractor in the same way?

I once wrote to you and asked—why do people make love? It was a foolish question, I know. (18)

The Astronomer stands at a distance from the populace, charting and mapping their “earthly perambulations” with a telescope and a protractor. In need of an answer to the question “why do people make love,” the speaker realizes that “It was a foolish question” to ask her correspondent because love cannot be gauged by or through the instruments of science. Again, love is something too ineffable for empiricism to categorize or gauge.

The final poem of Forty-One, which is called “A Voice Made Small,” begins with the stanzas:

My voice made small
travels with others
along the copper wires.

Then, there is the sea—
I do not know how sound travels
across it.

The tips of the waves,
moths that flutter toward your ears. (73)

There is something inherently mysterious or otherworldly about a voice crossing the ocean. No doubt, science can find a way to demystify this question regarding “how sound travels / across it”; and, in many instances, such exacting scientific knowledge is of importance to us as human beings. But, in other instances, the poetic explanation, that of a voice travelling on the “tips of the waves,” or as “moths that flutter towards your ears,” offers readers something much more poignant and, certainly, more beautiful.

The poem, then, concludes with the following stanza:

If you know the end,
if the day has already come
and another begun for you
can you tell me of it,
so I may know
what to look for? (74)

In these six lines, the speaker vocalizes her desire to know that which is out of her intellectual grasp. But, after reading through Forty-One Jane Doe’s, we get the sense that, even if the addressee does have the ability to answer the question of “what to look for,” it will leave the speaker lacking or wanting more. Instead, a better answer maybe no answer at all; simply to acknowledge that:

There is a sea—
It could carry us.
It could lose us. (73)

And, yes, this sea is poetry.