BOOKS >>> CONTINUAL GUIDANCE of AIR by Holly Amos
In Continual guidance of air, Holly Amos has given us a gorgeous, lilting, desperately needed treatise on human cruelty and the consequent imperative to do better than we’ve done. From the cage-imprisoned animals who live “so metal an existence” to the solemn permanence of our collective modern footprint (“This bit of sugar, this fist / of trash”), this book made me cry on an airplane, into my instant coffee in the throwaway cup that I then resolved to no longer waste my life wasting. Will today be a day that matters?
“Everyone likes the word filament,” Holly Amos writes, “but it doesn’t stop the bright bulb from going out.” Continual guidance of air sutures this rip between language and experience while relentlessly exploring how our shared humanity might become more humane. Amos balances richly lyric language with a deft command of each poem’s unique architecture. She charts the “gnarled maps / we don’t understand,” creating a fiercely compassionate cartography of the human/animal world without trying to impose mastery on it.
Holly Amos is an animal rights advocate and vegan. She is a poetry editor for the online journal Pinwheel, is the editorial assistant for Poetry, and co-curated The Dollhouse Reading Series in Chicago. Her first collection, Continual guidance of air, and the chapbook This Is a Flood were both published by H_NGM_N Books. Her poems have appeared in Bodega, Forklift, Ohio, ILK, La Vague, Matter, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere.
IN THE BEGINNING >>Holly Amos on Continual guidance of air
The earliest poems from Continual guidance of air came from my first year in the MFA at Columbia College Chicago, almost 7 years ago now. I’d moved from rural Ohio a year previously and was living truly on my own for the first time – no roommates even except Pepe and Poco, two strays I’d adopted many years previously. I’d gone through a tough, messy breakup before I left Ohio, and I was not yet really free from its effects, or from the emotions that kept me from fully moving on. I was not yet vegan (didn’t know this was on the horizon, even) and it’s a bit strange now to see how the imagery surrounding this old boyfriend, who went hunting on occasion, rubs against one of the book’s central themes: animal rights.
I don’t remember much specifically about the writing of the poem, but I remember bringing it in to workshop and nobody knowing what a deer stand was (it’s basically a tree house that hunters sit in to give themselves an advantage over their targets). I had never gone hunting. Even though I was a carnivore at the time, I found it entirely grotesque, but I love psychoanalyzing poems (my apologies to everyone whose poems I’ve ever read), and I’m only now seeing how meaningful it is that I put the speaker (a version of myself, if not myself entirely) in the deerstand with her ex-love. I put myself in a position of advantage, and though the ex is there, too, all of the actions are mine: washing; surrounding; throwing; and finally, saying. What he had for me was detrimental. The speaker has realized that, has put that realization into the universe by saying it, and now, presumably (and actually), she can move on. So basically I believe that poems are both a form of therapy AND magic spells.