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Jen Tynes on 3 chapbooks

Carrington by Elizabeth Robinson (Hot Whiskey Press)

The first line of the first poem, “Nature Morte,” reads: “How can you question my decision-” a question that seems to issue from both Robinson and Dora Carrington, seems—in addition to referring to an ongoing tension—to provide an entrance. These poems will explore exactly how decisions can be questioned. The first-person is self-conscious and a subject. From “1915”:

I am, here, in a photograph

My whole person surrounded

in fact

in sepia

 

Protective hue, to know the difference

between direct and direction

The voice seems to be Carrington’s, though detached from her own biography by time, space, her own mortality. In creating this sometimes impossible distance, the first-person voice also refers to Robinson and makes room for considering her position in this intimate space. She is historian, play-actress, critic, middlewoman. From “Demountable Baroque”:

for I never made any promise,

spitting image or contrariwise

 

as to your whereabouts

beyond the indelible

I like the use of “contrariwise” in this poem, the way it suggests both a physicality and an attitude. The lines are fragmented into angles, indented into asides, and buzz with their sense of collage. They language is aged and sharp. Through Carrington’s biography and her artwork, Robinson explores the process of art-making as much as the fluidity of identity and ownership.


 

Steam by Sandra Simonds

(self-published; inquire with Sandra at ssimonds23@aol.com about available copies)

My copy arrived with a little sand in its spine, with a photocopied cover that features geometric and curlicue shapes cut from pages of text, the text unreadable; there are more text-shapes cut and pasted inside, half-attached to the page as if Steam might turn into a pop-up book, or grow leaves. The poems themselves are preoccupied with transitoriness—travel and moving—a theme which is developed interestingly through Simonds textural and self-conscious language. From “These days are Malthusian Footnotes”:

And where is the snow, Warsaw?

There zero’s blank corpse sounds over crops erotic as gas

and the asbestos that tang the lungs into submission tumors,

into blue trees-

(you’re a tame dog) but they are not ze-

ro, Romeo,

they are not know-

ing.

These poems are improvisational by necessity; they come out of their own experience. Even when the images are dark, there’s a playfulness and pleasure in the language: the sounds of where, snow, Warsaw/ zero’s blank corpse sounds. The lines are simultaneously organic-sounding and precise, tangential without a word to spare. Scenes and situations are viewed from windows and moving trains, through casual or complicated acquaintance, and Simonds notes the frame. From “Visual Field (Wittgenstein)”:

Of course I could say

“There is a red circle outside the square,”

remark that the pigeons

look like washcloths

from this kitchen window

that you are yourself

a goodbye and a greeting

(as description is half the handshake…

While images of the body appear occasionally, the sense of being inside a body, of feeling bodily, is most often addressed at the cellular level: feeling itself critiqued and deconstructed. Like the language, the body is being broken down into its elements. If the elements of the body take on symbolism, it is a different kind, not the “blood” we recognize.


Morning News by Ana Bozicevic-Bowling (Kitchen Press)

The CD that accompanies this book emphasizes the intimate tone of these poems: interior worlds narrated over distant but easily identifiable noises, or familiar landscapes watched through glass, or water. These poems are, in the best possible way, dreamy: the images are uncanny, the language exact in a way that cannot be reclaimed outside of it. From “For Voice and Violin”:

You must sit down to a dinner

of shoveled dirt, think softly, like suede

to drop around a room, a baby cage

for the growing

beast-street at the center of

you…

Images that could be sentimental or simply benign are contrasted with images of wildness, something dark and unknowable, and thus become charged with a sense of omen and/or interconnectivity. They become erotic in their recognition of absence, sensual in their attention to detail. The first half of the title poem, “Morning News,” reads:

A small rain falls

on the orchard behind

the house: small feet,

small hands. I wake—downstairs

grandfather tunes

a great orchestra. He sits

in the static from Berlin

as in a wind, says: Listen—.

In a vat of huge

stretched space, something

is measured, from wingtip

to wingtip…

Those dark wings and their measurement shadow and shade the rest of the poems for me, make me especially attentive to all the back rooms and antechambers of these poems. The first-person voice is both impersonal and deeply intimate, checking in, it seems, to a collective consciousness and understanding. It’s hard not to feel compelled, pulled back to memory, by the places and states these poems remember. The particular power of these poems is that they don’t only recreate; they also examine experience, the interior landscape of a memory, of memory-heavy worlds. From “Thoughts on Things”:

I don’t know what speaks

from things. Their sentences

come not as something

outside of me

but as one of me

 

only we speak

in opposite directions…

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