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David Welch on Michelle Taransky

Sorry was in the Woods by Michelle Taransky

 

Early on in Sorry was in the Woods, Michelle Taransky presents a passage that outlines the speaker’s participation with her readers:

 

We came out here

to figure out figuring

out—Which woods took

what tree from the bodger

made symptoms

into a sentence

to harbor your feverfew

ideas about chances

and their damage

when it comes to

 

You are preaching at the timber beasts.

 

Woods and the bodger are the most important figures here, a notion reinforced by the epigraph—taken from Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse”—that foregrounds the first section:

 

            “The necessity of a line or a work to be as woods is, to be as clean as wood is as it

issues from the hand of nature, to be as shaped as wood can be when a man has had

his hand to it.”

 

Each of the collection’s four main sections are similarly titled via epigraphs—from Olson, Louis Zukofsky, Bob Perelman, and Gertrude Stein, respectively—that offer insight or context for Taransky’s multifaceted metaphor of the woods. And the bodger, of course, is multifaceted, too, being at once a woodworker, an artist of repurposed materials, and also a “botcher” likely to mis-complete a given task. Thus the refinishing of language emerges as the collection’s primary interest:

 

“How to Picture This Place Where”

 

Ash is strong and looks

Like chestnut—A tree is like a steer.

There are many kinds of cuts. Gentle polishing

Exposing the figure of the wood.

You will be surprised when you place

Light wood in hot sand. Watch the wood

Slowly burn. Refinish a found chair

To appear new.

 

Of course, this isn’t a book of erasures or centos—those two most in vogue forms of recent refinishing and repurposing. And though a handful of poems take their titles or include a few lines from other poets’ works, that’s not the project either. Rather, Taransky is interested in how woods (words) represent their utility—whether wild or cultivated, whether unkempt or crafted—how we come to them, and how we get lost in them. To explore this interest, the poet, like the bodger of her woods, has repurposed her materials, allowing the sentences and the senses to run together in a way sometimes in conversation with poets including Olson, Zukofsky, Perelman, and Stein, yes, but also like the language in other recent contemporary collections such as Matthea Harvey’s Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form.

 

Taransky’s “Sorry,” it turns out, echoes the “sorry/not sorry” sentiment of contemporary meme-speak, which is especially fitting since memes so often hinge on a repurposing or re-contextualizing of their source material. Time after time, the speaker presents lines that may discomfit those with expectations of linear readings. And often these lines reference the fact that they’re repurposing or refinishing context and syntax and/or their fragments. Take, for example, the whole of  “When Is is Not The”:

 

question behind loss

replacing the effect

concerned with support

what she says the work

is all about— a thing

being a being. our own

that we don’t own it

 

or lines from “For Days I Have No Ideas”:

 

what is visible when the first meeting is another language another

attempt to mean to leave space for your ideas nothing is a sentence is

it a line leading to a safe that was there until then you are nearer the

relationship between them and theirs I said the account is overdrawn

 

or “Sorry Waiting for The”:

 

A description of how much they can

Tolerate. Sentences that are not told

 

Apart from those including: Do you know the author?

This is a known picture of that tree.

 

For this speaker, of course, whether we know the author doesn’t really matter. The real question is whether we know the language, and whether what we think we know can be uprooted, bent, polished, or burned to the ground. But overall, Taransky may be more genuinely interested in the interactions than observations, at once claiming, “we are against the door / waiting to be figured / waiting to be confused” and “When they say that gesture / Is called waving, I say, no / No, she is reaching out.”

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