Friday, June 27, 2003

Many fine-looking books are now on the shelf behind and to the left of my station at The Bookery: Susan Howe's The Midnight, Jennifer Moxley's The Sense Record, Lee Ann Brown's The Sleep That Changed Everything, and others that I'm dying to peruse or would be if I weren't sunk in Kant. (I'm always sunk in cant, but that's another issue altogether.) But the book I scooped casually off the shelf is the one blowing me away at the moment, although its blurbists—Thomas Lux, Molly Peacock, and Gerald Stern—would probably be considered members in good standing of the School of Quietude, and although the poet is an Iowa grad who has mainly published in APR, Hayden's Fery Review, Plougshares, and other mostly middlebrow mags. Her name is Alessandra Lynch and her diction is ravishing. I've only had time to read three poems and they all seem eminently postable, but here's just one:
What the Meadow Said Afterwards

meadow said spring
meadow could not hear itself think for all the bells ringing
meadow could not look to see whether the sun had turned blue
or the cloud became gold—meadow could not taste guttered wheel
nor sludge-barrow, nor sullen hill, nor blood-licked tin
that lanced asters to sorrel and lace to loam

meadow could not receive footfall
it could only feel rain and inward it turned
on itself for not having known

meadow said drown daisies drown
their obedient necks sodden green
their ridiculous twist-off faces
their petals falling like poor hats

meadow said:
be dead, heart
be the raft cracked
don't function as door
spill like salt, effortless, daft,
white-faced, aghast

choose the city in lieu, lying
removed, stiff with lights, crippled by wire, over
the sweet, dying blossoms, the stalks terrified
of their thorn.
Probably this poem attacts me because I feel like it's trying to work out some of the same pastoral problems I'm conscious of in my own poetry: this poem seems very consciously to be questioning its own thoroughly irresponsible impulse to reduce its world to a zone of natural beauty that stands apart from modernity and one's fellow human beings. If instead of "meadow" (shades of Duncan) she used "lawn" I'd feel even more certain that there's a rigorous self-interrogation going on here of the poet's own privilege—or more precisely, a recognition of the contingency of that privilege, the awful sacrifices required to maintain it ("drown daisies drown"), and what really might be required of the poet's dead heart: to be a raft instead of a door, bearing a fuller and less innocent kind of knowledge away from the pleasures of pastoral into the city "stiff with lights, crippled by wire." But is the cost too high—must the poet choose self-mutilation to enter "the city in lieu" and give up the particular sensitivities that make her a poet? An urgent question. The book is called Sails the Wind Left Behind, which is a little cute, and glancing through it I wonder if her lyricism, or more accurately her Romanticism, is generally as smartly self-critical in the other poems as it is in this one. Well, as evidence in favor I find the opening lines of a poem called "What We Impart": "So, you vaulted the back of a deer as it plunged into the river. / Was that a confession?" I like that.

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