Chap Nook 12: Anderton, Reynolds, Speaker
The Flung You, Lucy Anderton (New Michigan Press 2012)
In The Flung You, a finalist for the 2012 DIAGRAM chapbook contest, Lucy Anderton explores some of the ways a particular I can interact with an unknowable you. (See also Shanna Compton’s review of Dara Wier’s You Good Thing.) Anderton employs stones and stars, lashes and hands, mouths and mud and birds’ wings. Love, and the loss of it, strips the self of its trappings:“With You / I am a stone”… “I become, become/ Magnificent / Nothing, the flaming / Snow, the pale widow / Moon.” The poems pivot around the elemental: “Stay away / from the earth. We turn/ to the earth.” Turning – toward and away from love and from nature – is a preoccupation of many of the poems.
Similarities in tone, diction, and form give the impression that the same speaker voices each poem; this speaker resists being situated in a context. Whether that is frustrating or exhilarating is up to the reader. This speaker often seems surprised by the relationship between the mind, the body and the world, mistrusting the distance between consciousness and matter:
And there we both stand
in the plaza, mud and pearl
our cathedral bodies
sparrowing out and away and apart
Although these poems sometimes seem to be built around an essential evasiveness, they also contain moments of beauty and raw emotion.
In Buenos Aires, Chad Reynolds maps the literal and metaphorical movement of a single speaker’s young adult life through narratives surrounding love, sex, and heartbreak. Almost every poem in this collection takes its title from the name of a place (often a city) and, in the first half of the chapbook, the speaker tells stories about women he loved who are somehow connected to that place. In the opening poem, “Siena,” Katie, with whom the speaker has traveled abroad, leaves him:
When I woke Katie was gone.
She had left me a note
saying that she really had to go home
and that she loved me and was sorry
and I’ve always wondered what that meant.
Reynolds’s strength lies in his ability to distill sincere emotion in concise language.
Reynolds also excels in his use of humor, which is largely a result of his speaker’s self-consciousness. His blunt willingness to share awkward experiences with the reader captures a certain tenderness and innocence. Consider this excerpt from “Tuscany,” in which the speaker has sex while on a picnic:
I wanted to be less self conscious
but I kept wondering if someone could see
my ass moving up and down from a distance
and what kind of animal they would think it was.
The male speaker’s self-consciousness about his looks is especially charming. He finds himself obsessed with his hair, “concerned / that the back of it looked flat.” These lines remind the reader that self-consciousness is a human thing, not a gendered thing we often associate with women (especially when it comes to physical appearance). It’s refreshing.
Perhaps the downfall of these poems is their eventual turn to domesticity and predictability. Halfway through the collection, Reynolds’s speaker marries, and his mind no longer wanders as it does prior to his marriage. The wandering though was essential to these poems, and once the speaker is “settled,” the poems become less interesting: the speaker comes home and gets into bed with his wife Emily, the speaker travels with Emily, the speaker and Emily are going to have a baby. The poem “Oklahoma City” gets especially mundane: “I mostly drive to work, I work most of the year, I make calls and / send emails. / Emily drives to stores, to the bank, to our kids’ schools.” The speaker has undergone a major transformation over the course of the chapbook’s twelve poems: “We have slipped into our adult lives / as unceremoniously as we enter our cars.” “Oklahoma City” and other poems that focus on domesticity and the uniformity it can impose lack the freshness and raw desire that fuel the first half of this collection, and perhaps that is Reynolds’s commentary.
20 Love Poems for 10 Months, Mary Austin Speaker (Ugly Duckling Presse 2012)
The Bachelard epigraph Mary Austin Speaker chooses for 20 Love Poems for 10 Months says that to “curl up” is to “inhabit with intensity.” In twenty spare, lapidary poems, Speaker creates a habitable space that limns the transition of a relationship from early excitement into something deeper. Against common assumptions, this shift increases, not eliminates strangeness because of that intensity.
The poems are fine-honed, often with two-word lines that create a held-breath atmosphere. In the first poem (no poems are titled, only denoted by numerals), she describes a quiet calm over the desire to
She holds off from naming the new love that is developing in the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains in the company of lions and crows, pines and mushrooms. Instead of portraying her beloved (or how even how he describes her), the perspective of the poems is from two faces, looking outward at the world. That dual looking shifts from a shyness in 1 to “a flood of yes” in 3.
By mid-book the lovers are invited into pine needle beds, beckoned by trees, yet there is a tension, an elastic pull and push of words. Speaker creates dynamic tension in so few words (“we outside in/ the soft-sharp/spot…”). There is a bargaining here, a muscular struggle to wrest the complementary from possible dissonance. The wrestling culminates in 14, where the avalanche that began in 2 and the flood of affirmation in 3 becomes a torrent of “yes/ and yes / and yes.”
At poems 17 and 18, language akin to vow-making appears (“we take / this pulse / effulgent”). But this is vow-making without language, and in some ways, beyond that. No small feat for a poet married to a poet. Speaker manages, however, to do just that, invite us to a wedding housed in and beyond words.