Our Aperture

by Ander Monson
New Michigan Press 2007
Reviewed by Jackie Clark


Heart-Shaped Book

monson cover

Ander Monson’s chapbook Our Aperture is 30 pages of poems that feel huge, but huge in the sort of referential way one wanders through subway stations and feels like s/he is seeing the whole shape of the moment, encapsulated and removed, a participant.

These poems revolve around and around the “I,” and gratefully the “I” is less of a judge and more of a participant. The concern or conceit of this “I” involves a genuine understanding of the way circumstance colors our situations and the way that something which is pushed responds by being moved: “What came after the world: / silence, lots of it.”

There are three poems in this chapbook with the title “Availability.” The subject matter of these poems is what one might expect: quasi-lists of things that are available and of ways to be available. But they also go further than that; much of the language is recycled and recontextualized in each poem. Even the forms change; some just pour down the page, and others are neatly tucked into in even stanzas.

Some begin like stories: “In the midst of darkness, this presence / is also always and it will be it…” Others start in medias res: “What is also is always.” But to look at the idea of availability from the point of view of someone who has occasionally been made available or who seeks availability calls into question just what it is one looks to be available for, and at last, the many methodical ways in which the concept itself can be deconstructed.

While all of these poems broke my heart, the one I marked up most was “Exhaust”:

streaming exhaust
out of a pip that leads to the heart of the world
where great things are constantly being created
from scratch


cares about now. Fuck the moment. I want the next
one, and the one after that: result, proceeding, the dark
heart of it out of reach of the streetlight, flashlight,
motion-detector floodlight you installed
to keep the world out of your heart.

The poignancy of this greed for more and more moments weighs heavy on the chest; the image of the floodlight as protector of the heart made me think of the way one might move around slowly late at night, understanding that the lights are motion detectors and that turning them on is a bad thing. The tender and careful feeling I get from this makes my own heart feel less exposed if only because I am reminded that there are other little hearts out there guarding themselves as well.

The title Our Aperture cleverly suggests joint ownership of the speaker’s split. It can be read as collective sigh and protection, or as instance of failure—of flaw or blip that is unfortunate but unavoidable, as many things turn out to be when reasoned enough. The last poem, “Any Vanishing Point is as Good as This,” reflects this:

of the family viewed only from above
from such a distance that love disappears.

Perhaps there is a limit to love’s extensions and perhaps the place where this is true is safer.