‘Eruv’ by Eryn Green

Eryn Green
  • COLDFRONT RATING: four
  • PUBLISHED BY: Yale University Press
  • REVIEW BY: Connor Fisher

 

“movement, spirit / affixed to tomorrow”

 

Eruv

In his foreword to Eryn Green’s first book, Carl Philips praises Eruv’s attempts to articulate and access paradise; the poems are propelled by their desire for—and realization of—a complex and natural worldly unity. As a part of this yearning for the paradisiacal, beginning with its title and consequent associations, Eruv draws momentum from a concern with motion: it transgresses spaces both physical and immaterial. In a brief note preceding the manuscript, Green writes that “On the Sabbath, carrying objects or bodies from one domain to another is prohibited by the Torah. An eruv (Hebrew: mixture) is a ritual enclosure that opens private and public spaces, fashioning a larger home out of shared alleys and courtyards . . . . An eruv is best understood as a doorway . . . .”

Said transgression informs both the formal construction of poems and their thematic concerns. Addressing the former, Eruv manifests a common formal construct: a poem will be divided in two by a dashed line (or, in longer poems, by a single em-dash or section sign: “§”). This line can function as a mirror—it asks the reader to abstractly equate the two sides of the poetic equation, unbalanced though they may be. Alternately, the line establishes a border that the reader must cross over in order to complete the poem, a transgression towards unity with a modality drawn from physical eruvs.

An example from “First Walk:”

 

1

This formal technique is likewise reflected in the poems’ thematic concerns—transgression, crossing into or out from another space or being, is a means of generative action within Eruv. Green sees the self not as a traditional psychological subject, defined by uncovered unconscious motives and traits, but as an entity moving in constant discourse with exteriorities: the material outer world, the others which inhabit it, and the subject’s body. For Green, these “non-selves” challenge our ways of thinking about ourselves and force individuals to reckon with the generosity, love, and elusive utopias present within the world. Eruv prompts us to see ourselves as mirrored in nature and interwoven with it; we are not static observers, gazing out from a stable position. Rather, the world is a rich and real locale to be skidded through and penetrated, despite occasional resultant bouts of estrangement and loneliness.

Green finds wonder in the commonplace and its ability to draw individuals into a larger expanse that drifts beyond arbitrary and self-imposed limits. Yet the book is not naïve or falsely optimistic—it acknowledges the pitfalls and false hopes present within any utopic gesture. Green’s alleged search for paradise does not project utopic visions upon a receptive eternal world. Perhaps, for Eruv, the utopic is always already present with the others and the world—regardless, it is the responsibility of the poet (and the subject) to be themselves transformed, to engage an immanent paradise mollified by elements utterly beyond control or understanding. Consequently, Green’s pursuit of the utopic and the willing openness of the self that accompanies paradisiacal exploration presents as a pragmatic, ethical necessity rather than a fanciful escapade or a pastime.

From “Bon Vivant:”

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 17.19.51

 

And in “Listening Choir,”

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 17.20.32

 

This is the final result of Eruv’s transgressions and mirroring—even as the poems are themselves mirrored or altered on the page, they are driven by an impetus to move forward, to discover and encounter spaces in selves and others that gesture to nature, to love, and to freedom. No space is beyond the limits of scrutiny; the book dismisses false boundaries between inside/outside much as physical eruvs diminish the physical boundaries of walls and houses. Green’s masterful work advocates an uncommon gratitude that absolves us of our petty selfishness and gently urges readers to move forward with the poet into a tentative transformation brought by the wonder and oddity of nature.