Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Maintain (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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“Let us return to the discipline,” begins Joe Fletcher’s Already It Is Dusk, a clean strong line in a book veined through with clear strong lines. There is some degree of scattershot, too, to the poems as compositions—sometimes sharply and refreshingly so, as when the “skin of ice / on the lake” is stitched, via a gathering wind, to “the sign of a pawnshop,” rattling, but sometimes less so, as when “Two sisters disappear into Madagascar,” apropos of “cloudy tincture” (27) or thick-gloved laborers gasping “a cable bundle in the estuary basin.” The discipline here is one that coils such lines, sets words in sequence to spell out startling pieces like “Bristle” or “Reach Me My Things.” If sometimes there is an embarrassment of riches in these pages, there is at least always richness—bodies attest “to years of physical exertion, / a plentiful diet of beef and greens” while certain children are “gorged and delirious with sweetmeats.” So too these poems are, at times, gorged and delirious. It is a rapturous discipline, or a discipline at play mending the hems of rapture, “wringing dew”—to quote one poem’s beginning—“from a white sail stretched overnight in a meadow.” Fletcher’s imagination is unfurled and windswept; his craft has a firm grasp, torque, and method.
But for all our-world-ness of turns here—“sweet diesel cloy of exhaust,” to cite one gorgeous wisp, or, in the somber “Wounded Americans,” the setting, a “square beneath / the scrawled obelisk and its idiot thrust / toward a drained sky...”—there are also poems about a fantastic other-world-ness. One presents a creepy train ride into the Urals, atmosphere read through a painting hung above a cot. “And the musculature of the animals was too pronounced, as if they had atrophied in those strained positions, unable to wrench themselves toward their unseen prey,” Fletcher writes, catching something essential of the nightmare. Another poem revisits the myth of the Green Man, lushly presenting some elemental essence of nature first in all its earthy particulars—“all his fairbooth shabbiness”—and then as a kind of irrational terror at the periphery...a terror of periphery itself.
To span such a spectrum is a task, but Fletcher offers evidence that the glare-green world of hungry fairies and an America strewn with jetsam are not necessarily dissimilar. His piece “I Am Young,” while firmly rooted to the real deerblinds of a real earth, echoed with occult significance, as if the trash encountered in swampland were also a text to be read. “I find a magnet and hold it to my head,” we read there, “until I feel dizzy.” And while ascent into the wilds on an antiquated train codes as a scene straight out of classic horror, what of the so-called realism of “Sharp-winged landfill birds careen. / A sniper practices on a frog”?
There are times Fletcher overextends. The Lovecraftian fever of “Another Tale,” wherein a man has vinegar rubbed into his scalp, “where the black rivers of my humors / were congested after nights lodged / in the womb of an anguished fixation” is just too much; likewise, an early opening line, “Today I forever lost my yesterday” smells like gum stuck long ago to a jukebox button. But page for page, Fletcher gives us remarkable phrasing and a range of engrossing moods.
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