Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Here Is How It Happens (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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This small chapbook seeks to represent moments and modalities, fractions of narratives or merely the whiff of a narrative implied by a glance of a scene. The project here is in some ways reminiscent of haiku, with language wrangled into testifying to something outside the scope of description itself. Here, for instance, is one whole piece, aiming at something outside language:
The man buys milk
from a man who sells milk.
Later, the man pours milk
into a glass.
He brings the glass
to his lips
pauses. He does this
seven or eight times
There are scenes of absurdity—a man climbs into a dumpster, or, more extreme, and with more pathos, a man climbs into a laundry machine—and scenes of what might be quiet desperation. Animals kill each other, are killed. Banal thoughts and observations abound, and are presented as such, like a catalog of the everyday consciousness: “He’s on the bed, thinking about pizza” or a child perks up upon hearing the word “dinosaurs” or “A trash truck beeps down the street in the rain” or—and this is the entirety of one poem, entitled “While Eating Eggs”—“A beeping. / It can’t be a trash truck, though. // It’s not Friday.”
There are risks to such an approach. Some of the pieces here seem like scribbled thoughts, sketches rather than compositions, and not interesting sketches. But what Bosworth is going for is something startling in its clarity, the commonplace held up to a new angle of light:
The factory workers park their cars
close to the walls of the factory.
It keeps the frost off their windshields.
It’s the presence of the thing, the heat.
That’s what the third shift workers say.
There we get a sense for the sinews of the syntax, the shrug of the saying of it all; this bit of banality is striking precisely because it is the taken-for-granted framed and spot-lit. Bosworth does not achieve this with the majority of pieces here, but it’s a fascinating and inspiring quest. One poem which doesn’t work as well as those lines about the factory—“the thing, the heat”—can be read as a commentary on the project as a whole. In it, a man and a woman do some everyday act of nothing in a room with Venetian blinds on the windows, blinds which “when turned open // in different ways, manipulate the direction of the outside / world / and also the direction of the inside world // but only if the outside world / is looking in.” If this chapbook of sketches is something like a rehearsal, practice at, this particular, slanted way of looking out and in, then there’s every reason to look for whatever Bosworth assembles next—hopefully a stronger selection of more painstakingly crafted views of the commonplace, glimpsed through minutely adjusted blinds.
Official Mel Bosworth Web Site
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