Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook 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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On the one hand, “Matisse / paints goldfish, but he’s really painting / the light. I never get tired of the light.” On the other, “If you can’t see through the fog, maybe you should / develop an interest in fog, said T.S. Eliot’s therapist.”
Here is a collection that contracts and pulses like the muscles that make up the walls of the heart’s rooms. A narrative voice speaks here of her obsession with death and obsession, too, with the minutia of language and its barbed relation to the world—formaldehyde and safe words, drummers who call themselves curators, cup as a verb and a noun and a sex symbol, how if what words do is “signify and everything signed has been said / already, scrambled only to be descrambled / in one last desperate linguistic grappling hook // on consensual reality,” when what’s the point here, really? This narrator thinks “about death / every time I floss, quit my band before / the first practice when the name I wanted // was, according to the Internet, already taken.”
Words matter, they name new arrangements, they make and break worlds, each one of them with a double valence, curing and killing. “A fireman puts out fires,” reads the first line in this collection, “an artist puts out / artist’s statements.” In another poem, “The spiral on a spiral notebook’s sharp enough / to pop a water-wing,” a weaponized writing tool, from journal to shank with one twist.
Fascination with “what could kill me” leads to a fatalistic euphoria: so the sun can burn your retina; one narrator says “fuck it, why stare at anything / that doesn’t blind you?, which is why / I am a poet but also why / I wear glasses.” And if you’re tuned in to it, you can relish the mere “pressure of sky on skin,” so who needs a supernova? The eventuality of death, when held in one’s consciousness, generates a rush, a high:
Further proof that I am not dead: a) I check out
War and Peace from the library in December
2012 and I look at its spine every day and I still
haven’t opened it once, I just keep renewing it, and
b) I’ve looked up the difference between metonymy
and synecdoche like nine times but I can never
keep them straight, yet I still can quote almost
all of Finding Nemo from memory.