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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Lawless gives us country music in a pitch of shaggy desolation, that “car in the crabgrass by the shed” and the store selling “gopher poison and heavy-duty grease for tractor gears.” This ain’t pastoral, it’s real, lived in, used hard and damn near used up. The shadow of foreclosure and the perpetual suck of corporate siphons lends a certain tone, as does the accumulated waste of work, “the sorry gnarls / of roller chain and flat chain, and wildflowers / growing through bear traps” out by the creek. But there’s a harshness to nature, too; barbed wire is nothing compared to hard frost. In winter, we get “Grass shoots, ice-crippled, hobbled with rime” while come summer the night hours are “barn-dark and God-hot,” peppered over with “Knuckles of stars, dry parings of ago.”
None of which hints at anything like pessimism; rather, there’s an appreciation for it all, a wonderment in the way things appear and feel and how words, if handled with skill and care and maybe just a little luck, can come to speak such sights. Here’s a book that recognizes the sublime in the gleam of Vaseline on tick heads left embedded in flesh once the bodies have been fragged up and tweezered away. Lawless even tackles migraines, finding in that experience a unique optics and therefore a unique poetics, giving song to human phenomenon even when crippling. That collapse should be the way of things, part of a well-considered design, repeats as a theme here, from barns built “to fall apart / a certain way” to the stone piles fanning out when a wall slumps back to earth. Or maybe such collapse is merely a matter of perspective, how the horizon is set or seen. One particularly arresting image from this excellent collection comes when two boys rig a bedsheet between trees and, with magic markers, outline human figures to blast “with shot and slugs,” “gut and crotch,” shooting “until the faces fray and all you see are trees and fields...” until “finally, they just shoot the trees and fields.” Straight through the thing into the thing itself, shredding the near in a gesture toward the infinite. My words don’t do it justice, the work of this book. Far Away is a useful tool for seeing and for thinking about being in the world.
Official Gregory Lawless Web Site
Official Red Mountain Press Web Site