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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Characters speak in these poems, to and of each other, their relationship, those things that wax distance between them—travel by water, the birth of a child, time, time, and always the noise and fade of time.
The pieces here express pangs about such loss, such fading, such a trajectory, making lament banal, ubiquitous: “I think of you reading a book by a new friend. / You will never know him.” or “they opened King Tut’s tomb. Who cares? / I buried some part of you years ago.” In the third person, one character chastises himself with knowledge of himself: “Admit you forget her again and again. That at times you read her letters / out of obligation.” But like the moon—which matters, here, cycling, in photographs and five accompanying postcards of that cycle of images, by Gwynne Johnson—absence doesn’t mean something isn’t there, just that the light is gone, or the thing is no longer buoyant enough to keep above the waves. Light and water recur here, in myriad roles. The stars “haven’t gone anywhere, or if they have will return.” “You suggest I write a poem to string / between branches, or one of gesture / unfolding across sky. A poem about absence as something / other than a clutching underwater / or nothing in the water to clutch for.” Light curves, reflects. “Daylight moths through the blinds.” At one point, fish scales, knifed free from the creature, cover clothes and hair. A boat journey is undertaken, around the world, necessitating communication via letter.
The epistolary here brings intimacy, that direct whisper, that smell of a voice—“You must think I’m only able to write of wanting.”—but as we’ve already seen with that line about obligation, the book brushes past the easy romance of this mode, to the lived truth. The written voice can linger forever, but its emotional significance, its relevance even, also fades. The loss inherent in the use of language—that process of becoming faint, of lying “behind a levee of silence”—is central here, too. Clark’s characters muse on that which cannot be recalled through language, on instances where the words are simply denied, erased: “At a rest stop I abandoned my phone when it filled with messages.”
At the same time, words here act as the compass needle, that which centers and casts the circle. And many of the words combined here are urgent, fresh as the silver of a fish that breaks from the surface and flies alongside the bow, for a while. “Assume your country is in some sort of mourning or having a parade.” for instance, or “I’m charmed how he cats around the pool table, when his words basket, buckle, or break.” And while loss is recognized as inevitable, such reality hardly casts a shadow on the project of writing or of life, to the vital, present breath of existence or the act of giving such breath song and form: “But why allow life to become a frail bone you settle on until it snaps. Why not eat what you can and carry the rest in salt, paper, and twine. Why not walk with purpose through the undergrowth, toward the moon of forest clearing you remember and trust to still exist.”
Official Ben Clark Web Site
Official Thoughtcrime Press Web Site