Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013). 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.
To send your new book to decomP for possible review, see our guidelines. To find out what’s currently under consideration, visit our review queue.
We have cupcakes, pinecones, “foil-wrap wings.” We have bottles and high heels, an apple, cream cheese, ink, the bark of a certain species of tree—idiom and accent, vernacular in tongue and botanical variety. We have a patch of moss, Lorca, books on pilgrimage, “a newspaper hat in the rain,” and exhaled breath inside “a thousand balloons.” We have stitches and their measure, distances of various sorts, “palm cup / clay doorstep,” a mode of travel which is “mapless, unguided,” guttered by wide white margins and occasionally marked with signposts in foreign script.
In these pages, ghosts speak of yogurt, or at least say the word, which carries more than one clear meaning; “a fingerprint into wet clay” does more than merely point but, rather, signifies multitudes, generating myriad scenes and scents and meanings. Japanese characters play a part here, too, ideograms, the untranslatable-yet-translated, characters “dashing like birds,” as hands gesture, flail, dance. In a note at the end of the text, Halebsky says “The poems in this collection come out of a process of making meaning across languages, trying to account for the uneven shifting and the continual failing to find an equivalency,” as such, a Japanese-English dictionary provided one source, a portal into language, as did translation work and the author’s experience of butoh, “a movement between languages . . . from spoken language to a language of dance that seeks to reject the rules of language, grammar, and the confines of established form.” This is the dance, the trip through the dictionary, flailing and stumbling and soaring, without attention to “the confines of established form,” that Halebsky seeks to replicate here, with poems that speak of “things that can’t sustain being looked at directly,” that sing of
window frames, rooftops, fences and fields, bony hips knobby knees, the dancing of Antonia Mercé, I have torn off all the layers, I have looked straight into the darkness, I have called spirits of the dead, I have let them take my voice, take my body, I have brought back what I have lost and danced here with them, my mother, my sister, the hears hungry and burned.
Bundles of words steep in these poems, language as a condensed form of memories, voices, feelings, scents. Halebsky is less about the madeleine, as a metaphor, than the tea. Here is how she parses out the first part of the comment “I was like, beautiful,” three lines down: “I was like to mean the whole of me.” Here is her articulation of “the primary colors: plum, pine, bamboo / liquor, denim, daybreak” Mount Fuji meets the racetrack, porcelain and Ginsberg, “...18 scoops of ice cream / a four-lane highway, a 747,” and a suggestion of matrimony, all existing in a constellation. It is not the poet’s task to swirl these associations, but, rather, to testify to their intricate relation, to the way words work in our lives, their effervescent progression, as when a poem’s narrator contemplates “things that fall: rain, baby birds, piecrusts / spatulas, feathers, bridges, volcanic ash, broken kites,” thus witnessing a whole world, born of a concept, a sound, a star-field of signification into which we are thrown via a mere verb. A refreshing take on the dynamics of language and the uses of poetry, Halebsky’s chapbook is a place well worth wandering around in, sprinkled with surprises and rewards.
Official Sixteen Rivers Press Web Site