If Fire, Arrival
By a sneaky trick of the postal service I undeservedly received Julia Cohen's chapbook, If Fire, Arrival yesterday & I shared a cup of coffee with it this morning. I'm particularly enamored with her poem "Reins." It is both a poem of nostalgia of self-reflective disgust (or at least dismay) for this kind of nostalgia. What I love about it is that it is a personal, immediate poem but it is the attention to form & language that make it happen. It mixes dictions, it has conflicts of rhetorics, it makes demands. All in four lines.
When buckets and pails were our favorite words/units of measure what
did you want that the pretty day continue into pretty days
The photo booth took polaroids of nipples and neck my head was never
in the picture where is the culpability when we say the past or it passed
I whitewashed the disturbing symmetry to give you-- Dare you to find
what is more disturbing than a slate scraped clean
Is pure freedom what exists without love let's not paraphrase I never
said let it go or take me back I said tangle
I think each line is supposed to be one long line or a prose stanza, but I followed the breaks in the chapbook. Each stanza pushes the poem forward in new & fascinating ways. But what each does consistently is set up a tension tugging between a romantic approach & a self-reflectively disillusioned one.
I love how the opening line settles into a regular anapestic rhythm & the "/" pulls you right out if it. It makes me say "slash," which dissolves the nostalgic spell that the rhythm helps the somewhat precious images create. This preciousness continues as the "pretty day" that seems fine as an individual thing becomes sacharinely frightening as a potential eternity of "pretty days."
The eye of the photo booth perhaps stands in for a public eye, one that disregards that which cannot be objectified into correct feminine beauty. And just as I expect the stanza to confront this kind of eye, it instead returns to the issue of nostalgia, broadening it into an issue of how speaking creates the feeling of time gone. It does this through the elision of punctuation, smooshing the two sentences together, so that the two ideas, which are separate, cannot be unbound from each other.
The next stanza moves again into high abstraction, a Romantic place (does the disturbing symmetry recall the famous Blake line for you? Does the whitewashing seem like an attempt to find purity?), but then immediately undercuts it. The "Dare you" returns to a childish, brash voice and the stanza closes with a phrase that if I'd had too many gin drinks I might refer to as mot juste: "more disturbing than a slate scraped clean." I get the feeling that the language here overtakes the speaker; "more disturbing" is explanatory, ordinary language, but as the line closes the "slate scraped clean" crunches through your mouth. It becomes the fingernails on the chalkboard. It becomes a bone-crack.
The poem begins to close with the Romantic turn toward understanding & resolution but then breaks this with the embedded sentence "let's not paraphrase," which becomes funny to me out of context but within the poem is weary & straightforward. To call a set of experiences "love" is a form of categorization, paraphrasing. Within the situation of this poem it is nostalgia itself. Instead this speaker, while not fundamentally rejecting them, is tired of the forms the love takes in language, the cliches of "let it go or take me back." These cliches are not the experience, they are the nostalgic fantasy of experience. To "tangle" seems somehow more true. One becomes entangled with another. You can call it love--but there are tricks to that, as there are with "past" & "passed."
I could go on. But I think you should just read it yourself. Go here & drop five bucks on her. What else would you do with it, buy a whole pocketful of Pop Rocks? donate it to a worthy organization working for social change?