Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Joseph Bradshaw. The Way Birds Become. Weather Press.


One of the most focused and fully realized books I’ve read in a long time, Bradshaw’s The Way Birds Become is an aesthetic project that far surpasses the constraints it sets for itself. Each poem begins with or builds from a line captured from another writer’s poem & the effect of this cacophonous chirping is surprisingly unified; even with these poems “all broken, singing / different songs” the reader gets a sense of one epic movement. The pleasure here is tied generally to two effects: 1) that of seeing theory/constraint put into practice successfully & 2) that of following the workings of one mind on a single, & constantly blooming, topic.

In practice, each of these poems are full of mysterious aphorisms, hazy folk wisdom from the back of the brain that feels right:

If you look out a window from within a bird

you’ll be frightened by the idea

that it’s an eye […]


That’s mostly how these poems develop, direct statements with syntactic or grammatical clauses added that either clarify or change the underlying ideas. These poems are almost devoid of ego; though occasionally they seem to reference something particular – some moment recollected or some situational emotion – the stakes here are decidedly processual, in motion, each poem presented as “evidence / of a sounding.” Even without the development or intimacies of an easily locatable “I” speaker, the poems here are conversational, visionary without all the heady pronouncements & unapproachable exteriors.

Bradshaw ends the poem “E—Hitchcock, The Birds (1963)” with a kind of explanation / apologia for the collection as a whole:

[…] birds become roads after they’re

transformed into and from the weather they once forecasted.

The Way Birds Become exists in the balance of inspiration & impulse, & demonstrates that the surest way inside can be facilitated by forces from the outside.


Maryrose Larkin. inverse. nine muses books.


Built out of obsessive clarifications & a desperate compulsion to reference, to provide support for, inverse presents the reader with an almost completely effaced speaker whose main concern is the attempt to know & communicate. Rather than residing in the self & structuring that self around & through the perceptions of a central consciousness, the poem(s) takes as its subject the very logic of knowing. When we read the phrase “between theories waking life” we’re forced to understand that this work is asking us to integrate our capacities for “logic” & “reason” in the Romantic sense – our abilities to think & feel.

Throughout, the provisional nature of knowledge is what seems to be under the most scrutiny; if the speaker has to go to such great lengths to accurately articulate anything, then is knowledge itself flawed. Is knowing something helpful or even necessary?

The name of this intersection is frost broken up

heavy spar reign heavy phrase ravishment

strands careening

let us unfurl instead: weather

see also river

see also self and the less restricted sense

I’d have a hard time tracing what the speaker is getting at here, in the traditional sense, but if we give up on that, of ever knowing exactly what, then I think we’re closer to the point. Larkin’s project here seems to be the interrogation of knowledge, creating the sense that we can achieve a larger scale of perception both through intellect & outside of it. “Come,” the poem tells us:

[…] expound breath intelligible

come shine

come abound unfold in and about go


Dan Machlin. Dear Body:. Ugly Duckling Presse, 2007

Through missives dotted with lackadaisical phrases as well as more abstract convictions, Dan Machlin has written a book where the overall integrity is nested in the form itself, an epistolary certainty that this “cluster bomb of a man” can deliver a sustained and unified self (“Letter 1”).

The epistolary form itself is an important element to the book; Machlin couches all of his lyric utterances in the context of being addressed. Beyond that, the mixing of distinct registers within these communiqués keeps the reader constantly alert. There is a linguistic fuzziness to some of the work—not that the referents are confused, but that it seems, at times, as if the consciousness of the poem is unsure of what it wants to say, is still finding its sense. Take these lines from “Letter in which it is Explained”:

We were always speaking so small it snowed
I thought or the occult of
having each of us in this place.

There is definitely a procession to the logic here, but it is frustrated by the fact that it doesn’t quite add up. These moments, though, of quiet yet dazzling mystery coupled with an oddly confident progression, are part of what helps the reader construct a unified sense of Machlin’s overall project.

Another key is in the constant questioning that serves as the ostensible base for many of the poems. “Letter 2” begins:

So far in this insignificance I can’t say how I left you. How I felt the last dance
of a pulse—a cloud and—as a cliché mid-sentence—proverbial stuttering.

Here we have the same type of diction already noted; the first sentence offers a kind of bombastic statement that ends in muted defeat and leaves us without any real intellectual grasp of its meaning. But the trajectory of this poem reveals something deeper, as we find on arriving at the last lines:

Lately I have been feeling estranged from you again. Doubtful
you ever existed.

Leaving aside the larger (and here completely unimportant) concern of whether “you” is a real person, the overall dynamic of loss and uncertainty helps further define Machlin’s purpose.

Dear Body: is a rich book. There is real pleasure in reading the poems (see the inclusive virtuosity of “Fifth Letter” and the counter-intuitive beauty of “Waste Stream”), but there is also the greater challenge inherent in ascertaining whether we are more than the sum of the parts we can easily name and tabulate. As Machlin writes in “Fifth Letter”, “No we were not just pleasant beings gazing into the sun.” This book is offered as evidence to our complexity.