review by José Angel Araguz
Drawing inspiration from German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which “states that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa,” Susan Lewis’ latest collection, Heisenberg’s Salon (BlazeVOX [books]), presents a prose poem collection that evokes the form’s surrealist traditions while expanding on its logic-making means.
One can see this idea of position and momentum reformulated in poetic terms in these lines from the title poem:
Every time she turned her back, the apartment rearranged itself. Each version created a home for another way of life.
From there, the reader follows the main character adapting to her constantly rearranging apartment, curling up and reading Victorian fiction when she “[discovers] the couch under the picture window,” and setting the next meal when “the dining table was there instead.” In a similar manner, the reader of this collection adapts to each poem’s engagement with and rearrangement of familiar linguistic territory. The aptly named “Indeterminacy” is a good example of adapting to rearrangement:
It was time for something, although she could not for the life of her imagine what. So she assumed her post on the stoop & waited for the future to declare itself. A tattered bird of dubious provenance landed on the banister & inspected her with his ancient gaze. She exhaled with emphasis, but otherwise managed to keep her preconceptions to herself. The old fellow cocked his head & screeched. Terrific, she said. How am I supposed to know if you’re the one I’m waiting for? Terrific, he squawked. How am I supposed to know if you’re the one I’m waiting for? I get it, she said, bravely extending her arm. I get it, he echoed, latching on with admirable decision. It was the last conversation they ever had.
Here, the first half of the poem positions two characters in places of waiting. There is a push and pull between interiority and meaning at work; because “she could not for the life of her imagine what” it was time for (keyword here being imagine, an act of interiority), she is forced to look outside herself. Thus positioned, the conversation that takes place in the second half of the poem works as momentum, giving the scene the urgency of question and response. The phrasing of a “tattered bird” also leaves things ambiguous; one can envision a parrot playing out the conversation that follows, merely echoing the other character. And yet, the choice to not be specific about the kind of bird it is leaves room for the fantastical. From this uncertainty, the imagining the other character was incapable of on her own becomes an outer moment of imagination via this “conversation” with the bird.
This transformation via uncertainty plays out for the reader much like the conversation plays out for the characters, strictly in the moment, in the rush as the pieces of the poem come together. There is a thrill in this kind of poetry that speaks of a sensibility awake to the materials at the core a poem, how to get the “tattered bird” of familiar language to say something new. As plot requires conflict, these poems point to lyricism as its pulse.
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Absence of the Loved
9781609642747, $16.00, www.blazevox.org
Many poems and poetry collections focus on the presence of love, but Absence of the Loved is about that aftermath where love is gone, poetically describing the void left behind, the process of passing into something else, and what happens when transformation and change confront a relationship: "This morning we were born for something else".
Winter mornings, maddened minds, the compulsive drives of love and passion, and possession all coalesce in passionate, emotional pieces that grasp the essence of not a light romantic dream, but the agony and ecstasy of bonding with another both physically and emotionally.
From the throes of breakup and pain ("When I'm not grieving I trumpet destruction") to the inevitable progress towards a turning point where grief turns to renewal, Absence of the Loved is a poetic breakup diary like no other, chronicling the intimate passage of days and pain with the deft precision of a romantic martyr as the writer considers the absence of one with a 'penchant for parting'.
Again and again the times before departure are analyzed and probed, the impetus for change considered, and the faded spark of love from which the inevitability of leaving reviewed: "One day I will go so you will at last understand/This simplest of lessons: everything flows."
How long will loss last when "what we are is made of half of each other's wholeness"? It may not be a lifetime, but these moments are perfectly captured in a poetic gathering of experiences that intricately chronicles just what the process of and pain of letting go involves.
However, "The Absence of The Loved" is not just about loss. Although it starts that way, there is a progression, and fans of poetry will appreciate the various depths and nuances of feeling. In the end the poet transfigures his loss into a vibrant, radiant presence. The young woman that he loved becomes a symbol for "the loved". In the moving final poem "You and You Again", the circle is closed, there is no more absence --- what remains is Amor.
Diane C. Donovan, Senior Reviewer
Donovan's Literary Services
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Wade Stevenson was born in New York City in 1945 and his first book Beds (McCall Publishing Co., 1970) was a poetry best seller. Other books followed, including The Little Book of He and She, Read more »
Congratulations to Daniel Borzutzky on winning the National Book award. Check out his BlazeVOX The Ecstasy of Capitulation Daniel Borzutzky here: http://www.blazevox.org/
"Daniel Borzutzky’s poems bespeak an amazing grasp of current nounage that the writer skillfully employs to achieve a piercing social and political critique. Little of current or recent history has immunity. Richard Milhous Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the matter of requisite allegiance to sexuality, linguistics, even leek soup, serve as springboards to a greater revelation brought about by the ruthlessly comic clarity of Borzutzky’s eyes and ears. The writer plants the spotlight on speakers of the poem who do not know that they can plead the Fifth. Yet even in his most successfully sardonic observations, Borzutzky never merely points the finger. In a virtuosic display of rhetoric, these speakers self-reveal, self-incriminate, and in so doing, take us down with them. For Borzutzky consistently brings to the poem the recognition that his subject is not restricted to these few isolated others, but, at root, to all of us. Joining its best-of-genre companions, The Ecstasy of Capitulation provides scathing critique of culture amid an underlying self-effacement that holds itself responsible and consistently depicts a sense of caring. Borzutzky’s is the honest intellect we have been waiting for, to show us what we are."
- Sheila E. Murphy
“After I first read Daniel Borzutzky’s poems in magazines, I became a hellhound on his trail, pursuing him over the oceans (he was in Turkey at the time) until I ran him to earth and shook more poems out of him. I wanted my students to read those poems and to write like Borzutzky, yeah, but, more importantly, to think like him. There’s a divine foolishness to these poems, a knuckleheaded clarity that allows the poet to ask “Are Nudists Nuts? (the question of our time, to my way of thinking) and to say “We approve of intersections but are opposed to streets in general” and “Out with mayors, in with majordomos” and “We have too many potholes. They should be filled with violets, or ideas.” The title of this book not only describes it but recommends it—far too many poetry books today are about the capitulation of ecstasy. I love these poems. Daniel Borzutzky for president.”
- David Kirby