Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kristi Maxwell, _Re-_

"A BOOK-LENGTH POEM about a couple" describes Re- accurately while giving an entirely misleading impression.

For one thing, there is no proper noun to be encountered, so the relationship rides out its vicissitudes in no particular place at no particular time. The text unfolds at a certain level of precise, surreal abstraction: "Hiccups and the sea share / a vulnerability should redundancy denounce them."

For another, much of the diction of the text seems generated by its own phonemes, improvising upon themselves As in--

     that they cancelled noon concealed it within a cloudy beaker


     that the lords should overlap and lapse into a quarrel


     cells might be salvaged. Lard from the carcass turned salve

--where an aural similarity becomes a quick leap into the oblique.

And then one notices the structural features, that the text's four (like the seasons?) sections each have twelve (like the months of the year?) poems, and that the later poems contain spoonfuls of earlier ones, like sourdough starter. The last line of the first section's third poem is:

     to see the progress of the leisure?

The first line of the second section's third poem is

     The progress of their leisure was such

and its final line is one of those quoted above, "that the lords should overlap and lapse into a quarrel." That, in turn, bends itself into the first line of the third poem of the third section:

     Lords lap the quarantine

--and so on, as lines recur but not exactly, the familiar oddly new and the new oddly familiar, very much as in the unfolding actuality of coupledom.

Maxwell is a poet (like, I'd say, Jon Woodward) who can work within very particular and idiosyncratic constraints yet somehow convey the texture and mystery of the lived and the felt.  Many people, I have the impression, carelessly assume that highly formal poetry and and highly expressive poetry are opposite ends of some spectrum. But are they?  Not always, I think.

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