Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dawn Martin Lundy, _Discipline_

HER SECOND BOOK, and quite different from her first. A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering gravitated towards the jarring, disjunctive, and elliptical formally, towards anger and grief tonally, but Discipline often sounds calm, purposeful, elegant. Not that it lacks for the jarring and disjunctive, exactly, but there is a stateliness to some of these poems--p. 15, for instance--that feels years and worlds away from the verging-on-inarticulacy of AGoM/AMoG. Even the trauma, so alive and trembling in the first book, seems almost stilled: "Finally, all is quiet. No more weeping and begging. I waited all my life for my father to die and when he did I felt empty."

Most of Discipline is prose poems, tonally varied but somehow feeling very unified, rather like Jennifer Moxley's The Line. Ironically, writing in prose liberates the lyrical impulse that was often blocked or resisted in AGoM/AMoG. The rhythms are freer and more audible here, the syntax more expansive, the imagery more fantastical, so the prose poems sound more like "poems," so to speak, than the texts of the first book did.

But one sees connections, too. Subjecthood and identity remain urgent topics: "Always the I is fissure recklessly yearning for its whole self sense of wholeness like a potato." The gender conundra have not gotten any simpler of resolution, either: "I realize the other women in the house think I am not a woman who belongs in the house."

Yet somehow, while the past is still all back there, its power has diminished.

There is this place where the I is am now and there is no place. Some say that it might all emanate from a place of youth as if a place of youth is the original place, but I do not believe this. That this me that might have also happened in some original place, but there must have been a me there. Or maybe I dreamed it. Maybe this is all there is.

For most of us, chronology creates priority, the past is the inflexible iron determinant of the present--but is it? Isn't there also a kind of radical autonomy to the present? Are we never anything but revisions of our childhood selves? It is startling and a bit refreshing for someone to say, "I do not believe this."

This passage is followed by a short poem about pennies. "Do not smell them," the poet writes. "Do not taste their rough, dirty, metallic favor, their / hinting of some other world." The penny has been places, it has a history, even an investigable history if we are willing to smell and taste it, but the penny's functionality in the present has not much to do with that past. Should we focus on where the penny has been, or is that to miss the point?

At the same time, you can tell from the imagery that the poet has tasted a penny or two.

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