Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lapsed Insel Weary

This is a review I wrote for CutBank, but it appears to have fallen through the cracks so I figured I'd post it here:

[ lapsed insel weary ]

Tangent Press, 2008
Reviewed by Steven Karl

[ lapsed insel weary ] is Susana Gardner’s first full-length collection of poems. The book opens with “[e v e n as a state of being]” which serves as an introduction to the collection, “color was so different as if in/ violent symphony sound a constant droning a numbing if you/ will but it is the color I miss not the sounds…/” Gardner links color to the similarity of a violent symphony then distinguishes her longing for that of the color and not the sound. Throughout [lapsed insel weary] Gardner proves to be a master at conflating idea through image then separating image and idea back into singulars. It becomes an effective trope because she allows the reader to become orientated into the image before disturbing or re-arranging the logic of the idea, in this way these poems function like a painting or a symphony— the eye takes in the overall image before focusing on a particular color, or one hears the music as a whole before the ear hones in on only one wood-wind. After this initial poem, the book is divided into four sections, [is not is not the], [lapsed insel weary], [to stand to sea], and [ [ [ CODA ] ] ].

Each of these sections explores the loss of love and its accumulative weight. Insel is German for island and much of Gardner’s book vacillates between the lush sereneness and absolute loneliness that comes with such isolation— for love is like an island, you are still a part of the world, yet your interior begins to reshape, which then reshapes the exteriors. There is something unhinged even wild and mesmerizing as this happens. Gardner’s poems are best when they capture this state of flux such as this excerpt of “[ from her ]”

… as and she has no buoy no
boat or song of this song a never knowing flitted
hollow early cast light shadow and streaming
woken with [confusion] of bird-call trained in this sea
she drifts in the cold river water drifts but through
tatted and recollected rows of salt and musk
far from everything she ever knew toward the open

A poem in thirty-four sections, “to stand to sea,” first appeared as a chapbook and I found myself going back to this section repeatedly. This is from section XIV, “ Without realizing such/ our arms, - thus arm/ became entangled” simply the movement of two becoming one and then, “So, you see/ it was difficult/ to use without you, / and for you – without me?” It’s subtle, yet the poet conveys the disorientation of becoming a separate singular again and questions whether the “he” also had trouble readjusting to his limbs that are no longer a shared entity.

The book ends in [ [ [ CODA ] ] ] which is a poem written entirely in brackets. The poet, Rodney Koeneke, conducted an interview with Susana Gardner on his blog, Modern Americans, ( and this is what he had to say about her use of brackets:

One thing I wrung my hands about in describing [lapsed insel weary] is the recurring use of brackets. The punctuation does a kind of violence to the lines by disrupting the ordinary flow of the syntax, closing off the phrase inside and putting it into an adversarial relationship with the rest of the sentence. At the same time, the brackets allow the phrasal units to connect in a looser, more modular way, opening up shifting semantic possibilities…

Koeneke describes the brackets as a “kind of violence," which is especially apt in the closing poem where Gardner manages to get two meanings, because while the whole seems a huge gash recklessly stitched, if you begin to examine each word as an individual there is hope and beauty. There is knowledge gained and a life lived with open eyes; there is not denial, or avoidance, but instead the fortitude of breath, which is continuance.

Quietly honed in its strange
willing— my blind trade-off of all else—
By sea of mapped interiors by sea of
this other other-mind— Our Solstice
Ever - turning

Or as in section XIX, “ Love, - has no beginning or ending but Only/
needs for Continuance.”

* my apologies, a lot of the spacing is off.

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