T.C. MARSHALL Reviews
What’s in Store: Poems 2000-2007 by Trevor Joyce
(Dublin & Toronto: New Writers’ Press & The Gig, 2007)
Second Nature by Jack Collom
(Berkeley, Boulder, & Brooklyn: Instance Press, 2012)
Variety Shows in the Heart of Entertaining Ideas
Variety, sure, that’s one watchword you could take with you through Trevor Joyce’s What’s in Store: Poems 2000-2007, but the book is very much a whole too. The cover claims that “a continuous booklength structure” has been built here out of eight years of poems. That’s something most poets would like to make in order to show the on-going focus in the shifts of their work. Trevor Joyce has done it nicely and loosely enough that the structure does not intrude too much. If you don’t skip the contents pages v & vi, you get a view of this structure on those “Contents (in brief)” leaves. It is necessary, in fact, to look there to see that the first two dozen pieces are “Folk Songs from the Finno-Urgic and Turkic Languages.” You will also see that there are “Notes,” “Acknowledgements,” and a “Contents (expanded view)” at the end of the book. This clever way of framing the contents as a new whole while showing where the pieces came from and have appeared before can be missed by the usual reading that goes straight to the first poem. The other demand in this concept comes from the way the book calls upon the reader to incorporate its variety and disparities into a continuous reading. It is enjoyable to do so, especially for someone already a reader of Joyce’s works, because it gives them a freshness all over again. However, this structure is a risk taken, for it requires a suspension of closure as the reader makes her way from the Finno-Urgic workings through the Euro-density of “Stillsman” and working from the Irish and Chinese and Hungarian with lyrics both abstract and imagistic along the way.
Every piece has its value, but the most unique contributions come from some lyric poems that refuse to depend upon the image. That mainstay of poetry is superceded in bits like the untitled poem on page 37:
It’s a poem that describes the poems that perform this newish thing, and it mocks them a little even while being one of them. Thinking is foregrounded in these poems rather than “details” or “specific / effects.” There are plenty of poems in this book that use image as part or in whole while they make their sense for us and with us, but there are these others. One, also untitled, is on page 34:
to account for
is it best
but the sheer
All the terms of this poem are noticeably abstract thinking terms, especially the nouns. The poem could be said to be describing, again, such a poem as itself. It also goes beyond that as it comments on the urge to “account for” such thinking or writing by developing a “continuity” for it, a “reason” of cause & effect that would defeat the “unexpectedness” retroactively. The next page in the book, working toward that “hard words” one on 37, begins with a more usual kind of “unexpectedness”:
Here we have the noun “time,” both abstract and experiential to us humans, brought face-to-face with the object “clock” and our “face-bones” and “voice.” The work done in these stanzas and the remainder of the poem, ending “leaves / speech / abraded / of affect,” engages the function of images to make an abstract thought real to us. This is the familiar work of poetry, and it is done well throughout this book. Still, the small brilliant effort seems to come in those poems that unexpectedly avoid the image.
“Stillsman” is a tour-de-force at the middle of the book, though its publication dates from the latter part of the period gleaned here. Its compositional placement here between sets of tightly focused short-lined lyrics makes it stand out fiercely. There are other pieces later in the book written in prose-poem sentences and featuring “new sentence” juxtapositions and prosody, but “Stillsman” stands out with its bold type and its bold piling on of syntax. It is reminiscent of Phillippe Sollers’ H and yet even more divergent than that long one-sentence novel within sentence forms. There are a dozen sentences in Joyce’s ten-page poem, each a few hundred words long. They run on as we do in breathless speech, and they mix contexts and referents as well as tones. The piece ends “sonet notes stone tones onset” (152). It all makes sense just as that phrase does, while jazzing things up. It is a fun poem to read aloud. Somehow its poetic moves illuminate all the other poems in the book. For instance,
of all those pianos
with their white
in anticipation of toccatas.
reads differently after seeing “Stillsman” play the dictionary pianistically. What’s in Store, as a title, seems to refer back to this sense of the word-hoard. As a book, it is made of truths told with each word in lapidary masonry.
Another recent admirable collection of writings shaped carefully at every level from word to book is Jack Collom’s Second Nature. It is centered on the poet’s focusing concern with eco-poetics and biology. It too has a prosey piece that is a fulcrum to its weight: “Bio Bio” comes late in the volume but serves as a center for it and has a poem of that title at its center. That poem (198-202) is a masterful meditation that reads as a diaristic record of a day but presents a life in portrait through its sensibility. Collom’s book seems aimed to do this, working with poetry’s habits to insist on “the play of nature and art” (v) as knowledge can “blossom” (iii) in it where their interplay is recognized. “This book is composed of poesie and prose about nature,” says the preface before it spends a few pages unfolding those terms. “I think the basic point is Variety,” claims the poet.
Second Nature goes about showing that variety in poetic approaches and ideas from and about nature through several essay pieces, some meditations, and a lively assortment of poems. Some are simple; some are even silly. Some are grand; some are bound around the tongue as organ. There are echoes of Bunting, McClure, Cage, Dorn, and others; there are even critiques of familiar nature poetry voices: “Nature poetry need not be gentlemanly speeches addressed to a small child” (107). There’s gory weird allegory almost à la Gorey in “Oil” (116-117). There is a great deal of the kind of imagery we are used to, but there is also a critique of essentialist imagism (119). Context is emphasized versus too close a view in verse (148). Image, myth, and history are asserted as a natural progression for thinking (185 & 187), and natural history is offered as a model for any historicizing or poesis.
The best expressions of this are in “Bio Bio” late in the book and in this whole first poem:
3 – 4 – 00
at Walden Pond. Redwings
singing, plump Canadas
say the starlings. Song-sparrow
song breaks into
delicacies I’ve never heard before.
on pink smear
below three pictures:
pasture, pits and refuge.
somewhere south of James.
swimming near the far (north) shore.
like ‘live scars;
happening up there.
Sewage domes as ever
silver the north edge. Long’s
Plane and glider…
everything turns blue
and I wonder again,
who’s pushing who?
That just about gets it all together: the observing image, the careful thought, the plain juxtaposition, and the playful turn in singing talk. You’ll have to read the whole book to get the variety of forms.
Variety is the watchword for reading these two collections, these two fine poets, their many voices, their true perspectives from Colorado or from Cork or anywhere.
T. C. Marshall lives near Fall Creek in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains where he used to walk regularly with Norman O. Brown; Tom claims to be able still to hear the wise old codger singing Morenita Mía on the trail and asking sharp questions about the biome. Some of Tom’s own creative works in progress can be seen at postlanguage.blogspot.com, on YouTube, & at maizepoem.blogspot.com. His next performance to be YouTubed will come in the Spring and be called something like “Face their Violence or Face the Music.”