“The stranger morning that would come”: Betty Adcock’s Rough Fugue and Claudia Emerson’s Claude Before Time and Space

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Betty Adcock and Claudia Emerson both write in a Southern tradition not so much agrarian as it is domestic. Like other Southern women poets before them—here I’m thinking especially of their press-mate, the late Eleanor Ross Taylor—both poets hew close to the trappings of daily life: a gravel road, a mirror, an axe, a cup, a match. The natural world is very present for them too, but it’s nearly always in its intersection the domestic sphere. My favorite image from Emerson’s work, for example, will forever be Late Wife’s snake curled up in a silverware drawer. In the case of the collections presently under consideration, both poets make use of the materials of everyday life to consider death. Death, after all, is one of those moments when the natural world makes its presence known despite all we’ve done to domesticate our lives. In Adcock’s Rough Fugue, the death most present is that of her husband, Donald. In Emerson’s Claude Before Time and Space, the death is her own.

To Timothy Murphy, Regarding Russell and Remington

I tell you, Tim – if manly Charlie Russell
And Frederic Remington were still around,
The former, at-it with his gaucho muscle –
The latter, at-it with his Indian mound –
Each one would lay aside his paints, immerse
His brush in turpentine, pick up your verse,
And, having read one line, would cry, “Astound-
Ing!” Mine? Each man would mouth it as he frowned,
Mind wandering to desert regions cursed
By women trading wampum counterfeit,
And turn aside to brass spittoons, and spit.
Their jaws, they’d clench, their booted toes, they’d curl,
Pretending not to recognize a girl
To mutter, in those male minds, “Mother Wit!”

Putting Back to Sea

Last night we motored, then we sailed again,
first on our Fugle, mammoth twin V-8s
threading the intracoastal’s red/green gates,
then on our Sabre, strong seafaring men,
Alan’s leukemia not lymphoma yet,
his belly not yet bloated like a ball.
Under the Tuttle Bridge we heeled the tall
top hamper of our navy sloop and met
oncoming power boats that yielded way.
Then we steered seaward out of Biscayne Bay.

It is about ten years since last I sailed,
not even Alan’s Hobie. Memory
comes creaming back, turbulent on my lee.
We brush each headland that we ever nailed
and dream of every mountain pass we scaled.

The Pillars of Creation

The universe is not collapsing back.
From the verandas of the violet
Republic, we are coming to know the end
Already happened years ago, the light
Only now catching up to us.

The pillars meet a supernova
And at light speed seem to die
For a long time. By the time Andromeda
Is our permanent firework, someone
Is watching us, and we are ghosts.

Simple Machine

You buried your face in the seine’s laces
and squinted at the reasons for our losses.
They blanketed you. One might say the seine

became a figure for the weight of sin.
One might say it was merely an old net.
Waterlogged, was it heavier than night?

Heavier than a body, waterlogged?
The pollywogs in its folds were hind-legged.
They seemed to you quite incidental.

One’s tail was replaced with the absence of tail.
Sutured the seine as a doctor would a thigh,
one imagines. Didn’t you use zip-ties, though?

Performance and Thingification: Linguistic Action vs. the Indigenous Literatures of Dawnland Voices

Indigenous writers from New England have always understood that the charge of language goes beyond the parochial and subjugating applications of Euro-centric interpretations; one need look no further than Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Voices from New England to find a divergent conception of language as a performance tool. Nonetheless, in many ways the Schagticoke, Mohegan, and Penobscot people in particular, among many other tribes from the North Eastern United States, fully embrace English philosopher J.L. Austin’s theories of language and performance. Indeed, they have been embracing these ideas for thousands of years via the conduit of oral tradition.

Ecstasy’s Prosody: The “suasive turnings” of Stephen Cushman’s Hothead

Hothead
by Stephen Cushman
(LSU Press, 2018, $19.95, 88pp.)

. . . [anxiety] thins the rhythms, rushing into longish gaits, more
distance in less material time: it hates clots, its stump-fires

level fields: patience and calm define borders and boundaries,
hedgerows, and sharp whirls: anxiety burns instrumentation

matterless, assimilates music into motion, sketches the high
suasive turnings, mild natures tangled still in knotted clumps.

from “Anxiety’s Prosody” by A. R. Ammons

A Truce with Disillusionment: On David Yezzi’s Black Sea

Black Sea
by David Yezzi
(Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2018. 72 pp., $15.95)

A current list of David Yezzi’s poetry volumes, running adjacent to the title-page of his fourth full collection, invites a double-take. It’s not as if one doubts Yezzi’s prolificacy as a poet, critic, and editor (in which last function, I’ll disclose, he has taken stuff of mine for The New Criterion and The Hopkins Review). Rather, Yezzi’s poems display him always testing, always learning, whether something about himself or about the shifty relations kept by patterned verse forms and fluid intent. There’s a youthful character to these investigations, as if each lyrical moment presented him an opportunity not only for personal growth or reflection, but also for exploring how the more chaotic elements of everyday life can be stabilized by his earnestly playful idiom.