Let me start by saying I am a Luddite at the best of times, old school, old fashioned, typewriter loving old fart. Much contemporary poetry confounds me, it raises my hackles when I should be paying more attention.
unmake me before morning,
unhitch the straps and pull
apart seams, discover the tracery
of faults and pour whiteness,
a lake of fluid, rake eraser
till paper is pressure-burnt,
a thousand time crossed
over, take my name
from the indexes, delete
appendices, cut this
branch at the quick
Christine McNair's Conflict is an excellent example of a book that provides many challenges to my poetic sensibilities. At the same time there are so many excellent poems that fulfill all my poetic requirements, aesthetic, imagined, self-aggrandized or otherwise.
My Problem With Machines
might have begun with the jolly jumper
swinging shit all over my mother's back wall
content as a lamb, crescent smile
then the bikes, always hobbling and
falling, the uneasy way my spine
curved over the handlebars
and the cars, the two I crashed
each broken at the centre, unfixable
a permanent scream of metal and glass
the plane is supposed to be safest,
walls curved against unpredictable
traffic crash acts of god
but the height tugs at my nervous
brings out mysterious hail marys
half-learned from a catholic friend
it tickles the back of my neck
as I pitch forward through wide fuselage,
flying seats, empty fingers, lost safety cards
It's a crazy bias that I will admit to: if I see a "realistic" drawing or painting by an "abstract" artist - in my mind that somehow grounds the art, legitimizes it for my vocabulary, it simply builds credibility. John Coltrane's Sheets of Sound, which broke musical barriers left and right, took on gravitas because they came from a master of the ballad, an artist who had mastered his craft. Not all of McNair's poetry is simple narrative, there are poems from a myriad of styles represented.
It Would Be Better
to develop a tendency towards
buckets, towards the piling up of clocks,
torn coupons, chicken wire,
postcards, if you could accept
a tendency to loss, the solitary mitten
or unpaired tupperware. no iron
bled sunset burnt out over endings, only
an ebb-flow light poured onto laminate.
flower blades wake, bust out of concrete
and lightning strikes again and again. fists
punch down gravel and craving superhero
nylon stretched across knuckle, I step over
every god damn crack but everything
Conflict was a joy to read and a challenge. The best things about new authors and new voices are the promises of what is to come. Christine McNair is going to write poetry that will both entertain and illuminate us if Conflict is any indication.
I can hold back heaven for half
a day, maybe more. I can hold back
hell for one full week, a month at most,
the days in the calendar clicking.
I can hold back my heart for half a year,
for one full year, for two, for three -
I can stop the clocks and burn the books,
forget my name and forget yours.
Here - take this scarf and take this glove,
take this and this and this and this.
But let me stitch you back together,
just let me kiss it better,
let me find the seam and close it.
Auden couldn't have kissed it better himself.