Situations by Laura Carter
(Available for download at Ungovernable Press, 2008)
This chapbook-length work by Laura Carter brings up issues of narrative that we of the Post-Ante world seem required to deal with. The issues remain fresh today though they have existed for a century or more. I may become sidetracked in my lucubrations here but, hey Laura, I haven’t forgotten you!
Narrative is story, histoire, even, as Carter has it. The modernists helped us to understand that narrative need not be a straight line chrono-logic, but can be chopped and ciphered by other meters. The story, then, can be evoked in different time frames and different viewpoints, and can be done so with an abundance of simultaneity and layers. Which brings us to Situations.
Situations plays in the field of narrative. This does not mean it is not poetry. Narrative is a veritable tax on poetry, they are that closely twined. Narrative shows in the voice, in the deliberations of first and second person. Situations wins as poetry, not fiction, because the subject, finally, is poetry. Poetry is the subject of poetry, period. I’m not kidding, go check the books. Fiction’s impasse stands where tailored intentions force implications. Poetry doesn’t force, it just is.
Situations presents a very present ‘I’, which can be confused with the author if you like. That does not matter because, as I said, the subject of poetry is poetry. The narrator is implied, as is, less firmly, an interlocutor. A give and take in poetry occurs between these two. At times Situations sounds too thoughtfully Wastelandish, but imperative delights abound.
Orthography tells us that Carter had issues with the narrative outbreak. She uses quotation marks, italics, dashes, line breaks, and such like to distinguish voices and time shifts. I think the effort proves too dedicated, asserting a punctuational tidiness to account for every nuance. That shows a lack of trust in the words themselves, begging your pardon. Use of the exclamatory O strikes me the same way.
I do not want to sound negative when so much here is appealing. Nuggets like the following pop from the flow of verses:
Meaning as an EVERYTHING:
the poor women are still buying fish
& photography moves in inches
Lamented culture of unease: pity
the anchor its lack of luster,
Or this Blakean reply:
the tiger is a machine burning bright
with ribbons tied to the ordinary!
(“Reversal Leads Further”)
Carter asserts a personal locus that is as interesting as the reader wants it to be. I’m equivocal because I do not want to feel constrained to care about the author. Think of the two goalposts of the so called New York School of Poetry, Ashbery and O’Hara, and their use of first person.
When O’Hara uses first person, we hear an identity, one that just might have run track for Mineola Prep. When Ashbery uses first person, no one seems to be home. No one, that is. That placid, ordinary voice refuses to push. I sense with Carter an unsureness whether to allow the vigourous O’Hara side to stand forth or the circumstantial Ashbery side.
Perhaps one should expect such lack of confederacy from chapbooks. Chapbooks tend to be short collectibles that hold the latest handful. I see them being less organic creations, but maybe my attitude is showing. Situations performs a snapshot brief of an author and an other. I feel an intention for completion but the tactic of the chapbook leans more toward appetency. Which, really, is an interesting battle to witness.
Carter is very smart and intricate. Her writing shows causal surprises of great pleasure. The author in context needs to be addressed, however. Is she telling us her story, or Poetry’s?
She is a poet, for sure. Situations abounds in technical experiment. Orthography, as I mentioned, is utilized strongly, too strongly, maybe. Her lines are well-crafted, I am happy to say. Modern metrics are fuzzy conceptions. We all play it by ear, as per Olson. Carter’ limns with a poet’s ear—please take that image and run with it!—not the prosy misadventures so commonly met.
The poem “The New Live Image Intervention” frolics at a good pace with what we’ll acknowledge as Williams’ triadic foot. I hope Carter uses this technique often because the momentum is fine. Furthermore, those short lines fit the sort of surprise element that is essential in her writing. Partial phrases leap out vigourously from the context like poems within poems. I like that effect a lot.
I think I will end this review without preparing a final assessment. I laid some cards on the table, and you can play them as you see fit. Poetry needs readers, not daunting schools of thought. This review provides one path for exploration. Where you go, Reader, is up to you.
Allen Bramhall was born by the banks of the Concord River in 1952 and has lived in Massachusetts ever since. He was educated at Franconia College and Lesley University, and in non-academic places as well. / Simple Theory / (Potes & Poets Press) was his first book. He maintains a blog called Tributary (http://tribute-airy.blogspot.com/), and a life with Beth and Erin. He is also the author of DAYS POEM, Vol. I and II (Meritage Press, St. Helena and San Francisco).