Book Review

Heard-Hoard by Atsuro Riley (2021) University of Chicago Press

The title alone of Atsuro Riley’s new book can nudge awake our underground faith that the truest etymology reveals unexpected words as cognate: Heard-Hoard. As “whole” is to “holy,” as “word” is to “world,” as “think” is to “thank,” so “heard” might be to “hoard”—facets of the same vital fact. One feels in those words that the wild, ruminant life of everything that has ever been said (Rumor herself a god of old) still grazes in some distant field—not a distance away from us, but a distance within us. “Heard” echoes “herd; “hoard” sounds out differently, exhuming that countless mob of shades that mark every kind of loss. One might guess, reading these poems, we are eavesdropping on the underworld—save the underworld is no Hades nor any other hell. It is more simply a within of mind and memory, of earth and time; it is what happens when all that has ever occurred is still occurring, the heard-hoard that once said, says itself forever.

And as is most appropriate in such a vision in which the ancient mythic and the lived moment interpenetrate, Heard-Hoard contains a series of poems all titled “Chorus,” hinting that within these pages a kind of tragedy is happening, and a kind of collective consciousness gathers that tragedy into itself, and learns to speak—together—in relation to it. Let “Chorus: Hankerer” stand as representative:

Had it good tang to it or even a cell’s cell of succulence
he’d have squirreled the day away
to paw and

“To paw and / tongue” offers a sense of Riley’s fecund music. Here, to speak isn’t exactly to sing, it’s to burrow, it’s to dig. In ways that few poets can access—think Hopkins, think Celan—Riley is at work in a different intelligence language holds, one folded underneath the ratios of daily logic, one that is as “bendy-spined as bandy snakes through saltshrub,” where music is the profoundly unknowable knowing-thing that does its work within us, but not exactly on our behalf. Perhaps that is what feels so revelatory in these poems—poems that, in another light, do a very common but lovely work of honoring the lives in a community, keeping a narrative alive. But the narrative’s life here is subservient to the life of the words that tell the tales, and we gain permission to enter a sacred and strange field, where words don’t describe a life, but a life is inscribed in words—words which are themselves forms of life, whose life our own lives describe.


Aux/Arc Tryptych by Cody-Rose Clevidence (2021) Nightboat Books

Lily-white the sky behind the already night-dark ponderosas, white as a page or maybe apple-white, as I finished reading Cody-Rose Clevidence’s Aux/Arc Tryptych in Colorado’s December mountains. Full moon rising in the east. Venus bright before any other brightness in the west. The image-memory stays vivid in me, I think, in no small part, because of the wondrously nerved poetry I was reading, revealing to me what I first learned years ago, hearing Clevidence read and following their poetry ever since—that they are one of the vital practitioners of lyric consciousness writing today. Let this poem from the third section of the triptych, “A Night of Dark Trees,” stand for the whole:

MOST VINES TREMBLE. most thistles
grow thorny in th eyes— world [my]
thirst | diadem crept me heart throated region,
mist-less, mossy, kiss each leaf bud tip cuz why not
go eagle out {dendrite & gasp tho} | cut a lasso
for to hold me, gentle, gentle, down [ o,
this constellation has no name— what heroic
melody will make th warm winds
beat down, & the sweet sap flow—

Clevidence’s poems work as a dowser’s rod, attuning us—and our world thirst—to the hidden vital spring where word and world are folded one within the other. Here there is something as ancient as Anacreon’s drunk-bliss love for Bathyllus, the personal simply the nearest fact of the cosmic eros. They are offering us a vision of the world, one lit by Thoreau’s sun-as-morning-star, in which the orders of the world are more profound than the patterns we name (those constellations with names); they are offering us lines that act as lasso to bind us tighter, yet gently, to the earth.

A refrain forms and transforms throughout the last section of the book: “Mercy is a verb.” The line feels a guiding ethic. The poem as mercy’s own work, enacting the thing it also beseeches. Part of the mercy is Clevidence’s radical connection to poetic tradition: Homer, Rilke, Blake, Shakespeare, and (most largely) Ovid. They offer us, page by page, a living sense of the ongoing necessity undergirding other poetries, questioning and grasping, pulling apart and loving, the eternal necessaries poetry has always sought to attend. It is poetry as the very loam of being:

] wher covet
thine eyed stars
fingering th rarified
genitals of th earth
there, I go

there I mirrow n ounce the drunk
eony off  ]  stoke
from whim must stroke
an ounce only, eye

th tangle makes
great th pearl—

eye th tangle
makes great the pearl.

I, aye, eye—all ways, in their way, of saying the fundamental yes, that mercy that affirms life. Clevidence invites us in deeper to the complications of which we ourselves are a part, to participate in the tangle, knowing there is no other way, save by the lovely irritation of the world itself, to gain the great pearl.


I Want Something Other Than Time by Lewis Freedman (2021) Ugly Duckling Presse

There are other tangles poetry can attend worthily. The tangle of mind, of self, of thought and the language thought occurs in, or seems to occur in. Lewis Freedman’s new collection from Ugly Duckling Presse, I Want Something Other Than Time, presents poems of unabashedly philosophical concerns, seeking not to solve but to enter the labyrinth of conscious patterns and unconscious fears, writing poems of thoughtful acuity that each near the aporia that undoes such thoughtfulness.

The aim of this
writing is to be
an example to itself,
a condition for a condition, a
fixed point for own irreconcilable
part, useful b/c we won’t leave it behind.
But how are we going to approach the
spatial orienting of this body existing
when we are in this screen in this room?
It’s obvious we don’t have to be there when
something happens to us,
but even in the anonymity of
what we’ve fallen into
there’s something about the domain of us,
something like a certain space immobile
but raining.
Something about the fact of several
million years ago
not here

The poem as example to itself of its own impossible nature, a clearing that also obscures (Heidegger), the strange hint throughout of tautology, as if the effort to define, in the end, only defines its own effort, can describe nothing outside of itself. It would be terrifying if Freedman wasn’t also a seriously funny poet.

Do I feel scolded by
the rain? Fuck no!
Do I feel scolded by tornado
sirens as oversized hail forms
the divots it lands in? Today I do.

But the humor here also limns existential absurdity, the laughter that may be the only appropriate response to bewilderment, to abyss. The world isn’t personal; oh right, yes, it is.

Every poem in I Want Something Other Than Time is titled “I Want Something Other Than Time.” I take this as part and parcel of the philosophic difficulty it’s demonstrating—not poem-by-poem exactly, but this other sense that slowly forms over the course of the book: that the same poem is being written over and over again. If the inclination is true, it provides a quietly iconoclastic refute to typical practices of building a book, those arcs of narrative or whatnot, binding patterns that build toward conclusion. “The World is not Conclusion,” as Emily Dickinson would remind us. Freedman brings us to a different economy lyric practice can devote itself to—the attempt, nearly eternal, of writing not the next poem, but the first one. It is a tautology worthy of him: the writing of the poem that alone makes possible the writing of the poem. A work one cannot begin and cannot finish—something like a self, a mind, a heart, a world.

It’s there in the shape of the poems. Not only is each titled the same, each is shaped the same. A series of short lines that slowly expands nervously toward the right-hand margin, and then withdraws, back to the short lines of first utterance. One betrays the silence of the page—and maybe the page is synecdoche of larger blanknesses, bedrock voids—only to retreat back to silence. That feels true to me—that sense of what? Failure…no; humility.

About the Reviewer

Dan Beachy-Quick is a poet, essayist, and translator. His most recent books include Arrows, and a collection of ancient Greek lyric poems, Stone-Garland. His work has been supported by the Monfort, Lannan, and Guggenheim Foundations, and teaches at Colorado State University, where he is a University Distinguished Teaching Scholar.