Book Review

In her latest collection, You Good Thing, Dara Weir reminds us about pleasure—and its censure: “We look for something beautiful and do unmendable damage.” She writes not just about the pleasures of language, but pleasures of the fleeting, the imaginary: “I am told I would seem foolish to give a passing cloud a pleasing name. / I’m counseled to let it go or else to photograph it in passing.” Perhaps in a Puritan nation, pleasure—and its mysterious root—has always been suspect, something to be struck dumb: “We close our eyes every time your name is invoked while no / One speaks of you unless it cannot be avoided . . . We’re contaminated. We’re unworthy. We have our doubts / To protect us.” While Weir’s poems are full of loss and dissolution, they also insist on a presence charged by both the pleasure and the fear inherent in seeing one thing as another, in metaphor. While many readers will wonder to whom or what the book’s title is addressed, perhaps the simplest way to read Weir’s title is also the most apt: this is a book that both laments an absence of pleasure in imagination and renews it.

Throughout the collection courses a sense of unstoppable change and movement: its central players the quicksilver dance between second and first person, and a river. “I like to watch how water works through wood, don’t you? / It’s achingly the same as how everything moves, like you.” Such movement gets grammatically mapped into the book’s frequently inverted or interrupted syntax. Weir continually puts “you” in unexpected spots: “You’ll have to decide into what you should pour / Out your heart;” “I took you with me where you weren’t going to a place by a river;” “A girl in a pit / Chipping at rocks you are.” In each instance, the second person calls us out—address or no. We find ourselves staring back up out of these images, wondering not so much how we got here but how we didn’t notice being here before now. Moreover, these are places so strikingly realized, so full of sense, we don’t want to look or move away.

The best sonnets here (including, even, “The Terrible Poem”) court their reader with surreal images of the self’s dissolution:

You are a seahorse unraveling.
You are the back of a landhorse looking backward.
Gotten away from have you thrown yourself racing.
Who took what was not out of thunderous shade
In an all-knowing sycamore’s branches.
What who do you make of stones steps you stepped through.

Weir’s poems tell us who we are, imagining—sometimes gently and sometimes vehemently—what it means to feel oneself through the nonhuman world. While syntax and image can be disorienting, certainly, the flights of imagination also startle and exhilarate.

You withstood what it was that was wailing you through.
There you were standing on nothing, looking down at two
Blackfeathered slashes your two hands held on to.
Off were you going aloft would birds such as these take
Who leaned you and stood you and shook you and shook you.

Here the dissolution of self as we know it gives way to a much more intense presence, figured in sound as well as sight. The “blackfeathered slashes” in our hands, perhaps our reigns on experience, morph into “birds” that not only teach us to move “aloft” but also have the power to shake us awake. Such moments show us how the mind itself can recognize experience—via imagination—and thereby language, power, and agency.

While this collection teems with stark images of the natural world’s decline and disappearance, the sonnets themselves fight any impending isolation. The patterning impulse of our brain plucks like phrases up out of the book’s eddy, reading each piece not simply against, but around and within one another. In this, the reader’s mind at work with the speaker’s helps the poems find kinship and connection. In fact, back and forth, or nonlinearly, is perhaps the most pleasurable way to read Weir’s collection. And while there is something to be said for progressing as usual through the text, from beginning to end, the epigraph from Fernando Pesoa lets us know that pleasure itself often arrives “by the longest possible route.” Certainly such a route would always lend us the time to retrace our steps.

While “you” may flit about within the book—sometimes one thing, other times another—the collection itself remains centered if not secure. The commonality of interest along with the freshness and excitement of the investigation of sense and imagination grants the reader permission to move both at will and even willy-nilly. In this, Weir’s tightly focused work reminds me of Stevens’s serious play (or playful seriousness) in the nursery (and not)—like narrative of a poem like “The Pleasures of Merely Circulating.” Indeed, such a sense of humor riddles the titles of You Good Thing with its own kind of violence: “Needle Threader In Need Of Needle;” “This Machine Kills Fascists;” “Evidence of Increasing Lack of Evidence;” “Many Similes are Protestant, Most Metaphor is Not.”

Weir’s You Good Thing reminds us that pleasure, like a river, is dangerous, ridiculous, mysterious, takes aimlessness for its aim, and is—above all else—necessary. It reminds us that the violence we do the natural world has far too much in common with the violence we do in the stricture of our own imaginations.

By and by we’ll
Adjust to your absence. You, all too peripheral, ephemeral you,
Circumferences of your pathways are becoming radial gradient.
Entwisted are we with your sideways. We’ve approached border-
Lines of you with tantalizing offerings and you have shunned us.
You, who go so far away, we’re dissolving, we’re breath broke.

Happily, Weir finds a renewal for one in the other.

About the Reviewer

Julia Anjard Maher lives, writes, and works in Owls Head, Maine. She is Ph.D. candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Georgia and works in Community Development at the Island Institute. Her poems have appeared in Composite Arts, Sixth Finch, Marco Polo Arts Mag, Interrupture, and other journals.