Restless Messengers: Poetry In Review

Eryn Green, Beit
New Issues, 2020, $16.00

Review by Donald Revell

The prospect of home is a door upon its hinges, and the doorframe is states of mind, inward and outward facing, but with no further instructions. Beit is Eryn Green’s prospective imagination of home. Imagination roves inward. Imagination roves outward, always, in either direction, descrying deserts. Such is the postmodern. Think of Paul Celan in a panic, pushing The Book of Questions through its author’s Parisian letterbox for fear of the historical consequences of such a roving book. But lest I be mistaken for finding this beautiful collection in any way negative, I from the outset insist upon the power and the purpose of the hinges. Beit draws its lines along the vivid prospect of its ever-affirmative homing. Where the lines break, home appears.

We live on
  the edge of
A raft through
  dejection

A joy almost
  too great
To speak, so
  it takes

Breath,
  so we break
At the end
  of the line...
(“Elegy” (Deserted)”) (27)

Dwelling shows itself, but shows as an exigency, a “raft” for the uncertain navigation of “dejection”. Yet this exigency is neither abject nor abortive; rather, it turns upon a hinge into “joy”. There is no transition, only an absolute distinction. Only home is home. The hinge, as Green forthrightly avers, in form of the line break, decides everything. Taking breath, the line breaks upon its joy after words, almost at the end of words, where vision begins to go.

   ...And you can't
  imagine the hills

Any more than
  deny
The contours
  the failing

Light that gives
  every angle
A vision
  as it goes
(“Elegy (Deserted)”) (27)

Going home, vision travels with light towards the source of light. Here is a desert instance of the great truth of Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”. And the desert makes one particular, crucial difference: there, light does not lavish itself; it does not spread. It hones in upon a single point (the spellbound eye, as Plotinus proposed it), interiorizing itself just as words interiorize themselves in silence, which is their home. Outward is the elegized “Deserted.” Inward shows the point of rest. Thanks to the hinges, quiet light is home. When darkness falls in the desert, everything glows from within.

Eryn Green knows how to shape his poems in accordance with paths and directions revealed to him. In a very real sense, Beit is poetry revealed more than poetry merely inspired. In an era distorted by identity, we do well to distrust inspiration and to wait, alertly but humbly, upon revelation. And Green’s paths and directions, gratefully and authentically, prove to be asymptotes—lines, actual lines, tending to infinity, albeit curved en route. (“Le Paradis n’est pas artificial / but is jagged.”) Here is the opening of a poem entitled “Curvilinear”:

The leaves give the wind shape
to us, but are not
the wind itself, just
so, we call this
reading—flowers,
pitchers of light. Aren’t they
   the whole world
started today... (38)

Every one of these lines is an asymptote. “Shape” departs and is left behind with us to guide us home. The wind shows itself in the motion of leaves but eludes us in its amour propre. And just as we are on the verge of naming the singular event, we find ourselves being named: i.e. we find ourselves reading. As ever in Beit, the line breaks here signify not transition, but new creation. Every line is its own particular instance, curved away from the line before it and deflected by its successor: prosody as vector analysis; perception self-isolating. The fact is: no one is ever almost home. I think of a wonderful old song by Donovan: “First there is a mountain. Then there is no mountain. Then there is. Wear your love like Heaven.”

  You can change
into fireflies anytime, streamline
toward the mountain

     transmitten eye

pull through laughter

     in the park recall

every day pianos start

     some thing

keeping the swarm aloft

     what sun
That energy is our oarsman
  (“Curvilinear”) (38)

Here, in due course, the asymptotes run wild. Each is an event in evidence and escaping, just as light, glancing off all the objects in our view, throws a backward glance into our eyes, leaving us puzzled (“what sun”) and precise. Energy, the oarsman, directs itself, directing us: not home at last but, rather, home at first.

Wordsworthian recollections and premonitions of heaven are the constant hinge of Beit’s nomadic doorframes, just as they are the inchoate eternity of its line and of its stanzas so carelessly (“let the writing be careless, so that nothing that is not green will survive,” so William Carlos Williams directed) wilded. Energy eludes judgment. And thus an elusive prosody might well be most apt to the desert wanderer in ourselves and in our words.

What of mention doesn’t
    save

the desert cactus
    bloom, the Wandering

Jew, the sun, its daily irruptions
    must

of needs be irrelevant,
    isn’t it

heavenly, not
    wrong work...
(“Needs Work (Beresheet)”) (74)

Relevance is a backward glance eluded by both the sun and by the “the desert cactus / bloom” that (also obeying Plotinus) so faithfully mimics the sun. Heaven cannot be wrong, and is no work. Thus Green takes another beautiful American imperative to heart: Thoreau’s “I awoke to an answered question.” I honestly believe that Green is the most faithful of American poets writing now. Without the least irony, he fronts the desert of contemporary America with a pure conviction of homing and of home. In this same poem, he cites Emily Dickinson’s most haunting question, shaping it into an article of faith afoot with his vision: “every shape walks through / the world already // hierophantic so unto the whole how / add?” Such lines harrow and winnow, harrow and winnow, until every emphasis of every line becomes a plenitude and a promised land: “Every body // says we have enough poems / with birds in them // but who says // we have enough birds // or poems?” Green avers that a poem’s essential fact is the mystery consequent to that fact. And in all humility, he calls the mystery home.

Post by Donald Revell on 8/12/2020 at 1:30 PM

DONALD REVELL is the author of fifteen collections of poetry, most recently of The English Boat (2018) and Drought-Adapted Vine (2015), both from Alice James Books. Revell has also published six volumes of translations from the French, including Apollinaire’s Alcools, Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, Laforgue’s Last Verses, and Verlaine's Songs without Words. His critical writings have been collected as: Sudden Eden: Essays; Essay: A Critical Memoir; The Art of Attention; and Invisible Green: Selected Prose. Winner of the PEN USA Translation Award and two-time winner of the PEN USA Award for Poetry, he has also won the Academy of American Poets’ Lenore Marshall Prize and is a former Fellow of the Ingram Merrill and Guggenheim Foundations. Additionally, he has twice been awarded Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Having previously taught at the Universities of Alabama, Denver, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, and Utah, Donald Revell is currently a Professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.