Tuesday, May 06, 2008

a brief note on the poems of Sarah Manguso

Poem of Comfort in Which All Things
Are the Same

Let’s go to Greece
where every island is a different color
and look at the ruins that predict their own shapes,
and the dogs that bark in them.
Now you are naming each building
and I’m carrying you inside a building,
your judgments following behind us like a history.
Keats lies in some different ruins,
those more of baths than of sofas,
and pieces of his hair decay above ground in fancy libraries.
Chances are you will not see a single ghost in your lifetime
but many objects that might be mistaken for ghosts.
Every country in the world has invented ghosts,
and how they find us. This poem is new.
This poem is for you. (The Captain Lands in Paradise)
A few months ago, I read this post by American poet and blogger Rachel Loden that quoted the most brilliant lines by American poet Sarah Manguso, currently a fellow at the American Academy in Rome. Manguso is a poet I previously hadn’t heard anything of or by; but those few lines were enough, just those bare lines, to make me want to pick up everything she’s published so far. With another book arriving soon in the mail (I could only find three of her four), I’ve been going through her first collection, The Captain Lands in Paradise (Farmington Maine: Alice James Books, 2002), as well as her newly-arrived second, Siste Viator (New York NY: Four Way Books, 2006). There is just something about how she uses the deceptively-straight line, managing to twist and quirk all sorts of movement inside, around and through what otherwise appears to push full on ahead.

Beautiful Things

Sometimes I think I understand the way things work
and then I find out that on Neptune it rains diamonds.
On this world you can get out of work early, unclog the drain,
hear music. Any of the above should prove the existence
of God or at least some kind of beautifying engine
but in Germany when they couldn’t figure out
how to tranquilize the polar bear and he was standing
in the park, the cage door broken, they shot him dead.
Nine hundred pounds—that’s a lot of dead bear.
Neptune’s pretty close to immortal,
as we understand the word, and I wouldn’t like to be
that planet. But if I had to I would take it,
the decades of punishing rain, and the fires
on neighboring planets I would watch,
thankful I was never touched by them,
and that the diamonds were mine. (The Captain Lands in Paradise)
Her first collection includes short, sharp and much tighter pieces than her second, and include poems that achieve that rare punch in a few bare words, despite the fact that her second, a bit looser in form than the first, seems more a single unit of composition. It makes me wonder if the poems in her second collection, Siste Viator, written much closer together, and more with the idea of “book.”


Meanwhile I fuck this sculpture
In my mind until it melts, then stop.
Mmm, cold.
At the party I talk to everyone’s honey
And sip poison and then go home,
Get shitfaced, and get it on with myself.
I’m so good, I give it to myself every bad way I know.
I whisper in my ear as I come:
Sarah Manguso, you’re a damn fine lover.
Maybe someday we can be together, too.
(Siste Viator)
Either way, Manguso manages some of the best lines I’ve seen anywhere by anyone, including:

For I am about to ride far beyond
the low prairie of beginnings and endings. (The Captain Lands in Paradise)

It is impossible not to drown a little. (The Captain Lands in Paradise)

I didn’t fall in love. I fell through it: (Siste Viator)
If for no other reason than these lines, you have to read her work. Right now.

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