Saturday, March 14, 2015

Beth Bachmann, Do Not Rise


How much harm can entering
do? One cell, two,

and the whole law is broken in—
leg after leg,

the myrtle presses itself up from
the ground:

stampede. Horse, horse, horse, horse.
What are you turning

into? Inside me you murmur so much
pain so much

suffering. What makes the horses go
like that—fear

or fire? Circle me. What kills us is
not crush, but push.

Writing on “war, memory, and post-traumatic stress,” there is a palpable anxiety throughout the poems that make up American poet Beth Bachmann’s second poetry collection, Do Not Rise (Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015). In 2011, the manuscript won the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America for a manuscript-in-progress. In her judge’s citation, Elizabeth Willis wrote:

The collection’s conceptual center—and its most insistent word—is “open.” The poems have a stripped-down, investigatory drive.  Where the manuscript begins, everything wants out, and this outward pressure moves the work into a series of shifts, cuts, turns, magnetic pulls. Water on the tongue disappears into snow, snow gives way to a lake. It is as if we could witness the decomposition and refiguring of the world within the decomposition and refiguring of the line. We feel the poems pushing against grammar and logic and into phenomena. Words and phrases break into “fire,” into “splinters,” into “fragments.” At times it is as if we are watching a chemical reaction reset to the rhythm of human perception.  The resulting gaps open the poem to a meaningful range of pauses, hesitations, delays, sonic mutations, reconsiderations. A lapse of one thing makes possible another. A slowing down of time within the poem allows us to enter the folds of its thought. There is so much seeing in its listening.The flaw is always / breaking away” Always. . . away. Discoveries lie on the verge of departure.

Do Not Rise follows her incredible debut, Temper (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009), winner of the 2008 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. I’m intrigued by the cadence of Bachmann’s poems, relaying a kind of breathlessness to her lines, between her use of space and the dense lyric, as well as an intriguing combination of accumulation, collage and precision. As she writes to open the poem “sustainable”:

start here in each         other’s mouth third

in place of speech before it      sometimes it stops there

the fickle birds dropping          what they just picked up cold

Are her lyrics short, precisely because of this breathlessness, or for the possibility of the single punch? Bachmann’s poems strike with considerable narrative force, writing their way around, across and through the ugliness of war and the traumas that can’t help but linger.


Where are the woman in this war? The long limbs of the trees stripped
are the limbs of the trees. You can’t have a war

without women. Where do you think all that blood comes from?
The trees in war are worse than the horses. You can kill a horse.

A horse can kill you. Most men have little use for metaphor.
Door go out. All fall down. Baby. Pray

nobody dare says the word. So many trees. The women are skinny
and there are more of you

than stars in the warfield, than shrapnel. Pigs?
I haven’t seen a pig for months.

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