Monday, March 17, 2014

Maxine Chernoff, Without

[without years]

reciprocity vanishes
like a species of bird
calling   alone
you are
the roof
of the mouth
is witnessed
saying a word
that drops
like a letter
from   liquid
the medium
of light
has no ending
no currency
buys your

Apparently I missed hearing about it when it came out, but two years late, I’m finally able to go through a copy of San Francisco poet, fiction writer and editor Maxine Chernoff’s thirteenth trade poetry collection, Without (Bristol UK: Shearsman Books, 2012). The poems in this collection exist as a sequence of variations, each title beginning with the word “without,” stretching a series of movements through sixty-four short lyric poems that include “[without a narrator],” “[without ground],” “[without theory],” “[without design],” and even suggesting the absence of absence, “[without without].” Chernoff’s entire sequence relates a listing of absences, disappearances or lacks sketched out in a kind of point form, allowing short phrases to accumulate into the shape around a space, thus revealing what she had been missing all along. What intrigues about these poems is in how Chernoff explores smallness, boiling down her language to a pinpoint or a jagged edge, and exploring not only her series of absences, but utilizing some of her suggested absences as red herrings, allowing her to concurrently move in alternate directions. Somehow, these short pieces exist as miniature essays sketched out in the form of the poem, reminiscent of Anne Carson’s Short Talks (London ON: Brick Books, 1992), yet far more open to allowing the space for the reader to follow the breadcrumbs, or (perhaps I’m mixing my metaphors, some) string together the dots and create their own connections. Do the poems discuss what is there, or what is not there? As Chernoff writes to open “[without involvement]”: “missing / from narrative time [.]”

[without cover]

some words
hold the world
accretion of mirror
and doom
you dislike
the household gods
their petty
hurricanes tender
as goose down
as the moment
waits outlandish
in its waistcoat
and candor
you try to find
the ready verb
a flimsy cage

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