Saturday, January 05, 2019

Hailey Higdon, Hard Some

two women walk into a town
good                  we tried for neighborly
in the shadow of a repeated national harm, shit-show
destroyed towns, big and small people
violence used in relation to purity
some in a boat and others wondering how long
it will take to sink the middle, which is terrible (“A Wild Permanence”)

Not long ago, I reviewed Seattle poet Hailey Higdon’s recent Dancing Girl Press chapbook, A Wild Permanence (2018) [see my review here], not realizing it was also included in her immediately-following first full-length collection, Hard Some (Brooklyn NY: Spuyten Duyvil, 2019). Hard Some is constructed out of four sections of extended lyric sequences—“A Wild Permanence,” “Breaker,” “Children” and “Yes & What Happens” (which also appeared as a chapbook via the Dusie Kollektiv). Higdon has never been a poet in any particular rush, moving with a meditative precision through accumulative fragments, and many of her sequences-to-date have collected themselves, it would seem, as chapbook-length single poem-units, including The Palinode Project: Book One (What To Us (Press), 2008), How to Grow Almost Everything (Agnes Fox, 2011), [PACKING] (Bloof Books, 2013) The State In Which (above/ground press, 2013), Yes & What Happens (Dusie Kollektiv, 2015) and Rural (Drop Leaf Press, 2017). To see four of her chapbook-length sequences collected into a full-length collection is a curious opportunity, as is the interplay between the poems, allowing for both new and sustain elements to shine through.

Certainly there have been a number of poets over the years who have moved from chapbook-length to book-length forms, with their full-length debuts giving the sense of a handful of chapbooks brought together to form a collection (there are many examples, but debut collections by Kevin Connolly and Sarah Pinder first come to mind). Higdon’s collection provides something else, instead, suggesting a sustained interest in the fragment and repetition, even while accumulating a strong narrative through-line. The opening section, “A Wild Permanence,” repeats the simple mantra of “two women walk into a town,” something reminiscent, from this Canadian’s ear, at least, of the late John Newlove’s “Ride Off Any Horizon,” with their repeated points-of-return crafted as through-line. For Higdon, this is a mantra constructed for jumping off, repeatedly, into the further possibilities of lyric, meditation and story. For Higdon, hers is a story of, as Cedar Sigo’s back cover blurb articulates, “the depth of a queer dailiness,” one that writes of “two women” engaged with the simple act of entering a town that appears to resist their presence, heightening a level of anxiety for both the narrator and the townspeople: “we are here, permanent & wild with / that community of moving target, that community / that says you are better off real imaginary and far away [.]” There is an openness to this sequence, but one that treads lightly, but ever forward, even as she writes: “all the love of loving a new place / but told to count their blessings / that living is consent to dying after [.]” And then, the last section providing a further resistance, one both understated and unflinching, incorporating a line by Leonard Cohen, from “Chelsea Hotel #2”:

no matter
they will
domesticate me after I die
the ratio of men to you                        and well and
and those were the reasons, and that was new york

One might say that Hard Some, on the whole, is a book of sustained resistance, as much as it is about a sustained and thoughtful presence. And, if the first poem/section opened with a single line as a mantra, “two women walk into a town,” the second section, “Breaker,” opens with a line offering a resistance in a different direction: “Fuck the lake.” The poem moves quickly to write on love and its difficulties, asking “how many times do we try something new / and before it feels comfortable              retaliate.”

things we take turns enjoying
never quite experiencing together
you are too close to the information you carry
but you carry it because there is comfort
in co-experience
conditioning habituation
keeping the things that expect reiteration

In Higdon’s hands, everything connects to everything else, and the interplay here is magical, existing as a series and sequence of lights revealing the multiple threads throughout the whole. Each of the four sequences, not simply the first, close with a line quoted from another source, and the subsequent three poem-sections each include a line from, in order of appearance: Patty Griffin, Blood Orange and Neil Young. Given how these four sections connect, I’m now curious about her published chapbooks that weren’t included in this particular collection: how might they fit in, if at all? Would they expand what is going on here, or are they part of some other kind of ongoing structure? Or might they exist as neither or both? There are elements of the concerns throughout this collection, as well, that harken back to her 2014 “On Writing” essay at the ottawa poetry newsletter, “Hiding Places,” that includes: “It feels like everyone I know is doing something in New York. Fuck New York. I’ve never liked it there.” Further on in the short essay, she writes of sitting at the edge of a lake and accidentally breaking her glasses. Does everything actually connect?

some children take their authority from death
some run
what do you care
about pipes and seven thirty
it’s always 7:30
tell me something good
everyone is your mother (“Children”)

The final section, included as a chapbook as part of my curation of dusie kollektiv #8, “Yes & What Happens,” is a sequence that somehow wraps the entire collection together, solidifying how everything is connected, somehow, to everything else. A micro-review of the chapbook, published not long after it appeared, in Yellow Field (reprinted at Galatea Resurrects) by Paige Melin, catches many of Higdon’s concerns that would come to exist throughout this full-length collection:

“I believe we come back” – back home, back to ourselves, to each other, back to our solitude, back to rivers and seas and cities, “back when we were / without compression.” Hailey Higdon’s yes & what happens constantly draws us back, asking us to re-examine ourselves, our relations, and our intimate spaces in the process. In its dream-like merging of cityscpaes and riverbends, of lonely drug stores and shared dinners, yes & what happens questions boundaries, acknowledging their presence only to surge through them. These fluid, dreamy transitions bring the disparate into proximity – “trees across trampolines” – and in doing so urge readers to re-examine our own boundaries, to consider “the colonization of our cognitive processes,” the imposition of borders. And what happens, Higdon asks – what happens when we come back, when we say yes to dissolution and merging, when we permit ourselves “[t]o believe in process, in moment to moment, to let / to be as queer as you are without boundaries?” yes & what happens is itself a dream of amalgamation and connection, “a dream of melting into other people” – and its words will linger long after you’ve dreamt it.

The poems in this collection speak of negotiating interpersonal relationships, personal space and inner silence, attempting to navigate thoughtfully through all the chaos without and within, as deliberately and carefully as possible. The poems want to believe, and hold fierce to an optimism and openness, despite whatever might emerge in response. How does one end such an open-ended collage of so many threads? How else, but for an acknowledgment of how far you’ve come so far, both as narrator and reader:

thank you for waiting, incurring the damages
which were going to hape, I’ve been told
everything was always going to happen, and
away from you and near you are the same thing, and
it was Sunday, and I did laundry, and you were all there
all my changes, all my changes were there

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