Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Stephanie Strickland, How the Universe is Made: Poems New & Selected 1985-2019


pale green
and white in Connecticut trees elms The Commons
the sky the mind in Connecticut calcite bar
of burning crystal prism on the sill

iris in the garden
charts and charters
sea-bitten shore

permitting oneself little that little cold
sharp as bramblepoints in air seeded with new snow
to come to Connecticut outpouring down pouring
crystals to come full of the hint and intimation
of snow the overwhelming darkening white of the snow
burying bodies in CT blinding angled sheet of its softness
biting at the shore of the sky

iris—itself—short sword in the pale
green spring of CT unassuming

            April snow
            stained by flowers

I’m absolutely floored by the nearly three hundred pages of New York City poet Stephanie Strickland’s latest, How the Universe is Made: Poems New &Selected 1985-2019 (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2019). The book opens with a two page collaged-list of “LINEAGE-LINKAGE-HOMAGE,” presumably set to provide both thanks and an opening of context around Strickland’s influences, with a list that includes Lorine Niedecker, Tim Lilburn, Muriel Rukeyser, Bertolt Brecht, Lake St. Clair, Simone Weil, Laura Riding and Joan Retallack, before launching into healthy selections from her published works: from the chapbook Beyond This Silence (State Street Press, 1985) to her numerous full-length collections—Give the Body Back (University of Missouri Press, 1991), The Red Virgin: A Poem of Simone Weil (University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), True North (University of Notre Dame Press, 1997), V : WaveSon.nets / Losing L’una (Penguin Books, 2002), Zone : Zero (Ahsahta Press, 2008), Dragon Logic (Ahsahta Press, 2013) and V : WaveTercets / Losing L’una (SpringGun Press, 2014)—alongside a section of new poems.

Part of what is interesting about Strickland’s work—long been known as a blend of physics, math and myth—is in how her scope is ever-expanding, broadening beyond printed text into sound, image and multimedia, evolving from a work purely existing as the more traditional lyric into something multi-genre and almost multi-lingual, utilizing written language against a language of visuals and into digital practice. Strickland’s ongoing work expands not just how the universe, as she suggests, is seen, but is (the present tense being used very deliberately) actually created. Hers is a poetry of knowledge informing knowledge, and one of science, mythology and the lyric interacting to seek and even create connections. In a 2018 interview for Touch the Donkey, she responds: “Many poets who write from/about/with science want to affect scientists. Others want to affect public perception. I share with Buckminster Fuller an urgent sense that new lexicon and syntax are required. First of all, because language based on ancient physics—the sun rises, the sun sets—does not convey, much less entrain, our current understandings of mathematics, measurement, or instrumentation. The second reason to re-create a lexicon is to make clear how a powerfully imposed science understanding directly affects social justice and all else.” As one of her earlier poems, “CASTING OF BELLS GIVES WAY TO CASTING OF CANNON,” begins:

Poles of knowing: Bell and Endor; one, a theorem,
one, a Witch of.

Saul and Macbeth, who both seek power beyond
what’s possible, seek it through knowledge—a cult knowledge

retained in one Weird woman (after the countryside has been cleared
of women, who fly, who flew, who chatter

like wrens). What does the Witch teach? Only
what is: “Saul,” she says, “give it up.”

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