I smelled a woman’s perfume
& felt a pressure at the top of my head
As from something that wished to descend
Leave me alone, I said with my thought
I’m taking a shower now
I took the shower but all was strange
Afterward I climbed a ladder
The heaviness was still on me
& found my friend had put a beaded
Cloth beside the westernmost window of her house (“LEGEND”)
Behind on everything, I’ve finally the opportunity to go through Ariana Reines’ incredibly expansive A Sand Book (Tin House, 2019), a collection that “chronicles climate change and climate grief, gun violence and bystanderism, state violence and complicity, mourning and ecstasy, sex and love, and the transcendent shock of prophecy, tracking new dimensions of consciousness for our strange and desperate times.” The scope of this collection is incredible, and her poems have the simultaneous sense of intimacy and distance, journal entry and journalistic description. There is such a sense of deep clarity throughout her wild, energized and spinning lines, composed with careful precision through such dynamic and animated expression.
Reines’ poems in A Sand Book are constructed as curious accumulations of direct statements structured into lines and phrases, presenting a layering of information and image, offering a multiplicity of directions that begin to present themselves into a shape. “Something / Historical was happening to me // Something already / Antique. I felt myself pushing / My hair to one side of my face. I swear // Society / Was making me do it,” she writes, as part of the poem “RUNNING NYMPH.” There are moments through A Sand Book that are reminiscent of the work of the late Vancouver poet Gerry Gilbert, or even Stacy Szymaszek’s Journal of Ugly Sites & Other Journals (Albany NY: Fence Books, 2016) [see my review of such here] for the accumulation of poems-as-journal-entries, composing poems that shift in form, tone and purpose as the manuscript progresses, and events, considerations and experiences unfold. “i was crouching over my phone,” she writes, to open “THE SADDEST YEAR OF MY LIFE”: “waiting for it to tell me what to do // in that breast-swelling town / where a gray haze sprouts over the lips // of the water trailing a chemical film all over / her stepping dripping for the shower [.]” This is a book that moves through thought as easily as time, and provides a lyric time capsule of a particular period of cultural and personal movement, awareness and concerns, but one that is incredibly immediate, even presient. Her lyric is confidence and rage and exploration and observation, setting a tone that one quickly learns to attend, and absorb. To close the poem “TENTH BODY,” she writes: “What we till // Now is spiritual, is cultural, immaterial / Partaking nevertheless of pain // Like what shimmers at my base / An obscure future even now // Exceeding all predictions / As I write you [.]”
There aren’t that many poetry titles anymore that near four hundred pages (somethingelse she shares with Gilbert, author of the infamous Moby Jane [see my review of the 2004 reissue here]), so there’s quite the heft to this volume, even in paperback. Throughout her published work, Reines has long been fearless in her approach, whether to writing out physical elements of sex and the body, or taking on big ideas through an accumulation of small moments. There isn’t any subject matter she won’t explore with an equal attention and seriousness, from popping zits to climate change to sex to the Lambda Literary Awards. As she writes as part of the poem “CÉLEUR”: “One mouth dick // Is fucking its head’s other // Mouth. It’s a metaphor // For silence. It’s not // A metaphor at all [.]” If you haven’t encountered her work before, this might be the opportunity to begin, stepping into a book of incredible capacity and skill. A Sand Book really is a wonder to be hold. Also, there is a really fascinating interview with Reines around the new collection, posted online at The White Review in July 2019 and conducted by Rebecca Tamás, that includes:
Poetry shows up where language shows up – a mysterious supplement, to borrow or deform an old Derrida epithet, that we cannot do without, and that just might be the basis of the material world as we know it. Well, if not language as such, then sound.
Writing is a transformative act and writing the occult, which I interpret as writing what’s invisible, or apparently invisible, is inevitably connected to writing my desire as a woman. Since the beginning of my career I’ve been haunted by the old mode of writing, which I think of as ‘righting’ – seeking redemption, somehow, by rendering past events into art; into fiction, into vision, into some form of intellectual lucidity that could somehow free me from the shit of the real. This is how the old dudes used to do it, and it’s not without its value. But what fascinates me is writing’s relationship to the future. Every book I’ve written has radically transformed my life. It has materially altered my lifestyle, brought me into contact with new friends and lovers, artworks and countries, ideas and vibrations I had neither the guts nor the imagination to visualise in advance.