Saturday, September 25, 2021

Oscar Oswald, Irredenta



That I am listening to landscape
think of me midair, my atoms of the iron
made before my time in worker’s hand

he lives with me, whomever he may be
are they defiant men who seek him

seeking to be sound, that is untested
clean from last night raining without cloud

what I surmise wet sockets styrofoams
that is a box mysterious to me

is wedged beneath a weed, with purpose
mine is to report these things

without superior, within the earshot
cloudy low horizons humming under heavy sky

is meant to be my only sentiment
opposing nothing that is witless

I’m fascinated by the size and scope of American poet Oscar Oswald’s full-length debut, Irredenta (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2021), an assemblage of poems that approach the language and contemplations of America. There is something curious in the way that Oswald is less a poet of sentences or phrases, or even of the individual poem, but of ideas shaped into and across poem structures. Self-described in the press release as a “sequence of poems that interrogates American civics and citizenry from its foundation in the pastoral tradition,” in many ways Irredenta is a document of witness and careful lyric study that coheres as a collection through its single field of study, almost as a workbook. “all persons akimbo,” he writes, as part of the poem “MANIFEST,” “I persons prone / so that I hear my name my absentee // in my condition, that I am one subject / subject to love and more or less one person // is the homeowner hiring the immigrant / what does she prize above her freedom [.]”

Oswald works through the mythologies that sustain the idea of America, which are often in opposition of an entirely different lived reality of its population. “the entire prospect // of interrogations lost / on me American,” he writes, as part of “FIRST VERSE,” “enveloper by nature / whether nature be // big sky uncitizens / steep man amends [.]” As Canadian poet Erín Moure wrote in her own trilogy around the idea of the “citizen,” so too does Oswald write out considerations of civic and interpersonal responsibility through a complex language. “what shade do I enjoy // who faces west,” he writes, in the opening poem, “SHEPHERD’S SONG,” “fleets into citizen / is my preliminary, is none the hearing of // shy of my hearing of America [.]” As part of that responsibility, Oswald writes our undeniable connections to the earth, reaching to reconcile a disconnect between human consideration and activity and the natural world. “There is no universe but ours,” he writes, as part of “LYCIDAS,” “and theirs. Our common song is optional.” And his, too, is composed as glorious song, one that sees a way through to salvage, even save, the ways we’ve cornered ourselves. One might suggest that his is very much a song of hope.

Love is the country, tell me the foreigner
who speaks what is this made for me my love
what love captains of cedar, what man is an alliance

I have my person wrap me
love is sage and tar and rips apart my hand

I am an empty glass love rings am I in uniform
I roll my sleeves of course love melts me head to toe

to hold myself straight, and that crumbles the authority
what liberty please would the keynote speaker

swooping for I hear, who sings to me this land is yours
what love have I will be my currency

and lives uncredited, anonymous (“THE YOUNG HERDSMAN”)


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