Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Sarah Heady, Comfort


: o love you are large

it mellows me out

warm   purpose but no expectation

                                        dissection of the  plane

that is my chest                a mail-order cure-all that comes

with a snap of my fingers         a sharp

                                        in-draw of breath



but i don’t stop

painting a room when

the walls are covered

—give me more credit than that (“: DAY :”)

Produced as a triptych of fragment-accumulations—“: sunup :,” “: day :” and “: dusk :”—San Francisco poet and editor Sarah Heady’s [see her ’12 or 20 questions’ interview here] latest poetry collection is the full-length Comfort (New York NY: Spuyten Duyvil, 2022), a collage/response work that plays off the language of a New England journal produced for farm housewives. As she writes to open her “NOTES” at the back of the collection:

Comfort magazine was published in Augusta, Maine between 1888 and 1942. Its tagline was “The Key to Happiness and Success in Over a Million Farm Homes.” Aimed at rural housewives, it began as a thinly-veiled vehicle for selling Oxien, a cure-all snake oil, with subscribers receiving discounts and bonus gifts for signing up their female friends—perhaps an early multi-level marketing scheme. At the same time, it provided a valuable source of virtual companionship for women who led isolated lives all across the United States. Much of the found language in this book comes from issues of Comfort published in the 1910s and 1920s.

The initial structure of the collection, as she notes as well, was influenced by Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy, specifically her marybones (Berkeley CA: Apogee Press, 2013) [see my review of such here]. To open her “ACKNOWLEDGMENTS,” Heady notes that: “Comfort would not exist without the work of Pattie McCarthy. I am indebted especially to her book Marybones, which directly inspired the form of this book’s prose blocks. Thank you for showing me new ways to work with found language and the historical record.” On her part, Heady collages elements from the archive and found language to weave together a boundless expansion of fragments and accumulations, pinpoints and sweeps of prose lyric. As with McCarthy, Heady writes around the marketing directed towards historical women, offering insight into the possibilities of the realities of their labour and lives, and the ways that they were depicted through this particular journal. The poems in Comfort articulate that divide through collage and collision of found and archival material, propelled through language and a staccato of disconnect that thread their way across the length and breadth of her book-length canvas. There is something interesting in how her exploration through a borrowed structure opens her lyric, allowing for the spaces between and amid her lyric to be as populated and powerful as the words she sets down. Blending concrete description and scattered collage, she writes of rural women and the weather; she writes of recipes and the wish for a new stove, all stretched taut across each distance like a drum. As she writes:

is waiting for the mails. is disappointed wishing they’d write more often. is seeing the ghost of the fence. is mending until plum midnight. is three nights setting a bucket of water on the bedroom floor to collection miasmas. is exhausted, entirely worn away. is making the best of & making the beds. is scratching along the riverbed for finds : from buckshot to walnuts, submergence, emergence : i therefore desire more solid comfort : agate, cornelian, jasper, alluvial soil. is roaming the pomological fair, pressing into the skins. is detecting a thickness to the season. is checking future wind with saplings, measuring winter minima. is all sunsets & auroras & how much farther westward he is not prepared to say : the drift, the lacustrine, or loess, alluvium : puzzles : colored pictures or pieces of pictures : catarrh & lumbago, falling of the womb : oval, oblong, obvate, abruptly pointed in a short, close cluster : we have no connection whatever with any other company : dried currants, eggs repacked : putty in bladders & batten per linear foot. oxien was, and still is, the only true food for the nerves. it ranges in thickness : perfectly homogenous, exposed, rubbed fine, the size of a shot : COMFORT : “the key to a million and a quarter homes” : a strengthener & a friend to women : a truly formidable list (“: SUNUP :”)


No comments: