Sunday, June 02, 2024

Garin Cycholl, ) prairie d

I’m intrigued by this new collection, the first I’ve seen, by Chicago poet Garin Cycholl, a collection the title of which is structured as


and produced in 2024 through Buffalo publisher BlazeVOX. According to Cycholl’s author biography, “prairie)d is the last volume among his Illinois poems, which include Blue Mound to 161, Hostile Witness, and The Bonegatherer. Together as ‘local epic,’ these book-length poems play with aspects of memory, myth, and place.” I’m fascinated by the suggestion of this quartet-suite of collections that collect into a single project. The multiple-book length poetry structure is something that doesn’t often occur often throughout contemporary poetry, although one could point to bpNichol’s The Martyrology, Robert Kroetsch’s “Field Notes,” Dennis Cooley’s “Love in a Dry Land” [see my review of one of such here], Erín Moure’s trilogy around the citizen [see my review of the third in this trio here], Steven Ross Smith’s fluttertongue, Bruce Whiteman’s The Invisible World Is in Decline, or Craig Santos Perez’s ongoing “from unincorporated territory” project [see my review of the fifth collection in this sequence here]. Some ideas are too big to contain, one might say, within the bounds of a single volume, and present themselves as not simply “a body of ongoing work” but a project across multiple books.

Through my own reading, I can see physical and structural elements in Cycholl’s prairie)d of that ‘prairie vernacular’ of Winnipeg poet Dennis Cooley (interesting, also, that Cooley provided a blurb for the back cover) [see my review of Cooley’s latest here], but one composed across a straighter line; or even echoes of Andrew Suknaski, Sid Marty or Barry McKinnon’s classic I Wanted To Say Something (1975), unaware as I am of those American counterparts of the same period that could have provided (for as much as I’m aware) a more direct influence upon this project (or simply Cycholl’s work more broadly). There is an opening of the field to these poems, one anchored in those early prairie explorations of lyric examination across the long poem, providing a narrative fragmentation but relative straightforward earnestness. The poems exist as gestures across the expanse of white, exploring the landscape of the American Midwest. “American runs as the / creek does—a ditch / into a wide, muddy / spot just west of town,” he writes, as part of the poem “Oblivion).” Throughout, Cycholl writes on Robert Frost and Michigan’s edge, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Mississippi basin, American biologist Tyrone B. Hayes and hip waders, offering a walk through storytelling that runs into a gallop, writing descriptive lines that run endless across the horizon. “my memory / in these frogs— / the sour, milky /chemicals pas- / sing thru them / and the waters / passing thru me,” he writes, further on in the same poem, “(if every prairie is a return [.]” While one might think it is hard to see the forest for the trees, this fourth in a quartet exists as an intriguing stand-alone, clearly a love song to a landscape and geography, writing across its gains and losses, failures and potential losses to come through environmental and climate crises. “I sing to you from the exile of waters,” the poem “Zeke’s song” begins, “this city, Old Earth’s vengeance for Eden; / what this place was originally, and still is, / northern [.]” Or, as the opening stretch, titled “PRAIRIE,” that begins:

(my body)

is a

journey a couple of


            from here

I is the poet of the plain;
the poet of standing waters,
of lungs gone to seed, of
ancient seepage

but as the song gets
closer to me, it
loses place

collapses under the eye’s
weight into a fistful of
smokestacks, a waterless
tower, five drums tagged


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