Saturday, July 19, 2008



Forget Reading by Anthony Hawley
(Shearsman Books, Exeter, U.K., 2008)

Forget Reading's title intrigues me partly because I can’t recall ever responding to a poetry book the way I did to Anthony Hawley’s newest collection—that is, I thought all of the poems could be read as “list poems”, specifically where each line is a title
verbatim garden
hillock aspect
one who is dividing
dear lapsang souchong
lead us not into the forest
impossible sections
the living verb
of cinema binds us
a little more mechanical
watch and we’ll engine
off so many ports
the world has to smile at
fading into a measure
of water unplug views of hills

I realize, of course, that these are not list poems, but that they effect that impression is facilitated by the line-break working consistently (in my read anyway) as a pause. More admirably, the list-making impression attests to the power of each line to make one linger rather than right away continue into reading the next line, often due to intriguing juxtapositions of words: “violins shudder” (P. 14); “transformative batter” (P. 38); “past parallel” (P. 83); “fired marshmallow” (P. 78)…and so on.

Even when there could be that ye olde narrative arc that goes beyond one line into the next, each line still causes a pause due to the lines’ definitional mysteries, as in this example—from the third “P(r)etty Sonnets”:
counting zero
to negative ten

Or this longer example that one certainly can argue sets up a scene but again the scene seems of secondary import to me and I feel instead that something else is going on beyond its surface references:
enter flax seed oil
enter pignoli nut and almond
enter the six lemon trees
on top of which perched a pair of swallows
enter rinds and zest of
enter yolk
enter tablecloth and the six guests
enter chewing happily
the wine for washing down
the sweet sweet tea
for warming
enter deck of cards and royal flush
enter losing face
disguised, enter chatter to end
the evening always

The pauses effected at the end of each line give an impression these could be collated lines rather than the descriptive reference to some social gathering. This is an effect that can look easy but requires care and patience to pull off; when I wrote my first and so far only list-poem based on titles, I had to pay attention to how the length and sound of each title might rhythmically cohere into a body that works as a poem and not just a list (if curious about moi poem, go HERE for “Untitled Bookstore” which is the 2nd of three poems on my 2001 Moria Poetry page). Hawley succeeds in part due to an attention to music, e.g. from the third “P(r)etty Sonnets”:
they come swaggering not knowing just how fast
i wish i could write what is said
caterpillar, june bug towards the graveled surface
of every article in the closet
are there any coats like a dalmatian’s
bandonian is the desert we lost each other in
oh caballeros
when will be it be done

The lyricism, indeed, is pleasure-heightening in this collection. Here’s an excerpt from “Productive Suffix” where the line-break-induced pauses occur even in couplets (a title can be two lines, why not?); I often read the couplets as blocks (that is, glossing over the internal line-break in each couplet) given these stanzas' brevity, but didn't do so in Hawley's poems. This excerpt also displays lovely music:
at night

                  what doesn’t
                  continue to drain

of water

                  is anywhere a sense of
                  more than right here

Now, I've conceded that I am reading something into this work not intended by its author. But s/he who forgets reading is usually dead anyway, right?, as in a dead author? (And by “author” here, I don’t mean necessarily the professional writer but anyone who has ever written anything—a letter, an email, a song—has authored something.) Moreover, synchronistically, if each line is a title and yet the work for which the title exists is non-existent (in the book anyway), isn’t that consistent with the title’s suggestion to “forget reading”?

Or as the author explicitly says, with a welcome, gentle sense of humor, in the book’s fourth and last “P(r)etty Sonnets”:
cliffs across the river a set of teeth
all the toy boats wedged between the teeth
you could not you could not arrange the lilacs neatly why not
the photograph of the dock is the picture of desire flooding it
have you a green thumb
the caretaker of the garden asked, held a gecko in his palm
does a line connect by definition
anyway, forget reading

Which is all to say, for its conceptual underpinning and wonderful verbal pitch, Forget Reading is most definitely… not forgettable.


Eileen Tabios does not allow her books to be reviewed in Galatea Resurrects, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to Anny Ballardini’s review of her I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved in JACKET, as well as Allen Gaborro’s review of her The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes in the Philippine News.

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