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Friday, November 30, 2018

Kate Colby, The Arrangements

Few poems rely so entirely on perception as those of Kate Colby. Her “Shaker /caked with salt” (12) requires no explanation. Colby avoids a generalizing gestures, “humidity” in the next line suggests a cause, but observation for Colby is always momentary. What about her silences? “I can’t speak for / thinking of you” – that from the first lines of the first poem in the new book, Arrangements (Four Way Books 2018). Absence haunts the book. For this poet “matter matters” which was the by-word of Eva Hess. “Sea grapes draped / on split-rail fence” (13). There is a pastoral ambience to that line. The poem “Green Blind” concludes “stone thrown into // otherwise intact / algal mat. In addition to observed matter in dialog with absence, New England melancholy may be the second pole of Colby’s art. In general observations cancel one another out. “My vision excludes me,” she writes  in “The Beholder” (18). The premises that underlie a philosophy of observation are soulless. Thoreau noted the same problem when he admitted, his vision as he stood on a mountaintop excluded his presence even as he attempted to record what he saw, a trenchant version of the frailty of the individual moment. Observation is a species of entrapment. There is no turning away and then it is gone. The effort of remembering is continuous with the experience of the present. No release. “I was once in a room so hot // and crowded that our sweat condense on / the ceiling and rained back down. // I think of this every time / I walk beneath a dripping // window unit.” (“The-wife” 20-21). She finds many watery and humid images with which to surround her sorrows.

Her line breaks are acute and painful. Therein lies the poetry.  These lines from “Burial” are consonant with those U have already cited:
Never to be out done by woods,
where you heard the rain before

feeling it – now is the time
to weaves wreathes from waves
graven matts of marsh weed. (80)

The next line contains the word “pall. The feelings are funereal. A dear one has been lost. It is also cataclysmic. Colby’s “Annunciation,” very unlike the work of Ewa Chrusciel that I recently reviewed holds no space for hope:

See, at the beginning of
the painting she cradles

her viscera, a small window
hovering in front of her

head. By the end, this
tentative angle has taken

from her the purpose of
history … (85)

It is difficult to quote from or truncate this poem. Coby’s apotheosis, in the midst of such loss is to become eyes “turn myself, into eyes.” perception itself, as steady as the effort to see may be, is after all perception, often sadly so. I now have no doubt as to what arrangements are cited in the tittle, “Arrangement.” This is a funereal book.

Donald Wellman 

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