I wrote both of these reviews in draft form while running the air conditioning unit on the set of Arrow, the TV show, occasioning many interesting comments from the cast & crew, including one man who shuddered, “My ex-wife was a poet. Turned me off poetry for life.” Well damn her/him. These books are truly worth the read.
1/ Brecken Hancock’s Broom Broom:
Amid the welter of first releases, glutting, unrecollectable, Hancock’s Broom Broom (with its vertiginous cover of palimsestuous female faces) sticks in the blood like Roethke’s abject greenhouse spells or Sexton’s wicked glittering seances. And grief begot those too.
Initially, while I relished the energy of Hancock’s language, from the playfully grim scenarios of fetal sharks that “scarf/each other to abortion/Yum yum/in Mom’s womb. It’s on YouTube” (Husha) to her quirky familiarity with forms like the villanelle (Sandy) and glosa(The Near Site), and the compelling emotional scholarship found in “Notes to Historia Thermae”, I couldn’t engage with the deeper agony of familial narration fracturing inside these pieces. By “Incubus, Malleus, Stapes” feeling leaks in during an erotically rupturing canoe trip: “Dock, years after these whales/ came to die, to drone of insects./No one knows what becomes of sound/ when all the world’s coquilles/hit shoal,” a delicious ominousness further elaborated in “The crime for which he’s serving life” which concludes with the stark philosophical queries: “I don’t believe in any god, so why am I nodding towards something like a soul? What does one live for?…Is the goal here to eke out another clutch of years?”
And then the Mother enters with the next poem,
a brilliant dark sashaying between numbered accidents experienced in childhood and seemingly more banal, quotidian moments that carry their own sour baggage: “bluebottle fly bunt bunts against glass…Mom’s broom, the vroom vroom of her vacuum…Dad rips up the carpet; goodbye stains.” The brutal maternal momentum is then sustained to the book’s end, with the ponderous wonder of lines like “Grief is a door, strange how feral” (Lag), “Grief isn’t an epoch, it’s a milieu” from the startling The Art of Plumbing, and “Evil Brecken'”s repellent chutzpah punching through in stanzas such as “Fused sex to sex, pixel to pixel/we sit together, shit together/brandish our teats/like handkerchiefs, oink, oink,/muddle in the bristly/bacon of us: wrecking-/ball vulva, this bathetic smile.”
But Hancock saves the most affecting poem for nearly the book’s fierce finale. “Once More,” which prosily alternates between the personal history of Brecken’s mother’s early and tortuous decline, italicized descents into her damaged psyche and the author’s own strivings to acknowledge this long term loss through the support of grief-theorists like Barthes (a fave of mine) and Didion, is powerfully articulated. Hancock’s awareness of her mother’s disconnection from a “decayed language” serves as impetus for her own offering of poems in response to what, even after death, keeps, achingly, echoing.
2/David O’Meara’s A Pretty Sight
While Hancock’s poems rake into sanguinary memory, instantaneously fixed, O’Meara’s perhaps deceptively quieter cerebration rhythms itself gradually into the spinal column and haunts. Kind of like the book’s subtle hunt of cover, the dog chasing the hare gradually pressing through its night. “Inside my mind, there’s another mind,” O’Meara writes in the sardonic “So far so stupid,” which begins with the wholly contemporary line: “All those selfies I posted/look really great,” an observation (the mind one that is) that may account for the densely laden allusiveness of these poems.
They aren’t just a randomized what’s what of O ‘Meara’s rolladeck of reading though; A Pretty Sight is hinged with its references to philosopher and raconteurs from Ancient Greece: Socrates, Aesop, Virgil, among others, including a lyric on Socrates at Delium and a hilarious dialogue between old Soc and Sid Vicious on the nature of martyrdom: Soc: “And the scabs on the back of your hands/ were they not left by spear tips?” Sid: “That was just a laugh with a cigarette, some game/ we’d play in the Hampsted bedsit.”
O’Meara’s poems resonate with the sophisticated intellectual poise of a Steve Noyes, a James Pollock, or a Richard Greene, though they can take the piss out too, mashing things up with lush bits of description and raw pronouncements that jag the textual flow in a mostly satisfying way. A prime example of this mode is his long rhapsody, “Circa Now”, which veers from Klimt, Freud, and Juno to “khao soi and mango” to “Fuck silence or permanence/Fuck elegy.Fuck time and pain,” before ending with the ennuiesque directive, “Virgil, don’t be our guide; you wouldn’t know the way around now,” amid cellphones and contrails that “rib the sky.”
My favorite poems however (of course attesting to my rather elegiac predilections) are the bittersweet and noble “Terms,” about a teacher dying of cancer who wants his students to remember his beloved novel’s motifs: “the white horse and the pillar of smoke,” “Dance”, whose description of teen sex pops the nostalgia button so acutely: “In back seats, sweat squeaky on vinyl, trying to syringe pleasure into each other’s skin,” the endlessly deferred poem of “The Tennis Courts in Winter,” and the gutting loveliness of “End Times,” its remnant ghosts and in the urn, “tiny, like seashells in the sand…his hipbones.”
As with the previously listed poets O’ Meara resides among, I don’t think he ever writes a “bad” poem, just pieces one is more or less engaged with in relation to how his use of language vivifies his occasionally hermetic subject matter. And o he’s ballsy in his joustings with Rilke: “You must change your life, but first, wait a few minutes” (How I wrote). If you insist. Ok.