Between their production of quality chapbooks and verse/schematic/collage mixtures in their webzine, Ander Monson and staff at DIAGRAM/NMP continue to occupy a unique niche in contemporary poetry. Janice Greenwood’s “Tempest” is among the best of their offerings this issue, [11.6].
One can’t help but smile at the care involved in the standby image for [11.6], especially in terms of how “Tempest” opens: the arm-and-paw illustration speaks immediately to the disembodiment of ‘the hours making disparity of our arms and legs,’ an image that is thrust alongside ‘sea,’ ‘bell,’ and general ‘wreckage of self’: quite a crew of occupants. The title of the poem does work to both situate and unseat a reader, I think—I’m immediately back beneath the tossed deck of Mr. Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with boatswain, Antonio, and the rest of the company (check W.S.’s scenic direction: ‘On a ship at sea: a tempestuous noise [. . .]); as the piece continues to move, I’m aware there’s no discernibly concrete connection to that play, and can see the tempest as one of many ‘storms’ about a home (or even a Tempest keelboat).
But, let me say: the speaker’s mention of ‘bell’ in line 1 recalls such a darling memory from The Tempest (‘Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell:/Hark! now I hear them—Ding, dong bell’ [I, ii]) that I refuse to believe I’m marooned with this touchstone by our sailor unwittingly.
Though I can’t nail down its content completely, there’s something sexy about the scene as it unfolds. The way time ravels in ‘hours’ and the rich double reading of ‘minute’ in ‘[T]he illusion of the minute unrolling from the spindle//of its chrysalis[,]’ the tilting room, the zooming from hands to fingers, the curtain, the volatility of quicksilver, the kicked-over lamp that breaks ‘night elemental’—these things seem to be both—again—the content that wants shielding from the constellations and stars by the ‘webbing of hands[,]’ and also the things which the stars might not be able to stand had they view.
Ultimately, it’s no surprise that this impassioned narrative is driven to a connection with exteriority, if for no other reason than momentary respite: the ‘sail in the dark’ offers a beacon for which the speaker may or may not choose to reach. Even though Greenwood’s ‘a sail, a sail, a sail‘ recalls the peaceable repetitive close to Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” I’m not convinced speaker or parties are headed for cover.