In attending the Massachusetts Poetry Festival this past May, I was afforded an opportunity to shop a large selection of contemporary poetry books—volumes set on long tables in the sunshine, ready for perusal. My method for this sort of perusal is straightforward: I demand to be clobbered by an author’s wisdom and linguistic gift from the first. In the case of poetry, a single poem is the wager; in fiction, there is the first page of text. What time is there to waste on work that allows itself leisure?
Considering this rubric, it is perhaps unsurprising that most of the ‘celebrity’ books were doffed immediately—the editors and publishers of such books rarely dare poems that interrogate popular, shallow modes of expression. In continued scanning, I lit on the title The Green-go Turn of Telling, handsome in black and green. Next, the real test:
is like this, slow drag on the lungs
to the center of the lake and the decision
whether to return.
Aha, Aimée Sands. You have earned this purchase, and, incidentally, delivered on the promise of the poem I met first.
The poems in The Green-go Turn of Telling operate primarily as adjudicators of Sands’ world—to read them is to read a mode of being they have been integral to helping achieve. This may be what a reader imagines poems must be in the life of their writer, but very, very few contemporary poets drop a bucket deep enough into the well to truly alter the liquid contents of their life. That Sands has a special gift for poem closures is connected to this immanent actionability, I think:
The pelt of suffering,
hung in its usual place.
the batter floods the corners
which join to hold in what must not spill.
what time is it where the seasons still whirl
under the wavering roofline
—perhaps you’ll charge me ‘Romantic’ in this, but I don’t believe the sort of mind that conceives such revelatory lines can shirk the reflective changes they demand. This is the artist’s sustaining and injurious gift to herself. In his jacket comment, Bruce Weigl alludes to something similar—that Sands’ interest in ‘words said right’ is ‘that they might save you.’
Of the many impressive poems in The Green-go Turn of Telling, my favorites are “The Mortgaging of Self Is Done,” “Crying While Swimming,” “There’s No Place Like,” and “Against Suicide.”
For me, the least inspired poems in the book are those that retire to ‘a being formed’ instead of Sands’ usual matter of making a being. Incidentally, these pieces—”Book,” “What Is Left,” “Carapace and Tentacle,” even “Gangle and Boot”—share a failure to elucidate the contents beneath readable emotions (like anger, shame, desire), and are more diarist than poetic.
In “Wheel and Turn and Startle,” a late poem in The Green-go Turn of Telling, Sands pens a line that strikes me as a moment of beautiful confluence between the poems’ ‘adjudicating’ the world and stating what that experiential habitat has becomes qua the writing of it:
I have caught you unguarded in the midst of a glass of milk
Yes—’the shift of your sentences in midair.’ And immediately I recall those leafed-over volumes in Salem, and what seemed missing in nearly every one: the willingness to be changed by the writing act—to be a bit more than an Author with poems under his thumb and an Aesthetic (all done) in tow.
At a long table, a single book—’a single gull regards the entrance to the waves.’ Thanks, Aimée and muse.
Header image Heron Walking is courtesy Heather Mitchell.