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The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poemsThe St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poemsThe St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
Rising, Falling, Hovering 
by C. D. Wright

Copper Canyon Press, 2008

Reviewed by Anis Shivani

American poets today have the nearly impossible task of feeling sorry about assorted global misdeeds, ranging from baseless war to willful torture, without falling into the trap of objectification.  Collapsing the distance between the poet’s own safety and the dangers of the zone of embattlement is subject to the charge of phony gesturing.  The poet, after making such a thankless attempt, is likely to come away a loser.  But even the most hypersensitive reader will refuse to skimp on credit owed to Wright for her bottomless leap.
Wright truly came into her own with 1991’s String Light, when her sympathies exploded into her unique voice of wry rapprochement, a sense of tragic well-being, if you will, in poems like “Remarks on Color,” “Utopia,” “Living,” and “The Ozark Odes.”  The new poems, though unprecedentedly open for her, are direct descendents of the initial groundbreaking efforts, steeped in familiar repetitions of the poet’s recognition of being seen for what she is:  a privileged observer of crimes committed at a far distance, yet feeling the pain of her obligation.

Wright has always seemed to want to compress the poetic ego to its smallest dimensions, so contrary to the Pound-Eliot-Auden patriarchal trio’s inflation of ego, sometimes to monstrous proportions, in the service of empathy.  Rising, Falling, Hovering is a very feminine, even feminist, collection, without wearing its politics on its sleeves; a warmth fiercely at odds with the coldness dominating the warmongers of the day penetrates each line, providing the reader a place of repose amid the condemnations of turbulence. 

From the first three poems onward, “Re:  Happiness in pursuit thereof,” “Like Having a Light at Your Back You Can’t See but You Can Still Feel (1),” and “Like Hearing Your Name Called in a Language You Don’t Understand,” we accept a rhythm of abrupt awakenings, guided by the poet’s loneliness as she contemplates sorrows ultimately too great for art to render.  The last mentioned poem contains these lines:

I saw the white trousers of the vendor flapping in the dust

his body engulfed in balloons,

the children selling Chiclets dispersed;

the shoeshine boy putting away his brushes, the sum of his inheritance…

I have stood small and borracha and been glad
of not being thrown down the barranca alongside the pariah consul
in the celebrated book

The lyric sense is rooted in something firmer than the rubric of the protean self.  A kind of inviolate collective tragedy, which will play out into eternity, is really the source of the knowing voice.  It is immeasurably confident precisely because of its untenable position, as mere tourist of misery.  Its statements all fold into themselves, erasing the unsaid parts, before they have become dust and memory.  The voice is remote like a dead director’s, or a partisan god’s, who has been newly objectified by scholarship.

The title poem, constituting almost half the book, is a major contribution to contemporary poetics, bearing favorable comparison to Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Autobiography of My Alter Ego” in his Warhorses (FSG, 2008).  It is, quite possibly, the most complete poetic account yet of how our sensibilities have been warped through the last several years of untold crimes against humanity, the abrupt return of barbarisms we thought had been put behind for good.  Under these circumstances, to be able to write poetry is itself an exception that takes some explaining.  Why not remain mute?  Yet speak she must:

It devolved on her to speak through the shadows of events themselves:

Animals or men passing through the night
al otro lado

Without documents, blankets, contacts,
without water, without with

Freeze, dehydrate, burn

A knot of ummoving human forms
waiting for a bell to quicken them

from pueblo without medicine maize or milk

from colonia of cardboard without fuel or flour

Mira:  you will never see faces like this again

All of globalization’s current torrents and torments, from illegal Mexican border crossings to the bureaucratic authorization of depravities in Iraq, merge and swell and crest in a rolling river of rhythm, words subject to reconsideration from the very moment they are uttered.  We contemplate the poet contemplating her smallness, the only endearing gesture possible in her position of privilege. 

The immensity of the barbarisms on view has elevated Wright’s voice to a music that never falters, issuing from an Olympian distance where all, however, are invited.  That the fall of civilization might call forth such beautiful lyricism, of its time but far beyond it, is perhaps the only hope we may dare to harbor in these times.  “Rising, Falling, Hovering” is a poem that should last, from a poet who has finally put it all together.

Anis Shivani’s short fiction collection, Anatolia and Other Stories, is being published by Black Lawrence Press in October 2009.  A novel, Intrusion, is in progress.