08 March 2011

More Thoughts on Keenan

I've been struggling to articulate for myself the quality that makes Lauren Levin's writing both propulsive and disorienting. Something seems to slip in the predicate, like the sentence is trying to recalibrate or defrag due to a repurposing or unhinging of grammatical affect. I'm reminded of Stein in "Poetry and Grammar": "Verbs and adverbs and articles and conjunctions and prepositions are lively because they all do something and as long as anything does something it keeps alive." Take the following, the first poem in Keenan:

So, the vertiginous energy of the poem is certainly related to the speed of the lines, but also, too, to the mobilized verb tenses. Here, a weirdly passive construction "You know your thoughts, believed inside," next to "you shout and are to be": the third-person plural indicative "are" next to the infinitive "to be." The language gets really interesting, however, in the off-kilter verb/preposition phrases such as "to become upon every person" or "basis starts, permeable into death" or "a hose you've heard presented about."

My favorite poem in the chapbook is also its most sustained (though it's not always clear where one poem ends and another begins): here Lauren perfectly marries her tightly wound grammatical constructs ("I think we should be serious and be people") with a really moving, elegiac softness:

I can't get the scan clear due to the saddle-stitch (don't want to break the binding), but I'm sure you get the idea: that is, you probably need this...

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