Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Michelle Taransky's unromantic Romanticism (Sorry Was In The Woods, Omnidawn 2013)

Dear (r),

Sometimes the news is just terrible.  Sometimes you have to read Lyrical Ballads for the ballads, & think about the kids in "We are seven" & "The Last of the Flock" & "The Idiot Boy" & "Old Man Travelling" & think about how unromantic Romanticism can be.  Last night in this mood I read Michelle Taransky's really truly striking Sorry Was In The Woods.  I obsessed about the pun in the title (can I call it a Lyrical Ballads-style juxtaposition?) which is to say: sorry, I was in the woods, gone fishing, out seeking inspiration, out surrounded by nature; but also, sorry was in the woods, sympathy was in the woods, apology was out in the woods, that's where I found it.  There's a play on woods/would, too, a pun that's reminiscent of Liz Waldner's Dark Would (the Missing Person), so: efficacy, agency, desire, if only.  Unromantic Romanticisms.

Written under the sign of some "bad" (in a good way) & late & very late modernists--Stein & Zukofsky & Perelman et al.--the poems included in this collection are generally titled by enigmatic sentences & fragments, variations on a theme.  Taransky's genius take on the Whitmanic long line is to fold it into visually short-line poems by employing clunky words that accordion out beyond the page's limit:

I am looking for a language
With a word that means
We must see it all
Differently: the accounting
For their symptoms
When we are calling it a day
Using the wage to mark
Our place as the place
That makes crimes
Build an own shelter
Out of arguments
Facing past

That's the poem "SORRY IN THE WOODS WHERE" (20) in its entirety; when the first real short line comes at the end, we realize just how extensive the verse has been, the letters lined up like trees, their lines extending.  When the book occasionally breaks into prose poem ("take the place the plan of where we will meet at the end of the season" (63)) it only reinforces the effect/affect of run-on & runaway ("we cannot live on that/narrator thinking cause is caused/and no other way to consider/forests being said and/saying look, and looking, looking at the/forest now, what do you see now/isn't it different now" (67)).

The sympathetic sprawl of the sorry & the woods & the woulds compiles, by accretion, an unromantic Romanticism.  Let me call this a new lyrical ballad:



Complete the work
To travel to the woods
They have abandoned

Your favorite details
Distinguished from the fire

Parts of burning
Burning the neighbor

And the neighbor is guest
Who is a messenger who is

A large house with windows for doors
I am going to the woods

And I am nightward
The night is waiting

To say it more than
You are asked to

To call the way to the woods
The main woods the settled

Woods a woods that were
A smaller place than now

The pacing is that practice
Landing the forest onto the field

Children in the woods by the pond
Measuring the breadth by their bodies

One crying in this wilderness


Yrs ever,