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Reading Echo Localial

shale
Opening page of Natalie Simpson’s Echo Localial (Edits All Over, 2008)

The poems don’t come unpacked. More Ikea model than Leon’s. Clint Burnham said of the book from 2 years before this chapbook, “Simpson is interested in whether words still communicate when shorn of their grammar. Her book is evidence that they do, and the poems that result reward our close reading.”

When shorn of grammar, I expect something like reason (by claire edwards). These stay in parallel lines on the page but its how the words move the mind not what posture they have to the plain of the page that matters.

Simpson’s poems are interested in turns and fractures and sound. The junctures come often but there is a movement away to out there and back to home base of wrestling with the notion of center and home. What it is doing works against a straight thru line of story. It is about feeling siphoned thru head to pick up vocabulary.

“Shale tight./ Shale slid./ eyelids by day.” That has a nice sound to it. Clipped and sounds play catch between words. What does that evoke?

Tight as shale. So tight it doesn’t even look like its has those sedimentary layers. Solid rocks, tending to scree. Home is an accumulation of layers that despite being stone, and despite looking like blue inert bedrock, can collapse and scatter easily. An apt sort of metaphor for the fragility of constants. Before your very eyes, that balance of stone. The vision itself is comparable to the unstable nature of the stone. Eyelids like shale, heavy and moving and opaque. Each phrase is a breath burst then a full stop of a sentence. Laboured.

It’s rather a dark vision of vulnerability. “And day all equations” suggesting that one is calculating how to hold this all together, or perhaps, how to save oneself, or detonate the loosening?

Harpy. What an ugly-sounding word. As chosen to be. So what makes this whole home of shale feel loose is someone nagging and scolding?

Natalie Simpson’s chapbook-length poem circles around the idea of what home is. What is it? Small bills, a damp place, she suggests. Home is where “some trucks blather past./A home is trying// Oh, blind, formidable. / Apology forks.”

A rock and a hard place, this home. The idea of world instability and low mood is continued from her accrete or crumble (LINEbooks, 2006). In the excerpt at ditch,, there’s a similar sort of pitch of playing sounds that are energizing to the tongue as it darts around assonance here of ah, ah, ah,

we fasten odd rhythm to our bodies: lantern and transom. a
climate of fallacy clatters. our bodies, you gather, are graphite
and pallid.

Words come together in unexpected combinations.

few pages in
Natalie Simpson, Echo Localial (Edits All Over, 2008)

“Points of light flicker in oxygenated/sentiment” is an evocative phrase. Is sentiment a fuel for ideas?

Some have so much pent up that they backdraft with their projected feelings. Is that it? But the wall of firey ideas is hardly delicate like flickering points of light. The metaphor grounds the abstract sentiment with flames.

The turn comes quickly as the narrator recants “Sediment more/ faithfully records”. Which would mean word play of sentiment vs. sediment. Sediment suggests death, fossils records, ancient history, after an historical calm. I’m not sure what to do with the word faithfully suggesting diligent history having good intentions.

So the net is that feelings and ideas pass away, but what lasts are the structures, as in ideas expressed in settlement, or in the reality of burial?

I appreciate the sense of humour making light of itself in This side of the comma, this side of the comma. A touch of quirk of truth. 6 of one, half a dozen of another and there is not a this and that binary because as you move from this, you eye is on the next this. To each phase, it is the this not the that. One is present. Grab humour where you can in this all is relative context.

“Some kind of owl makes the news.” has an implied disinterest of I don’t care which owl. Particulars don’t matter. or perhaps owls don’t matter more than to mention that someone mentioned that they exist. Moving right along.

This is followed by “Some kind of/mental breakdown trumps others.” The hook of suspense is in the line break pulling attention to the grammatical parallel. It draws equivalency thru grammar between nature and nature of the mind.

Although they are real objects, the owls are in the abstract. Mental health although not visible is the palpable of the two.

The owls sets up neutrality of world out there, reported in contrast to the world that isn’t media, but immediate. There are mental health competitions and a pecking order. Does an episode of schizophrenia or bipolar beat a bout of monopolar depression two to one? What about nervous breakdowns? Do they win, but only if they go postal?

There are many things to vie for our attention. “Rub up slip shoulders./ Ship yard, flames./ Dark surges. Hobbled/ loose to lame.”

There’s a sort of symmetry and lullaby to sounds yet the imagery is nightmarish and monolithically, internally consistent dark views.

The selected elements from life to comment on are urban and seem to have an underlying world view that all is not recoverable, that things are messed up.

Rather than shelter, look at the bill. Rather than ease of stride or pride in being able to move, the hobbling and lameness is emphasized. Since grammar is stripped back, am I reading tea leaves? It seems unambiguous that the upshot is a downward trajectory.

Would it be cutting the legs out from under the message to admit more vantage points? I’m probably uncommon in that poets around me say they love the dark stuff. Crying at a movie or theater play or book for some people is lauded. I don’t get that. Don’t people have enough grief of their own and of those they love without vicariously adding more to their life?

Sometimes one shouldn’t read two authors simulateously. They curdle each other in the mouth. A palate cleanser in between would have helped taste both flavours better.

Simpson, in contrast to Gusafson, seems to work at selecting fragments that are stressful without any closure. I don’t understand the motivation of holding onself in such a headspace. Is it staring down the difficult to win? Does it seem that anything else is deluding onself about the nature of reality which is suffering? Is it like appreciation for tears in ones ears as valid? (Which it is.)

Gustafson in that work — and I compare him because they are both on my lap and head at the same time by chance — displays a charitable worldview that there are some issues but an overall sense of survival as a connected species that needs joy to live. p. 43 So the axel is broken and pleasure is fleeting…in Funeral Music he says, “Let us make music//Out of condition/ Out of pitch.”

Are we out of pitch? Off key or no tar remaining? No matter, one sings what one needs to hear to oneself. Letters and stories, one doesn’t want to forget. Rythms that soothe and talk beyond the language. Simpson isn’t anti-aesthetic but seems more the canary in mine than canary in living room’s cage.

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