review
by rob mclennan

Pioneers in the Study of Motion by Susan Briante (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2007)

The more I read the poetry collections by American publisher Ahsahta Press, the more I not only like them, but even envy them; the most recent of which is a first poetry collection by Texas poet Susan Briante, Pioneers in the Study of Motion (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2007). From her first section "Eventual Darlings" to "Pioneers in the Study of Motion" and "How Cities Get Founded," I'm in awe simply of her titles, even before the movement of the poems themselves.

 

Eventual Darling (Mexico City)

 

A fire, a scalpel, a needle or the flagpole

in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral,

 

the horizon pitches south, demands

and remedies written out long hand on cotton sheets

 

bleach-scented, sweat-damp as mothers-

in-law before the National Palace sell plastic flowers

 

from a wrought iron fence, indiscriminate in class

or species, soldiers lower the flag in spread

 

and crease, a fevered palm unfurls in a gesture,

in a fresco, of nation building towards me

 

to transmit infective histories (just a twinge)

the Keynesian vaccine inspires steeples

 

like the Pemex Tower or the Torre Latino

or a tar-driven scourge of rooftops.

 

How do the movements of geography shape themselves? In Briante's poems, the geographies are shaped internally and only form their way outside of the body once a relation is made. One of the charming elements of these books is the material that comes with it, including a page or two of "Biography" and an "Author's Statement" with the press release (available in full on the publisher's website). In her "Author's Statement (in the form of an ideal interview)," Briante writes:

 

Regionalism, like notions of nationalism, strike me as extraordinarily cliché. And yet in a time of Internet cafes and Fox News at airport gates, our relationship to our environment seems tenuous at a great cost to our physical, political, and spiritual survival. Most of us don’t know how to name the things around us, because there's nothing in the market that requires us to have such an awareness. As my friend, the poet Dale Smith, reminded me: just being able to identify the grasses in the alleys can seem like radical knowledge. That feels to me like one of poetry's strongest imperatives: to provide us with vision and vocabulary.

 

The poems in this collection may seem to cover an ambitious amount of territory from Antarctica to Kinshasa. But then again so does the scope of our lives. The title comes from an exhibit on the work of photographers, such as Eadweard Muybridge, who first captured animals and humans in motion. There's something about those series of images that seems apropos of the best poetry. It is a matter of doing more than just freezing a moment but observing it in relation to what comes before and after it, a deeper gaze that allows us to see beyond what the eye can register. 

 

Rob Mclennan is an Ottawa-based writer, editor & publisher, and the author of over a dozen trade collections of poetry, including The Ottawa City Project (Chaudiere Books, 2007), & the novel white (The Mercury Press, 2007), as well as two non-fiction titles, subverting the lyric: essays (ECW Press, 2007) & Ottawa: The Unknown City (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007). He often posts reviews, essays & rants at www.robmclennan.blogspot.com, & he was recently named writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta for the 2007-8 academic year.

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