In A Landscape Of Having To Repeat by Martha Ronk

Another book in three sections – that makes quite a few I’ve read recently. I wonder about this – the trinity, the triptych, is this indicative of something wanting to go on? Something that needs to move in different ways across the same set of pages? The sections, not overtly connected like the ones in Susan Howe’s That This, are still noticeably linked by images and phrases that repeat. This is the landscape. It has to repeat.

The first eponymously titled section was by far my favorite. The language is so sharp, and the sentences keep swerving one after the other. Each sentence could be its own poem, for the most part, and that expansive concision is remarkable. This section is concerned with memory, with stasis and continuation, and how time moves and doesn’t. That slipperiness of time is one of the threads that connects through the three sections, but is most appealingly engaged with in the first. A lot of the action takes place in the artifacts of memory: photographs and film. The distancing of memory that makes it unfamiliar, unimpeachable.

When it is raining it is raining for all time and then it isn’t
and when she looked at him, as he remembers it, the landscape moved closer
than ever and she did and now he can hardly remember what it was lie.

Another thing that strikes me is how easy and everyday the language is. It’s not wrought, not overtly poetic, most of the work happens at the level of sequence, syntax, and observation. The incision is all in the details, grammatically and imagisticly speaking:

Their wings are narrower, their tails forked
but the note from the tree I’ve never heard it before.

The reflection that takes place is at the same level: studied, but not self-absorbed. These poems move like a camera on autofocus pointing out a window into the past as it moves by: the subject is clear, then blurred, a new subject displaces, but it could be the same subject from a different angle, from slightly ahead or behind.

The relative motion of two objects moved.
I write to you as an approximation of intimacy.

The intimacy of memory, of object in relation to subject, to subjectivity in relation to poem, is so much more than approximation though.

The second section was intriguing at first, until I understood several poems in that they were in a space of dream-logic; whether or not they were actual descriptions of actual dreams was irrelevant to me, because as soon as I was located comfortably within that space the things that had drawn me in no longer attracted me.

The final section, “Quotidian,” treated the idea of familiarity, of dailyness, with the same slippage of recognition as memory and dream. The three link together in this, their interest in the failure of perception, and the generative gaps between object and viewer, between subject as memory and present-tense subject-hood. And though my interest in her treatment of her themes sustained me through the book, when I finished the final section I returned to the first section and re-read it, both because it was so compelling the first time I wanted to re-experience it, and because I wanted to leave the book as excited as I had been to begin it. What wasn’t quite as strong for me in the second and final section was how surprising the first section was able to be, without seeming manipulated.

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