From the opening poem, “A closed field”, Gaze announces that it is its own audience, poems constructed for each other, creating a community that dreams of repairing a gaping wound somewhere in the world we can only feel the edges of. What happens to bodies, eyes, hands, brains, mouths, voices and words of those who are at that other end of the violent global conversation we witness. You know, we might not ever really be able to know. Instead of merely guessing, Marthe Reed takes on the project of looking, carefully, at a number of sources to build a group of moments that constitute an example of the cultural gaze.
The exposed, self-conscious confusion with pronouns quickly dissolves any typical belief that these poems are intended for the reader of the book. The poems close in around themselves, almost whispering to each other in fragments, and constructing each other. As a result, there’s a necessary shutting out of the expectant and privileged subjectivity many poems appeal to. Instead, Gaze makes a unique political poetics out of the understated urgency to rebuild something we can only fathom in its aftermath, in the desperate position of a helpless witness.
As for us, the epigraph points out that there’s “the vanishing point at which our complicity becomes inevitable”, a horizon of meaning that’s traced in different shapes by each poem in the book, each resembling the diversity of women’s bodies in the world, as well as the effects of events. Ungainly and open as the page long epigraph that expands to the sides of the page, or tight and whispered in even stanzas that go on pages at a time, or spread out across the spine, distributed like blood cells in a stream. Each poem is listening to itself being made.
The first buzz of meaning from Gaze comes as a result of immediately apprehending Marthe’s accurate appraisal of the gravity of the context she’s entering. There’s a palpable sense of her belief in the potential power of words, writing, poems, and the book to have a real and physical impact on our own understanding of contemporary subjectivity, citizenship and perceptions of global circumstance. In the beautiful muted gray book, the poems are gathered in their theater; one might say, the theater of war. With a particularly gentle and diffuse subjectivity, Reed shifts between ideas of a “she” that’s connected (invisibly and tenuously, by various technologies of awareness) to other “she”’s that emerge from each poem’s sense of its own identity.
If you’re not sure what you’re seeing, it’s not a mistake. How can we be? Confronted with images that reach us like missiles we have to conjure in order to confront. How else can a poem send or do or be what it needs to for those it is dedicated to? Sorry if this is vague—how can it not be? There’s so much space between the images or information we receive from our counterparts, Gaze is the most honest Reed can be about an empathy with only words to offer, that are so much weaker than war; there’s a great surrender that admits members of an audience into a quite destroyed space. We, the ones surrounding the book, can ask our way in, find hope in an open view of facts found skewed, then reconfigured with delicate and unexpected description.