Monday, September 12, 2011

Jill Alexander Essbaum responds to Susana Gardner's Herso: An Heirship in Waves

I am a formalist-ish poet.  Therefore, all I read is seen, interpreted, discerned, and valued through the eyes of a writer concerned chiefly with exactly how the words that appear on a page process themselves.  To what end.  In which manner.  For what reason.  In what direction.  For how long.  And more, and more, and more.  This is a long way around saying that I cannot divorce a poem or a book of poetry’s shape from its…hmmmm…I’m going to write ‘meaning’ even though I’m pretty sure that’s not the right word (what does it mean, anyway, for a thing to have meaning?).  And should we ever try and separate the two?  I think no.

I’ve known Susana Gardner for awhile.  We were a single mile apart from each other when I lived in Switzerland.  One single, silly mile.  We should have been at each other’s houses every day.  But we weren’t.  I was trapped in the drama of an unraveling marriage and that preoccupied about 97% of my available resources.  BUT.  If I had spent those days with her, what I think I would have learned is this:  that all shorelines vary unbelievably.  That I, too, am of Ifs and possibility.  That some nightships MUST be drowned.  That the body, when it cannot swim, must walk.  That sentences are made of words, and what is a word but a collection of letters?, and each collection of letters contains every word that can be made of it. Everything intends everything else.  That there is a Before Me and there is an After Me.  That a stranger is always a stranger.  And the sea is the strangest creature of all.  Investigate. Venture out.  Open thou-self to an unknown road.  I inhabit my inhibitions. 

If I had spent those days with her I might have learned these things.  But I didn’t.  So I learn them now.  In this lovely, discerning, impeccably heart-sore book. 

The formalist in me—again, ever present—deems Susana’s experiment in contra-form a success.  There is nothing tired or shabby or olden-timed or dull in this book.  The form always follows the function; it never works the other way around.  An engineer I used to be married to taught me that.  The shape of this book is dictated by the sea itself: mutable, vast, by turns black and cavernous, willing, empty as a bucket full of water. 

This is what HERSO: An Heirship in Waves means to me.

Jill Alexander Essbaum is the author of Harlot (No Tell Books), Necropolis (NeoNuma Arts) and most recently The Devastation, a single poem chapbook (Cooper Dillon). She is an instructor at the UCR  Palm Desert Low Residency MFA program. 

Herso is available from SPD.

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