Lately, I have been thinking more discernably about a poem’s intention; poetry as a type of form that pushes language beyond its design to encapsulate the intelligibility of experience and emotion. It is romantic to imagine the poet venturing into the beyond, bringing back to the limits of the page treasures from outer worlds. To put into words the moment you knew your love was going to leave, the feeling of regaining the balance of your bike after it has threatened to throw you off—to give shape to the realities we position ourselves to and against.
What I have thought less often of is poetry as control, poetry as drawing a fence to bring everything nearer. Both lines of thought—poetry as bringing clarity to experience versus boundary to experience—are similar, and arguably one of the same, suggesting a kind of uncovering and translation by the poet. However, one cannot ignore the sense of anxiety particular to a poem which actively works to create an ordering of experience. There is a somewhat subtle but important distinction between discovery and recovery. The poetry of discovery suggests something inaccessible, gifted, and translated into consumable form by the poet. The work of recovery poetics addresses the hyper-accessible, overly stimulated, fractured, mutilated thingliness that actively challenges how we identify ourselves, move through spaces, and construct reasoning. Recovery work then is a work to assimilate what remains opaque, an impossible task.
When I first read Jameson Fitzpatrick’s Pricks in the Tapestry, I was struck by the urgency to catalog, to retrace, to map the past. I imagine the poet in an empty, white-walled room, a single light bulb swinging overhead as they hunch over a sea of evidence, attempting to piece together the moments of their life that have negotiated their presence.
Something that has always been there is being discovered. (52)
What are we as writers discovering most in our attempts of retracing and recovering but a sense of control over the narrative of oneself; this storytelling’s value, positioning, and sense of effect on others. PITT exposes a desire to recoup the loss, to walk under the history of one’s life, like an astrologer under the blanket of stars, and point to the critical moments in life and say, “yes, that is where it happened. This is why it is this way.”
It’s however you would imagine it.
You specifically, whoever you are.
Whatever the precise conditions,
they are met. However you would
arrange the world, like a god or a
child, you can. It will last however
long as you can imagine it without
something going wrong. Not very. (57)
And the first bad thing, much further back than that, is not my first memory, or what I understand to be the first because
over time I have
smoothed and perfected it like a stone in my palm. (12)
Early on in the book, the poems appear almost list-like with short lines and long stanzas that seem to take note of what rushes back to the speaker:
The way the fabric pulls across. The way the sleeve hangs open when he reaches up. The way the armpit calls me to memorize it. The way he must lower the arm. The way the bicep twitches. The way the back ripples. The way the ankle peeks. The way the band of underwear inches upward so he must reach in to push himself
down again. The scratch while he’s there. The way there is no anguish in the face. The way he looks in any direction, away from me. (5)
These beginning poems are reminiscent of automated writing practices that work to excavate what the mind has kept hidden. Now, recorded on the page, Fitzpatrick begins tracing his red yarn across a vast landscape of memory, in pieces such as “Roughly” and “Translator’s Note on ‘I Woke Up’” in which commentary is used to make sense of the narrative.
However, despite the attempts of cataloging, a sense of unfulfillment recurs as poems end with a longing. This longing is one for presence, a vibrational longing to make marks on other’s lives:
I don’t know how
(it makes me sad)
when it is over
he tucks himself back
into his life
It’s wrong, I know. Not the watching, but the wanting
to be the one watched: the woman,
if not the man who wants her,
who I want. I want him
to look at me (70)
The longing is a longing for answers. The attempts to discover the reason for one’s smallness. The urgency is this: If I know it, I can change it. But the answers come half-formed or not at all:
There is no answer there.
Instead I write this poem, which is an essay, which is a test, and in which there
is no answer either. (51)
Though the book cannot resolve itself in the real, it creates its own reality and possibilities through its imagination of other worlds, other versions of the self:
I never even meet one of them, because I’m never admitted to a psychiatric
hospital, because I never want to kill myself, or say I will, or gesture to
repeatedly in order to prevent someone from abandoning me, which, I’ll never
learn, is what a therapist I’ll never meet refers to as a “communication tactic.”
In this poem, I don’t even fear abandonment. (9)
Not only does the poem re-imagine past events, but imagines what never was such as in poems like “The Poem They Didn’t Write” and “Strawberries.” Perhaps this imagining is more painful than the retracing in the book. There is exposure, a tenderness that is brutal and bright. When does imagining turn from pleasure to pain? Fitzpatrick seems to want imagination to serve as a relief but instead is confronted by imagination’s ability to suspend desire in a space of no fulfillment. The poems of the book are full and round, and still, they ache. Still, they are calling for a resolution.
What do we gain from such work? Is it to double-down on poetry as self-sacrifice, a splaying of oneself for re-examination. I think not. What I admire most in Fitzpatrick’s book are the gashes in the landscape; The romance is not in the poem’s painting of experience but in the harm it offers in its revisiting without resolution, desire without fulfillment:
Is desire without pain possible?
Is desire possible without pain?
Really, I want to know. I want to stop writing this poem.
I want him to say Yes. (80-81)
Whitney Kerutis is a poet from Arizona now residing in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She is the Founder/Editor in Chief of GASHER Journal and a Ph.D. student in Creative Writing/Literature at Oklahoma State University. She received her MFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder where she served as Poetry Editor of Timber Journal. She is the 2018 poetry winner of the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award. Her work has appeared in journals such as Colorado Review, American Literary Review, Bayou Magazine, Breakwater Review, and others.