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The poems that Brian Teare writes always seem restless with language itself: the words to say what as much as not being able to find the words at all; poems that exist, in a way, between language and utterance that makes them strangely formal—although I wouldn’t call him a formalist, strictly speaking.
His newest book, simply and ambiguously called Pleasure, reveals a world in which grief and remembrance have made the world pastoral but difficult and, at times, like Brenda Hillman’s “Death Tractates” (a book of poems based, in part, on the Gnostic gospels which literally interrupted another book she was writing), practically occult.
This is meant as high praise for a collection where the laser sharp focus falls authoritatively on the matters of the spirit and the flesh in a place called Eden which is also, like every contemporary Eden, a state of mind.
From his poem, “Eden Tiresias”:
too much to know who I was:
asleep in each molecule, chaos’
energy. I couldn’t speak of this
change, how apocalypse once
gave tongue to each new skin
between my legs, twin parishioners,
bent prayerbooks inside me. Dominus
was Eden in me. (12)
Teare isn’t particularly pyrotechnical with language, but his ideas are philosophically big and range-y and display a kind of virtuosity that is as classical as it is experimental:
And sleep to grief as air is to the rain,
upon waking, no explanation, just blue
spoons of the eucalyptus measuring
and pouring torrents. A kind of winter.
As if what is real had been buried
and all sure surfaces blurred. Is it me
or the world, risen from beneath? (10)
Other poems are even more audacious on the page—lines break out of the safe harbor of couplets and flush right, or they are diagrammed – a kind of language poetry but not really language poetry because there’s more heart in these poems; and while they can sound theoretical, their core is looser and sexier.
But the best poems here are simply declared and perfectly measured in couplets that weave in and out of the book like flags—couplets that keep coming back to obsessions: the living world in all its destruction; what gets left as remembered when the beloved has died. So, there is love, too and like Frank Bidart, this is a poetry of the body and the body of the mind, in which the erotic can be as elegant as it is cagey:
The world: never.
Never his hands
forcing your back
to follow its own
arc; muscle looser
his cock rocking
like tide caught
in a lock and
rising for passage
coupled: as light
to light, so
to the touching (59-60)
A year of this alone So I read
books like the one you’re reading now
thinking on the subway home
I was not am not
a religious person
I was visited by a vision
All noise ceased and though
the car continued to sway
we did not stop It occurred
I was not inside
my body could not feel
though I knew things
the way one does in dreams (64)
These are two sections from “To Other Light”—the longest poem in the book (written in eleven sections) and one of the most beautiful series of elegies I have ever encountered.
It’s a reminder that, in a way, the whole book is an elegy, and in this poem there is the act of reading and the act of loving and the act of grieving and so many kinds of world—it all culminates here, where Teare finds not only the language for grief but the language for what the whole book alludes to and what he himself calls the spectacular disaster of the actual.
by Brian Teare
9781934103166, $17.50, 73 pages