By Mark McMorris. (Coffee House Press, 2010)


In this wartime collection “everything falls, to pieces, to the victor”: girls, governments, roads, an apple, “cadence” itself. The most interesting kind of fall may happen outside McMorris’ vast image repertoire, in the formal action of his right margin. The book has a beautifully, relentlessly inconsistent relation to enjambment, sometimes providing it and sometimes only appearing to:

 Found the passage you asked for

it’s lovely I know you think

better of me that I like it too

Placed second in the book, this brief poem ends “It’s crazy to talk / this way but it must be the time” and the other poems will go on talking this way within the pressures and possibilities of an “imperium of art and force of arms.” Such a style further emphasizes what’s already true about the line break; it’s a place after one fall and before the next, “between…the son and the sens” of words, in “the hesitation of a cleft” where the reader will stop to ascertain which kind of sentential time falls toward the next left margin. That complicated margin-fall will find its way back to historical time via image (“mud on the shoelaces that knot / sentience to sentence and to song”; again, the dance of an island child “passed through the slash of the waves / to become a visible present tense”) and action—forms of the word “fall” appear especially often at the break (“the warp of energy, fell // to flow and fellow fall”). In short, that passage through readerly expectation and determination is the fall of poetic time, a visible present tense that happens within history while hoping to be outside it, a kind of parenthesis within empire: “(Not of the republic is this the day of beginning.)” Elsewhere the poet will call this impossible hoping “auditions for utopia,” a “faith of falling” that allows him to celebrate art’s importation of other kinds of time into the “caustic time” of history without appearing sentimental or too easily consoled. The time between lines of poetry is inadequate to Afghanistan, briefer than Deep Horizon, and no help to those who died on the Middle Passage, but its nothing still happens, “flowing and going.” McMorris can thus populate the span from when “Byblos fell” to when “Baghdad fell” with an army of makers and truth tellers—Horace, Villon, Galileo, Baudelaire, Mayakofsky, Rodchenko, Apollinaire, Stein, Basie, Armstrong, and Michael Palmer (to whom 17 epistolary poems are addressed)—who fall otherwise than cities. The “entrepôt” of this collection denotes a node of exchange which can be either colonial hangover or readerly experience, warehouse or hybrid culture, port city or line’s end. In McMorris’ hands the word itself is also a site of circulation, an intermediary where “our falling is always falling” and the poem becomes Valéry’s “prolonged hesitation” in which—“to write, ruminate, complain, and revolt”—there’s still time.

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