(Tupelo Press, 2012)

 

 

 

The pursuit of a form to express the "complex of entreaty, desire, anxiety, and even a bit of humor" surrounding grief in Rusty Morrison’s last collection—aphoristically titled the true keeps calm biding its story—further unfolds in After Urgency. "With practice a memory like a voice can be thrown into any unsuspecting object stop,” Morrison wrote in the former. Though the poems were made of three tercets, the emphasis fell on the full stop of the line; the formal device conveyed a sense of urgency through entreaty by ending with commands. After Urgency, which functions as the title for eight long poems, relies more upon enjambment, but still emphasizes the sentence formally. The handful of repeated titles offers repeated forms. Though some forms repeat exactly (like the four tercets in each “Commonplace” or the couplets of “After Urgency”), others are visually similar but formally based on a more ideational logic, as if Morrison determines the form as she writes the poems. Intuition seems to be the poet’s guide in this elegiac landscape—“to move a figure of thought out beyond my senses”—but the resulting observations are not free from interrogation. The only facts the poet knows for sure are: “My mother died last autumn, my father in April the previous year.” Nothing else can be “reducible to memory.” That is the phrase that ends the previous collection, and this one picks up with the same predicament that follows the death of parents: “How to draw the constantly shifting selves together”—the self with parents and the self without. After Urgency explores the “accruing correspondences” made by the mind when trying to pair the meaning of death with objects of the physical world, mostly in nature. I was immediately reminded of Emerson, particularly a moment from his essay “Illusions” that recounts a visit to a Kentucky cave: “The mysteries and scenery of the cave had the same dignity that belongs to all natural objects, and which shames the fine things to which we foppishly compare them.” Morrison shows a similar skepticism about easy comparisons. While this doesn’t inhibit her attempts to offer the natural world as a mirror for death, she deftly replaces conclusions with beautiful patterns of sound. Her impulse towards alliteration as an organizing principle seems to counteract the anxiety associated with finding order through observation: “I wanted winter to tell me which of its watchings was celibate. / Its answer surrounded me like a globe. Today, sky alliterates / with a sculpted smoothness”; “I ask my eyes for an avenue of aspen, assembly unnecessary, each step / annotated separately.” Morrison showcases a talent for assonantal subtlety as well: “evening’s darker silence inside every pocket of daylight’s / quiet.” In relation with the subject matter, it makes sense that the sonic qualities of these poems should oscillate between knocking the reader over—“brutal with repetition”—and being as “nearly imperceptible [as] rainfall.” Morrison is not trying to be stoic, as the first line of the sequence “Nowhere to say ‘daughter’” attests: “Living past their deaths isn’t a deed I accomplish modestly.” The subject is stated immediately and the feelings follow. “Modestly” seems a self-conscious nod to the reader, as if to say: just in case you thought one book was enough. After Urgency allows death to be a catch-all, the depths of its discovery infinite, the “something” that can be reinterpreted in light of fixing on a thing; or as Morrison puts it more succinctly: “Not ‘death’ as the word was, / but an opening where the whole history of ideas might pass through, / undetected.” We can rely on Morrison to make the music of elegy sound new. 

 

 

 

 

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