By Molly Bendall. (Parlor Press, 2009)

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Molly Bendall’s fourth collection of poems is a highly imaginative, provocative, high-speed chase of a read. Authoritatively wild, Bendall drives the reader to the edge of hazard with her shuffled lexicon, slippery verbs, and syntactical false starts, to name a few of her tools. While the book’s magic lies somewhere amid synesthesia, linguistic elixir, piracy (the old sort), and sartorial wizardry, Bendall deals her cards face-up—the reader is participant, not passenger, in this exhilarating, accelerating journey through time and language. The first of the book’s four sections, “Causes and Cures,” acts out a tantalizing invitation—there is shipwreck, fire, “sharp silver”—fair warning that this trip is for restless souls ready for Bendall’s chimerical landscape. In this world, Bendall coaxes the fantastical out of the quotidian with her music, making “chiffon on a griffin” possible. There are strident moments of lyric beauty: “Besmirched with longing her torso / tilts to the harps / in the grass—a tingle and rush— / full green, the pond near glistening.” The second section, “Windward,” with tight columns of short lines like stitches, offers almost a legend to the book.  Its speaker praises garment production over unwieldy emotions: “the hurt’s never / gauzy.” The poems seep angst—“The ground’s seams/need fastening”—mixed with acquiescence—“What stitch / the river bed / might hold” (a speaker’s prayer or a thesis at-large?) This section highlights Bendall’s smart play at the level of phoneme—seemingly substituting “nap” for “map” for instance—as if the alphabet were a torn textile and her poetic gesture a grasp at lexical scrap. This inventiveness, this epic potential despite a given poverty, expands in the third section, “Adventures on a Raft.” The thrill of voyage and voyeurism heightens here, as “every small animal shakes and listens / to the landscape’s long vowels.” An end to this failed chase looms with the speaker “lizarding toward the safe house” and speaking aphoristically of the past’s elusiveness. Wittily intertwining interior minutiae and exterior magnificence—“Dark matter here, put on your / apron”—Bendall manages to siphon astronomical theory into the kitchen. Her brooding ventures far. In the final and strongest section, “Blurry Evidence,” title words like “rushes,” “feet,” “shoots,” “quick,” “b-line,” “wing,” “fugitive,” and “pass” conjure the emblematic restlessness of Bendall’s poetics—a flitting between the typical and the vexing, home and afar, reason and madness, self and other. The speaker in “Under the Quick” rightly questions her own vice, noting, “What good is a nod / to the dark water? Who’d / notice if she swings and swings?” The book ends with Bendall’s most apt aphorism, “Even the quick stumble,” to which the reader nods, of course they do, recalling a sprinter crossing the finish line, staggeringly beautiful.

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