Thursday, November 25, 2010

Carrie Etter, The Tethers

I've been enjoying Carrie Etter's The Tethers over quite an elongated timespan, which is an apt coincidence since she recently posted a link to a piece on 'slow poetry' on her excellent blog.

Whenever a book by an American living in the UK comes out there's a temptation to read it in terms of its transatlantic connections. I can't resist, anyway. What strikes me most about The Tethers is the (let's go with it) Audenesque attention to syntax. By which I mean a way of handling lineation and syntax so that they dance with each other, sometimes together and sometimes apart, which I associate with Auden's work. So, 'David Smith, Wagon II, 1964' begins:

A figure sleeps standing because the wagon it rides
never rolls on its diverse wheels, is carried

from studio to museum and back by no
motive of its own, or at least none it knows.

(The conversational piling up of that last clause is also relevant.) If we want to praise poetry that communicates before it's understood, let me say that the meaning of that sentence, lucid though it is, is almost irrelevant to my enjoyment of it: the impression of throwing a sentence out across several lines is breathtaking.

Of course Etter isn't Auden: the tones and subject matter of her work are her own. I find it slightly diddicult to know what to say about them. There's a pared-down quality, not so much to the verse as to the world it conjures; and there's urgency, the sense of things mattering. The Tethers is a fine book.


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