08 April 2012

Siphon, Harbor

Brooklyn Copeland's first full-length book Siphon, Harbor (Shearsman Books, 2012) opens with an epigraph from Lorine Niedecker that reads: “My life / by water— / Hear.” The excerpt, which is the opening stanza of the latter writer's poem “My Life by Water,” is an apropos introduction to the collection for several reasons. For starters, the poetry of both Copeland and Niedecker share an affinity for place-based writing, specifically the natural world's watery environs. In the introduction to Collected Works, editor Jenny Penberthy tells us that “Niedecker wrote of watery, flood-prone Black Hawk Island near the town of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, where she lived” and that her “attachments to the place ran deep” (1). Copeland's attachments to the Middle West run deep as well, evidenced in the acknowledgments page of Siphon, Harbor, which informs readers that particular bodies of water, such as Morse Reservoir in Hamilton County, Indiana; Long Lake in St. Joseph Country, Michigan; the White River on the north side of Indianapolis; and Lake Michigan in Grand Haven, Michigan (73), are all referenced within the book.

Although these locations serve as site-specific markers, they also act as something more. In an interview she gave recently at TriQuarterly Online, the poet notes that she “came home to [Morse Reservoir] from Oxford, England, and was both so sad over the breakdown of [a previous] relationship and so comforted by the reservoir that the poem is in fact me reflecting and working toward renewal.” The reservoir, then, is both a physical and psychic location from which reflection and renewal spring: a material place that, through meditation, produces insight and regeneration, manifesting themselves in a poem. Take, for instance, the opening of “Marina”:
Morse Lake forms
where the Big
creek meets

the Little creek—
              bits of boat,
              bits of dock

     mark the spot. (10)
The poem begins with a geography of relation, then proceeds to a impressionistic location marked by “bits of boat / bits of dock.” But whether geographic or impressionistic, both locations map a physical site via an image, which itself is another resonance between Copeland and Niedecker. Penberthy notes that Niedecker was “drawn to the Imagists” (3) and their belief that a poet should use “no word that did not contribute to the presentation” (Pound) of an object; likewise, Copeland speaks of her desire to create an “image in as few words as possible” (TriQuartely) through an economical but precise use of language.

Of course, the images found within the poem “Reservoir” are more than just images. Later in the collection we discover a:
rotted out boat
                     the boat
will stay afloat

as long as you pretend to
                                                        row (37)
Although she treats the objects of her poems in a direct and economical fashion, Morse Reservoir and the boat floating on top of it are also catalysts for the imagination and its power to overcome the material realities of the world. The speaker understands the mind's ability to “pretend” to float, in fact, is just as effective as floating itself: it is a “renewal” of the boat's functionality, but more importantly a metaphor for the psychic and emotional regeneration of the speaker. Whether sadden by a failed relationship or any number of life's hardships, the place, the poem, and the imagination will restore the inner self.

But if Siphon, Harbor were merely a series of images and imaginations that offered readers quaint renderings of the natural world that champion the poet's creative mind, the collection would most likely fall short of our attentions. Luckily, Copeland does offer us more in the way of sonic playfulness and a speculative investigation of language (just as Niedecker offered us more by way of her interest in folk rhythms and, later in her career, political activism). In addressing the first of these characteristics, the speaker of “Bindweed” tells us that these poems contain a “Sing-song / impulse,” which is not “melody,” but instead “only rhythms only rustling” (19). And what a rhythm it is, deftly tuned to the rustlings of an environment that surrounds the poet:
early dandelions

demand nothing
need only



to soft silver
                            to blow (36)
The first line of the above excerpt, overloaded with polysyllabics, carries with it a sonic freight and “demand[s]” from us a phonemic investment; but as the poem progresses from the early morning dandelions to the onset of twilight, the lines recede into a sparse, monosyllabic rhythm that slows into night. But then we “awaken” to resurgence of syllables and a morning that blows the soft silver of dandelions into the air.

The manner in which Copeland arranges the words on the page necessarily affects their rhythms as well; she tells us as much when she says: “I stack and space words so the eye pauses where the ear should add the heard dimension” (TriQuarterly). As the nights slows, words disperse across the page's field, leaving room for each of them to linger momentarily in their own “heard dimensions.” In lines such as these, we do indeed “Hear” the poet's “life / by water”; and, just as her Imagist predecessors composed rhythmically “in the sequence of the musical phrase” (Pound), Copeland composes in rhythm of the musical phrase found within nature.

Finally, Copeland can't help but question the relationship between language and the world, at least to the extent that “we do not know exactly / what [that] relationship” (40) happens to be. Again, referring to the poet's interview at TriQuarterly Online helps describe the unknowable bond: “I see my world in the words themselves. If an image moves me somehow, I will literally see black words on a white page in my head.” While the words of Siphon, Harbor produce images of the natural world within the reader's imagination, the natural world produces images of words in the poet's imagination. To this extent, “white / birds were signs” (28) all along, “culture,” which is the end result of language, “was the whorl / of bees” (24), and “Termites [are] trained to...words” (14). But this is not to say that the world is nothing more than language. No, such a premise is too reductive for Copeland. In fact, our “colloquial cannot // muffle the full morning orchestra,” which is the “amphibious greens / clotting the trickle // of thaw” or “the tinny // fin flip and eyeflake flash” of “small schools” (33) of fish; stated differently: “Nature remains / … / Immeasurable” (25), at least linguistically. Copeland's book, it would appear, reminds us that the natural world and language are “Conversations” that are “braided / airtight” (21) with each element rendered inextricable from the other.

1 comment:

  1. A very good review of one of the best books of recent vintage. Hard to believe it's a first book. Here's hoping it wins a deserved first book award--or several.