11 February 2013

O Holy Insurgency

Of her second full-length collection of poems, O Holy Insurgency (Black Lawrence Press, 2013), Mary Biddinger writes on her blog that the book:
wrenches the love poem out of the terrain of hearts and flowers, and transplants it in a quotidian rust belt paradise, where broken glass becomes a shimmering beacon, and no river is too polluted to dazzle a pair of lovers on its banks.
To call O Holy Insurgency a collection of love poems would, indeed, be correct. For everywhere throughout its pages, an “I” and “you” travel through Biddinger’s “rust belt paradise” in an effort to join as “we” and “us.” Take, for instance, the opening lines of the poem “Treaty Lines”:
There were wonders, but we didn’t know
they were wonders, or that they belonged

to us. The watermelon we tethered in a maple
with fishing line, just to see who would look up.

A dare involving teeth. Sentences we’d write
to burn. I trade my fear of matches for a love

There’s a filament inside both of us, though
we never noticed. It’s imaginary most days. (17)
Tethering a watermelon to a maple tree with fishing line or proposing an unnamed dare involving teeth are just a few of the unknown “wonders” to which the book’s couple find themselves subject. These “wonders” create an “imaginary” and unacknowledged “filament inside both of” them that bonds the two in a love burning through Insurgency’s sentences; yet it leaves the imaginary filament intact.

The imaginary filament connecting these lovers is of utmost importance because the “rust belt paradise” they wander through constantly shifts, mutates, and conjoins, thus making it easy for one to get lost in it. Or, as the speaker of “A Diorama” says: “One day / we woke to an unfamiliar backdrop” that “took weeks for them to identify” (70). Yes, just as the fishing line tethers a watermelon to a maple, the filament tethers the lovers together throughout the “unfamiliar backdrop.”

As long as the imaginary filament keeps the lovers attached, the protean landscape of Biddinger’s collection does not instill anxiety or fear. Instead, both lovers and readers can delight in the collection’s fabulous permutations, such as when the speaker sees “you walking out / of the sea instead, except we only had lakes” (13); and each “lake engulfed another lake” (53) with “clouds / turning green overhead” (35). Similarly, the speaker and her beloved eventually:
       invent an ocean, then merge
the ocean with another ocean
to make it vaster. (26)
or a day when:
Autumn and spring fused to one
single season where the leaves died
and reopened, and then died again. (65)
Or how:
             Somewhere nearby, two
doves stood tail to tail, made one

four-legged blur. (68)
Whether a sea transforms into a lake, an ocean into a large ocean, or autumn and spring merge into some unknown hybrid season, the “I” and “you” do not separate. They do not lose themselves or their love.

Of course, all these alterations eventually do affect the lovers themselves, such that “Every night we remake us / as our skin transubstantiates” (60). Yet even with the external transformations the “I” and “you” undertake, the filaments inside of them keep them attached; and whatever distance does separate them, they carefully map and document so as not to lose their bearings:
the inches that might exist

between us, as if anything
could. (58)
The “inches the might exist / between” are so few that the speaker’s map of O Holy Insurgency’s strange world “become[s] // the palm of your hand. No longer / hiding your body from mine” (69). As such, with these maps, the lover’s bodies remain close. They keep the lovers familiar to one another. Or as Biddinger writers toward the conclusion of the collection:
Everything with us had a certain

permanence the rest of the world
lacked. The only place for me

was poured across your body. (85)
Indeed, even when liquid and fluid, the lovers pour their bodies across one another and remain fused in their love. Their imaginary filament connects them permanently, while “the rest of the world” in the rust belt paradise shifts, changes, or disappears.

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