SPRING 2013 (Issue 78)
 

Dale Enggass

Blueprints For This Decade

Desiring Map
by Megan Kaminski
Coconut Books 2012
82 pages
$13.50

An estuary, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, is “the tidal mouth of a large river, where the tide meets the stream.” It is a transitional, liminal space, a space of meeting and mixing. This word (or more often its variants: estuarial, estuarine), echoes throughout Megan Kaminski’s Desiring Map, calling attention to a poetics of intersection—of language and landscape, landscape and the language of global capitalism. But Kaminski’s poems are not simple lamentations for a natural world crowded out by housing booms and busts. Rather, like estuaries, they are peculiarly productive sites, generating evocative hybrids of urban and pastoral in which “Evening unshadows rocks and ruined libraries” and “manmade lakes flood brown matted sod” (“Carry Catastrophe”; “Across Soft Ruins”). These poems give our attention a thorough adjustment; they happily refocus our increasingly scattered perceptions.

Kaminski works in, and through, a certain American minimalist tradition in which the perceptions of a particularized consciousness are shot through with a formal interest in fragmentation and concision. Her collection is organized into four sections, each of which function as longer poems made up of smaller fragments, spaced at one per page. Space is critical, both as the realization of a series of particular landscapes recalled in an “atlas of memory and sky,” and as a literal feature of the page. These poems are wrapped in white space, tight lineation channeling a strong sense of immediacy and precision.

Such urgency is enhanced by Kaminski’s frequent use of the imperative, which gives us commands as various as “let darkness creep from south” and “institute limits for personal finance” (“Carry Catastrophe”). The aim of Kaminski’s precision and concision is not so much descriptive accuracy as it is to bring language and syntax to their limits, to the point at which they break and shift and thus register [re]new[ed] connections. Linear syntax is ruptured to create a sort of dislocation of the poetic “I”: “The undoing of summer made my syntax shift / and examine your listing out center the bay” (“My syntax shift”). Parataxis records the effort to bring disparate spaces, discourses, memories, into relation within the linguistic field of the poem. As a result of this effort the poem is a space of transition. Fracture—of grammar, of a stable “I”—forces a kind of productivity running parallel yet counter to the capitalistic cycle of boom and bust most recently evidenced by the so-called “Great Recession.” At the breaking point, rather than destructive loss, we find a transformative pressure, an alchemical meld whereby urban decay is reclaimed by nature and landscape is given over to language. These poems demonstrate their own injunction: if you “press anything hard enough it will sing” (“The Prairie Opens Wide”).

The point is not any complete re-integration of the subject, a sense of the “I”’s plenitude reflected back to itself by the natural world. Landscape becomes language and vice versa, but this process begins anew on each page, viz. “we are only kept alive through repeated beginnings” (“Across Soft Ruins”). In the book’s third section, “Carry Catastrophe,” these tensions are fully realized. Reading this section, one actually feels a tidal push and pull. Longer poems of roughly six to ten lines in fragmentary imperatives alternate with very short, compressed poems that attempt to momentarily locate a poetic “I”:

Here I am
carving rivers
silken space
partitioning
lake to
tree

The repetition of the “Here I am” opening, combined with a string of participial verbs, nicely suggests an “I” that continually escapes attempts to pin it down, to locate it in a single place and time.

The poems enact—remarkably—the very rhythm of desire: they chart a constant approach and escape. Failure to ever really get there is recompensed by a delight in the crack and scrape of language, of words abutting other words, as in some of the more angular poems of Basil Bunting or Leslie Scalapino: “blue blankets blue unceasing / cradles points of rocks / sand sagebrush” (“The Prairie Opens Wide”). “Mapping” has become something of a buzz-verb of late, so it is refreshing how Kaminski returns us to one of its more particular meanings: to record in detail (some thing’s) spatial distribution. These poems chart the movement between place and perception, an open-ended process of transition and translation. In “translating objects into nouns,” the poems are, crucially, alive to the complexity and heterogeneity of our current world. They are a timely reminder that, as Kaminski writes in “The Prairie Opens Wide,” “it’s too late to be simple.”