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Friday, March 4, 2011

Samuel Amadon's Like A Sea reviewed by Joe Atkins

Samuel Amadon
Like A Sea
Iowa Poetry Prize Series
University of Iowa Press, 2010
6"x8.5", 100 pp., pbk

Reviewed by Joe Atkins

To get an idea of what a non-flarf, non-conceptual version of appropriation looks like, one need go no further than Samuel Amadon’s Like A Sea. The collection has a wide range of samplings sprinkled across the lines, and, since we’re such big fans of the list, here they are in all their illumination: J.D. Salinger, Pound, Walter Benjamin, Jane Kenyon, Robert Lowell, Eugenio Montale, Joris-Karl Huysmans, EA Robinson, Primo Levi, Beckett, Jackson Mac Low’s diastic reading process, Eugene O’Neil, Berryman, an appropriation of Olson appropriating Norbert Wiener, and last but not least Wikipedia. More than just a recounting of the notes, the above list provides the what of the book, it’s primary apparatus.

Effectively remixing provides the answer to how one poet might engage and simultaneously acknowledge the ghosts of those writers, thinkers, poets before her/him. As such, this recycling of language is a viable option that presents a curious set of constraints and possibilities. While the disparity between some of these figures, Mac Low vs. Lowell, Huysmans vs. Benjamin, among others we do not have the time to untangle seems antagonistic at best, there are a few similarites. Though most, but not all, of these figures converge in a single poem, “Nine At Nine,” we would point out three connections: the conflict of religion and modernism, the idyllic form of nature vs. that of the city, and the authors’ use of procedural writing. In the two former connections we find a correlation between these writers and the recursive subject of Hartford, Connecticut which Amadon narrows in upon; in the latter the larger process of Like A Sea finds a historical precedent.

The appearance of Hartford and its multiplicities is represented through the cyclical forms of the poems titled “Each H,” each numbered in its appearance. These poems are taken from Amadon’s chapbook Each H, and between them sit similarly styled works that depend on shifters and syntactical structures to up-end normative grammatical order so that new potential meanings might emerge from the abandoned forms, like so many rebuilt cities. In this fashion Amadon remixes even himself:

I could not sound like anyone to anyone,
but often meant to almost (as
rocking is from weaving) sound

local, as there should be more
local, I started saying here, how-
ever I sounded saying

I can be here again, saying it over
in a way so it piled, in a way
piling, as we cannot see it

ending, where it is from, the reason for
it is in fact frightening
to hear so much anywhere in anyone. (39)
The importance of sounding like anyone, one of the authors noted above, himself, the multiple selves that we carry within our thoughts, and how all of this accrues, piles, is important to this work, just as the multiple appearances of Hartford are. This need for autonomy emerges immediately and consistently throughout the text: “I could not sound like anyone but me”(3); “That it could sound like him”(48); “That it could sound like us?”(49). The self blurs into the collective, into the other, and as such we find a subjectivity brimming with fragments, small pieces that fit together to form a whole, the way a city elusively takes shape in the collective consciousness of its residents. Or, how a writer might find ones ephemeral self emerging from the texts of others, “You mean, after us. He’s after us?/ No, he’s us. Well, then he’s in the wind”(35).

Time changes a landscape, seasonally, it was built up, it is abandoned. This dichotomy of past and present haunts both Amadon as poet figure and Hartford as place. Specifically the was/is binary is troubled over in “Notes From the Hartford Poems.” Later this past tense action confronts objects merging into a bodily metaphor:
__________When I broke the window

latch, when I jammed the door, when I
took to cusp, when I opened in my lip. (40)
Mundane objects continually obfuscate an idyllic natural setting in this verse, and/or greater cognitive thought. Or, possibly more importantly, how this happens within a normative grammar until confronted:

Listen to the heaters & think
if they’d rise to the ceiling, we’d wish
all our objects to lift themselves

as noisily. How we live in a world
that moves without attention. Put
bells to walls. Then don’t listen. Go out

into isn’t that just a brighter not
thinking things through? (42)
There are many ambiguities and nuances to this remarkable book and it is completely worthy of the Iowa Poetry Prize. What Amadon is able to accomplish as a whirlwind of parts that float in and out of each other to form a whole is a precise display of rhythmic and technical ability. His verse never comes to rest on any one thing, leaving all parts of the fluid experience tangentially related to a variegated set of times and places. Not a poetry of the mind, not verse auspiciously concerned with circling in upon itself, but parts small and large, little fragments of language that emerge from the currents of subjectivity, the seas of history to be dusted off and reconsidered anew.

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