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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book Review: Noose and Hook by Lynn Emanuel

Review of Noose and Hook by Lynn Emanuel, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010. By Brittany Herman.

I was already set outside my comfort zone, just by the cover of Lynn Emanuel's Noose and Hook. The bright yellow page is adorned with the wide-open mouth of a canine, bearing sharp, menacing teeth and dog spit in the glare of the sun. It gives one a peculiar excitement that comes when you know something is going to throw you off balance. I welcome it. The first poem is simply titled My Life.
Without any touching of its teeth, I tumbled into it
with no more struggle than a mote of dust
entering the door of a cathedral, so muckle were its jaws.
How heel over head was I hurled down
the broad road of its throat, stopped inside
its chest wide as a hall, and like Jonas I stood up
asking where the beast was and finding it nowhere,
there in grease and sorrow I built my bower.
Oh, here: "Asking where the beast was and finding it nowhere." A preface of what's to follow. On the first page, Emanuel nourishes her reader with these dilemmas, urging us to inquire further even if the beast might not be found. Her first piece opens the collection with the engaging self-portraitures that follow: narrator becomes dust entering a cathedral, submerged down its stomach. The image: "the broad road of its throat", leads the reader to think of the stained glass as the whale's wet, greasy fabric of the mouth and inner cheek. And as she makes a home inside the pit, she realizes the awful probability of becoming one with the monster. The notion becomes more real with each passing poem, and the beasts breathe life into the words.

She comments:
I was waiting until the world was on my side
and would turn itself murderous for my sake.
The language now explodes and
contracts into a more violent tone. She did begin the book, after all, by warning "It’s a dark and dirty world." At first, she wants the world to turn for her sake. A deviation in the metapoetic voice of the poet's experience arrives early, in Personal experiences are chains and balls.
I hear the call to rise out of the trance of myself
into the surcease of the dying world,
Then it went dark. Real dark. Like snow. (9/11 witness.)

I will never again write from personal experience.
Since the war began I have discovered
(1) My Life Is Unimportant and (2) My Life Is Boring.
But now, as Gertrude Stein wrote from Culoz in 1943,
Now, we have an occupation.
The remaining works become a tug-of-war between experience and distant observations: a poetic disquisition that takes on a culture-defining form in the most modern sense. The words read like a lucid dream: both ourselves and Emanuel are fully aware that we are inside the stomach of the poem. The reader is made aware of these connections through the synonymic display of misery leading to a raw sort of happiness in the infallible: in the cold truth. Ignorance is not bliss.

The middle of the collection is devoted to man's best friend, and the human individual found within the animal. The Mongrelogues are a series focusing on the Dogg--explained as a dog in Dogg's clothing, who converses with Mistrust (Dogg's Mistress) and interacts with various officials like the police, dog catchers, a court, the Cold and the War personified. The language twists around these characters in a diction reminiscent of the ufs and muddled sounds that dogs make, while keeping the tight image-oriented observations of the human writer.
The moon lookt wite an damp as a cut radish back in the years uf the radish;
in truth as i lay in the dark, spookt, i did not feel this world wuz gone to the doggs
but to sumthin that cood take the cold an dark an luv it,
like an albatross or a worm.
Later, Emanuel becomes a dog in a pack of painters. She observes the calm realism brought by their disposition and comments "even the fire in his fireplace is more real than the fire in my fireplace." The poets' natural hardship with a break from the material world and into one that moves completely into abstraction and "abyss" is toyed with here: a poet I have some problems with their intuition that even the power to be lost is irretrievable lost and with their motto: We Save by Destroying.
The movement continues in Like that time in Paris:
despite the fact that I long to be
explained, to be clear to be
transparent, really--

my poems lacquered with a gloss of adjectives
until they beam like meringues.
There is a particular glory in the writer's means of striving for perfection. The voice is hopeful and precise in an atmosphere of grit, wartime appeals and an abolition of mistrust. In one of her last poems, she quotes Rae Armentrout. "Vagueness is personal." The voyage Emanuel takes her reader on in Noose and Hook is mountainous: we are taught by the end to welcome the wild and abstract in the context of modernity.


Lynn Emanuel is the author of three previous poetry collections: Hotel Fiesta; The Dig; and Then, Suddenly--. Her work has been included in the Pushcart Prize anthology, Best American Poetry, and The Oxford Book of American Poetry. Emanuel is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Eric Matthieu King Award from The Academy of American Poets, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and a National Poetry Series Award. She is a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

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