Within the Margin by Truong TranWithin the Margin by California poet Truong Tran begins with pages of single lines that progress across the pages toward a series of small haiku like concrete poems. The sheer starkness can be disturbing and it takes time for the reader to get her barings while reading this work. This can be a dauntingly difficult way to introduce a book length poem to contemporary readers.
Within the Margin is a physically beautiful book and the book artist who designed it should be commended for creating a volume that one wants to take, eat and enjoy. The cover arts has imagery that is one part of Eduard Munch, one part The Passion of the Christ, and one part parking lot. The poetry itself does justice to a well crafted book.
The initial single lines at first seem weak and then slowly draw us into the quiet like a chant or the Liturgy of the Hours. There are so many lines and ideas in this poem worth noting it is almost impossible to recount them here, but it is evident that we are asked more than the norm from this poem and this poet. The middle of the poem contains a line that I think is the hinge on which the whole poem turns: “to the left or right identity is formed dispelling the myth of the outsider looking in the question being is this silence self imposed he preferred to sit in the corners of a room”.
The poem moves into silence and forces us to extripate ourselves from noise and static. In a contemporary poetic landscape where poets write for other poets and most readers largely ignore poetry, here is a book that needs to be read and digested slowly like a fine meal, not a cheeseburger.
In another section Tran uses the “white” well to set out a sense of the poem:
margins no more
one leans into life
is forever changed
Within the Margin is unique in its combination of music, line, concrete poetry and reflection. It is personal without being confessional and challenging without being stupid or arcane. This is poetry as contemplation without piety or preciousness.
Forever changed is what we are dealing with here with Truong Tran’s fine work and use of the poetic field. There are some "precious moments" in this book but they are not predominant. Tran does not subject us to throw away lines or stupidness. He makes us think be quiet and silent and listen and be disturbed in profound deep listening. Listen to this poem. Read it out loud. Tran challenges us to use the spaces in between here to ask questions and to make poetry new again.
Within the Margin by Truong Tran