July 2007

Olivia Cronk


case sensitive by Kate Greenstreet

“Do you remember playing ‘having a baby’ on your porch?”
                                                            Kate Greenstreet

“Boats broken loose were trying to get in at closed windows.”
Rosalind Franklin, via Brenda Maddox’s book Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, via Kate Greenstreet

When a poet disabuses herself of the notion of communal meaning in language, of truth in words, of any frame other than the indeterminable graph of circumstance... a new, wet, lizard-headed alien of a thing emerges. Sometimes the alien is too tongue-tied for comprehension. Sometimes the alien does as it pleases, spoiled and snobby. Sometimes the alien is sort of boring. Sometimes the alien, unfortunately, sounds like other things. But then sometimes the alien is so wonderfully weird, that you re-read its syntax, flip to its footnotes for another morsel, and gallop through a stretch of text.

I read and reviewed Kate Greenstreet’s earlier book, a chapbook called Learning the Language. (There is some repeated material and I would argue that the chapbook serves as a kind of study for the new one.) I have a lot of the same impressions of case sensitive (part of Ahsahta’s New Series) as I had with the first. Greenstreet is consistent in her project with language. And she is genuinely interested in furthering the cause of words, or art made from words. It’s almost like she’s a home-builder; these poems are little spots in which to lounge, take a nap, have a look-see. And it feels normal, as in her chapbook, to miss or disregard something -- and to return later to a changed room, one that suddenly suits you better.

The aesthetic choices made here revolve very much around multiplicity -- of voice, of meaning, of perspective, of narrative. The endless and “unsolvable” entwining of all the elements can have the effect of too many appliances going at once, while you’re on the phone, while the doorbell rings, while you try to hold up your towel because you’ve just come from the tub -- which is still filling with water. But you know what? That’s sort of cool. Quite naturally, Greenstreet lets it all pile up. The reader, eventually, finds the strands meant just for her. For me, the book was most interesting when I was exploring Greenstreet’s notes and when I would find a little something that lodged its echo in my own memory (see the “having a baby” quote above). The notes, in fact, I would compare to Lucie Brock-Broido’s, in the sense that they create another little set of poetry to overlay upon the original. Greenstreet moves funnily through Lorine Niedecker, the bible, a biography of Marie Curie, John le Carre via BBC, the Salt Institute’s website, and loads of other stuff. She is particularly “on” when pulling language that’s been quoted once or more, stuff that’s been moved through various channels. She’s just one more transmitter. There are also wonderful moments of dream-telling and interpreting, and Greenstreet’s not afraid to show how she’s working through intellectual and emotional issues in her work.

There aren’t lines that can be easily pulled from the text for quoting and exhibiting. The whole point is that you deal with all the words at once. A while back I reviewed a book of essays about poetry by Forrest Gander. He mentioned a one Giovanni Battista Vico who “argued against clear, distinct, Cartesian ideas, emphasizing instead practical wisdom and ingenium, the power of connecting separate and diverse elements.” This fits Greenstreet very well. Her sensibility is what holds the alien mess all together.

case sensitive by Kate Greenstreet
Ahsahta Press
ISBN: 0916272893
121 pages