July 2007

Jason B. Jones

poetry

Glean by Joshua Kryah

Prior to Joshua Kryah's first book of poems, Glean, only one poet in the language had thought to include both "purblind" and "unbloom" in a single work. But Kryah's opening poem, "Called Back, Called Back," invokes Hardy's "Hap" (glancing too at "Channel Firing") only to point up how starkly their interests diverge. "Hap" finds the universe's indifference oddly unmanning, a sort of cosmic jujitsu that paradoxically short-circuits one's ability to endure suffering. Kryah, however, pursues an alternate view: God's apparent indifference is the ground of faith:

Acquit me, make me
purblind, unbloomed, a thing that,

when roused,
                        remains dormant, unused, none
among many.

Who opens a book of poems asking to be made unbloomed? Finding themselves caught "between almost and already," Kryah's poems mercilessly and lovingly work at a language that would be suitable to such an acquittal, that would be an avenue for redemption.

To borrow for a moment one of Glean's favored words, the book's poems constantly strive to attenuate the self, in order to invent a space for something else to enter -- God, redemption, peace, even poetry. This is exhausting work, however, as the defiles of the self challenge even experienced travelers. Early in the book, Kryah asks "What follows self? / This slow foment of shape, this semblance, similitude. / This sham, /                         a ghost town assembled, so spectral, so fabulous / it will not fade." In "He Calls Me Lambent, Lucent," Kryah imagines his poetic voice less as a burning bush than as a little match. What voice he has simultaneously is both inadequate and sufficient: "When I speak, the timid fire / that is my voice, erupts." At first glance, this sentence seems to be about the contrast between "timid" and "erupts," in which case it would seem to be about finding one's voice. But the comma after voice turns "that is my voice" into a parenthetical -- the sentence can be read as "When I speak... erupts." Something erupts, to be sure, but it comes from elsewhere, not from the speaker's sense of self. Taken as a whole, Glean is a paradoxically sustained effort at punctuating the self, so that these words, which are "an absence, a stain" only of the divine presence, can be retrieved.

Like prayer, Kryah's poems make manifest an "empty            rehearsed space," one that creates a silence through which communion with a divine presence might be achieved. Sparse and austere, Glean's lines are only rarely able to link up into a sustained discourse. Even three consecutive, unbroken lines is too many for this collection, which becomes "a way of warning without words / through which our conversation is induced." Kryah frequently composes poems in which the line, rhythm, and even syntax itself start to dissolve under the ontological demands:

                        . . . someone came down
if only to shrive            the mist
and waking from the dream               make room for the dream
water                vapor               or mist
image not the image               however circuitous
the bangle of condensation               it held
words               stray light[.]

Glean's lines are wounded, reflecting Kryah's overall interest in the problematics of doubt, faith, incarnation, and resurrection. Thomas's desire to touch Christ's wounds, and a kind of concomitant fragility about human embodiment, are constant themes in this book. The tortured lines of the poems are a bewildered response to the ability to "hear you / still"--to hear again the stillness of the divine. From their empty spaces, there is only the question: "Where am I in this emergence -- / who comes?" The syntactical rigor with which Kryah endures this question is impressive.

Glean does have some tics. Kryah is fond of two opposite strategies: the one, a halting, quasi-stuttering use of apposition; the other, a rushing together of words. Apposition in general is a key rhetorical maneuver in these poems; almost necessarily so, as Kryah tries to juxtapose what must to some degree remain incommensurate. There's a specific kind of alliterative series I have in mind here, however: "Ruminate, remember"; "both reminder, / remembrancer"; "Comforter. Consoler." I understand the aim here, of hesitating to alight on two sonically similar words in order to allow both to persist, as well as an unnamable third term to emerge between them -- but Glean does this, to my mind, too much. If the first tic emphasized hesitance, the other is about insistent presence: "moldhouse, this fleshrot, wormwhorl"; "dryspell." There are others. (Hopkins is always lurking -- Kryah even uses "buckle"!) Again, I grasp the function of this strategy, but simply found it at times to be flashy rather than elucidative. Given the overall precision on display in Glean, such effects seemed anomalous.

A word about the book itself: Glean is a gorgeous book, with cover and internal art by Ulrike Termeer, in which she explores Caravaggio's painting, Doubting Thomas, one of Kryah's subjects. One cavil: Here's how Nightboat describes the book on the back cover: "Glean, a reference to the gathering of grain after harvest..." I may be overrating the market, but I'm fairly confident "glean" is in most poetry readers' working vocabularies.

Glean is a highly-charged work, well worth the attention of anyone interested in watching language engage first questions. Kryah's investigations of kenosis and incarnation, of presence and absence, and his engagement with, not just the language of the Bible but also with the poetic tradition, repay the closest readings.

Glean by Joshua Kryah
Nightboat Books
ISBN: 0976718545
97 pages