October 2007

Courtney Birst


Fold Books by Stephen Hemenway

Read this book when you can dedicate some absent-minded time to this absent-minded book. That’s not to imply it isn’t good, or isn’t worth reading. It simply means you won’t find straight answers here. These poems circle and double-talk, wind and veer off course. It is unlike any collection of poetry I have ever read. Perhaps that’s why I found myself so caught in these poems that left me spinning, dizzy with words.

When I began reading this book I was initially frustrated. This feeling lasted until I was able to let go of my desire for the poems to “make sense” and enjoyed them for the irreverent beauty of the words themselves. My appreciation began with “Book 3” which contains the line “it seemed  / as though words moved back and forth between pages, and / up and down on the page, and / joined and split apart.” It was after reading these words I began to settle into the book and begin to enjoy reading these words that left me more confused than not.

“Seven page pilgrimage” is actually a four-page poem filled with a few repeating words. Contained in this repeating madness however are the following six words, which plain and stark on the page made me slow down and read them: “swept / my / eyelashes / along / the / path.”

“Now turn” lacks any structure and can drive the reader mad trying to follow it, yet this poem had so many phrases that jumped out at me I loved them despite their lack of structure: “unfilled / syllable / not feeble / … / room for the story to grow and / glow …” and “resilient / even / in sleep” and ending with “I swim / forward / through / shadowless / water.”  As a whole, this poem makes little sense, but each of these phrases becomes mantras to me.

“Broder Book” introduces a character who will reappear in many forms throughout the remainder of the book. Broder is, for me, sort of an every-person. It is someone who you can see in all the people you know. My favorite line from this poem:

writing filled to the edges
there is always the next blank
cover over the lapse Broder
drink some tea eat some cake
move the pen forward
doodle in a corner
paper is wordless Broder
the gutter is straight
stare and wait

“Re-petition” contains one of my favorite lines from the entire book: “…a word can be / appreciated for how / it rides the waves / passes over / the tongue a / beginning an end and / how it slides / between.” This description is so powerful it is as if a word takes a physical shape when coming out the mouth.

The last section, titled “Fish” contains a larger number of poems, or one longer poem (it is hard to tell with this style of book!) and it is the last page that reads more like a poem than any other in the book. It is a lovely ending for a chaotic book:

how far we have traveled
differently in different directions
now you must be impatient for Spring
so you can garden and hunt
this year I am sorry to tell you
 I will not make it to visit please
tell everyone I miss them

It is only after finishing the book that I came upon the author’s Process Notes, which explains how he wrote each section and the approach and reasoning he used for both. Take my advice and do not read the Process Notes before reading the poems themselves -- don’t allow these poems to be explained to you by the author before you have had the chance to experience them for yourself. Would reading the notes before reading the poems help to explain their chaotic style? Probably, but it would also ruin the fun of reading a collection of poems that leaves you scratching your head and wondering what in the hell did you just read exactly. Though they can be a bit trying, they are entertaining, and that is a wonderful thing in poetry.

Fold Books by Stephen Hemenway
Battery Street Press
ISBN: 0972302123
71 pages