November 2011

Josh Cook

poetry

Click and Clone by Elaine Equi

One of our common poetics is an idea I call "evocative simplicity"; the belief that simple lines and images are capable of evoking the complexities and emotions of existence. Simple images can be accessible in a way that makes them both precise and vague, creating a wide range of application. The easy diction allows readers to draw meaning as they read, rather than after they have comprehended the image itself, leading to quick and powerful reading experiences. However, it is one thing to argue for the value of simple and evocative poems and something else entirely to actually write them. It's easy to aim for evocative and hit banal. And sometimes Elaine Equi hits banal. However, the bulk of her collection, Click and Clone, aims at evocative simplicity and hits it, reminding me of the tone, if not the content, of Charles Bukowski. 

The best poem in the collection is the vaporous, lilting, specter called "A Start." The short poem is worth quoting in entirety: 

The
silver
hour
drops--
a spider
on the mirror.

*

Silver
the hour

*

like drops
of a spider's
mirror

*

The silver drops,
the spider's hour,
the mirror... 

It sounds like a swamp whispering, or smoke escaping a closing fist. 

"Why I Read Nietzsche," can describe the experience of reading many intellectually electrifying philosophers or writers; "the fifty worlds of alien ecstasy / the gruesome and sweet infinity." "Locket Without a Face," tells the story of a developing perspective, by juxtaposing images of a horse track with a young girl collecting items and totems in a gift box. In it, Equi shows us the process of personal definition as the speaker uses the box to compartmentalize the world. "The Libraries Didn't Burn," grapples with the effect of digital technology on books and reading, concluding, "its words have migrated / to a luminous elsewhere." And in "Designer Gloom," Equi accurately captures something powerful about American society with the phrase, "the sanitized decadence of our times." 

Along with the risk of evocative simplicity, a current of failed cleverness diminishes the quality of an otherwise good collection, revealing a limitation of imagination. Lines like "Three heads are better than one" and "My country tis' of thee, / sweet land of lunacy," at best disrupt the flow of good poems and at worst made me roll my eyes. True cleverness is a challenging target; when it hits, it's a bright little moment of grinning enlightenment and when it misses it's annoying. As with all writing, cleverness is partly contingent on the mind of the reader, but unlike other themes, images, and techniques, cleverness can only hit its target in one way and stands out when it misses. 

"Adolescent" is one of those words that has collected negative connotations. In its purest sense, it means progressing toward adulthood. In that sense, it might be most productive to view Click and Clone as an adolescent collection. I want to stress that I mean that positively. Because of the inherent accessibility of the style, readers new to poetry will be able to interact with it; they will get a sense of what poetry is capable of in the context of words and images that do not outstrip the readers' growing ability to comprehend. What is banal to someone who's been reading poetry for decades can be a stepping stone to greater ideas for someone who has been reading poetry for months. Furthermore, the style varies enough to imply the range of style poetry is capable of. Along with Bukowski, Equi drifts into late Tate, aims at Bishop and evokes Schuyler, Barbara Guest, and Thom Gunn. 

Click and Clone has its limitations. Readers who particularly appreciate evocative simplicity will enjoy Equi's style and sense of humor, while forgiving the poems lead to banality by the technique. And for adolescent readers, Click and Clone could be the beginning of their poetic journey, because it shows them, in accessible diction, they have the opportunity and ability to "terra-form the future." 

Click and Clone by Elaine Equi
Coffee House Press
ISBN: 978-1566892575
136 pages