Sunday, March 30, 2008



(BlazeVOX Books, Kenmore, New York, 2007)

He got me at Hello. Which is to say, this book grabbed me with the first page:
every year
the statue grows heavier

I want to put it down
on this clover hill overlooking

the library
it might roll away from me

it wouldn’t be my fault
if it broke back to its four colors

its mound of shells and water

What a pleasing music. What lovely imagery. And so I was moved to continue reading the rest of AN ARCHITECTURE. But, just for the heck of it, I thought to read it with a question in mind: “What is this book an architecture of?” Of what, referencing page 2, is this book-length poem the




? Well, I’ll cut to the chase of my own answer: it’s the architecture of a poet’s work and life. Sounds banal. And sounds reductive (if not wrong) but there are certainly elements that bolster my answer-theory:
I sell subscriptions to my daily life.
The violet gleam of girders.
Pain in the shape of industrial pipe

whose center is everywhere
whose smoke is irony.
Worry is proof of my goodness.

I flex my worry and count to seven.
An elegiac music,
tulips yellow the water.

I speak, therefore I are.

Another reason I relate the poem back to an ars poetica of sorts is because of the mystery that remains: despite specificities of description, we can't really pin down what the project is about (in contrast to architectural plans defining what will be a specific--because it’s physically-static--building. Or consider that Goethe once speculated architecture to be frozen music.) For instance:
the library is burning
fire reads aloud

in Arabic in Greek

translating each book
into smoke

The beauty of smoke is partly that it shape-shifts. That’s what happens throughout the poem, this book. And yet as it fluctuates, the reader never gets irritated or frustrated with its elisions. Instead, this reader remained appreciative simply because of the enticement of the language that at times gets elegiacal and at times borders on rapture:
by this slow burn
we live


a tree

fire inside its wood


out from the forest

                                    the burning bush
is a man

in average moments

the snake

peristalsis of
the world

by which these rooms
are constituted


over a city

block                   windswept

of copper
leaves                   machines and

their math—
the snake

its throat cave

the wet days

AN ARCHITECTURE reveals the impossible: plans for what cannot be captured or pinned down. Like poetry. But even as structures are set up and then allowed to collapse, something worthwhile happened. An engagement with the reader that held true: for in Sweeney’s evocative parsings from life, desire never gets diluted:
To make stained-glass windows
for the blind

a color whose effect
                                     not visual

touch here, the crack

the tooth
of things

Which is also to say, these poems are not so much meditating over destruction but creation:
I subtract one color at a time
to arrive at green.

Green cardinal.
Green snow.

This green is excavated
rather than built.

Looking you begin to feel

what culture feels when exposed

to time,
a pit

in the air—
a climbing up to

no altar.

The clover,
the teeth of the horses

Green burns in the green cloud.

The notion of green might sum up, or at least relate to, AN ARCHITECTURE. Green is an additive primary color that can be used to create new colors. But, also, green is created by the mixture of other colors (blue and yellow). With AN ARCHITECTURE, I felt Sweeney meticulously choosing words to create what will form the poem, plucking words out of prior contexts to become new in his poem’s context. His disciplined approach has created something beautiful by admirably not limiting beauty to something defined (as in fixed or static) and untouched by (the reader’s) subjectivity.


As remuneration for editing Galatea Resurrects, Eileen Tabios doesn't have her books reviewed here ... but she's pleased to point you elsewhere to Thomas Fink's review of her SILENCES: The Autobiography of Loss.

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