Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award - 2011
Allison Benis White
muse of arms
To swallow fire, first, listen to the direction of the wind.
If you are not careful, you can always hear the birds.
The trick is stillness. When I say, wait, don't move, don't
move. Pleasure is blinding but pain is a different beast.
At what point does the hand stop being the hand?
The crow's face in the bucket of wet coals is black
where petals do not cloak it. Where's the line? Fire-
walker, water, like blood, steadies heat. Fire-eater,
breathe in. First, place an ear to the tracks to count
the distance to the piston. The skin of a citrus cannot
conduct current. A broken circuit blocks the light.
Elizabeth Willis on Beth Bachmann
I have long believed in the generative quality of "mistakes" and asymmetries, and I admire Beth Bachmann's boldly titled Flaw. The collection's conceptual center—and its most insistent word—is "open."
The poems have a stripped-down, investigatory drive. Where the manuscript begins, everything "wants out," and this outward pressure moves the work into a series of shifts, cuts, turns, magnetic pulls. Water on the tongue disappears into snow, snow gives way to a lake. It is as if we could witness the decomposition and refiguring of the world within the decomposition and refiguring of the line.
We feel the poems pushing against grammar and logic and into phenomena. Words and phrases break into "fire," into "splinters," into "fragments." At times it is as if we are watching a chemical reaction reset to the rhythm of human perception. The resulting gaps open the poem to a meaningful range of pauses, hesitations, delays, sonic mutations, reconsiderations.
A lapse of one thing makes possible another. A slowing down of time within the poem allows us to enter the folds of its thought. There is so much seeing in its listening.
"The flaw is always / breaking away"
Always. . . away. Discoveries lie on the verge of departure.