Endi Bogue Hartigan,
One Sun Storm
(Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing, 2008)

The testimonials on the back cover of Endi Bogue Hartigan's first collection of poetry gush hard enough to induce a mild case of whiplash: "The page pushes its root down into the world, into the fact of the world, the fact that the world is -- and that fact has a sheen, has a music. Hartigan hears that music. She hears it, and she lets the facts sing their terrestrial song."

Easy, tiger! The pages on which One Sun Storm are printed meet the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences. Lacking roots to push down into the world, they instead behave more or less as you might expect thin sheets of compressed wood fibres to behave. (Although it is true that the book is too unusually wide to sit comfortably on my bookshelf.)

Facetiousness aside, Hartigan's words have a more troubled relationship with the real than the blurb suggests, and it is this that is their value. The complicated alliance between word and world is signalled by the epigraphs from Socho and Sogi, which posit the possibility of a genuinely performative language (one need only say the word, and the weather responds) even as they introduce problems of translation and version. Titles throughout the collection call up similar ideas: "Trees that don't know how to be trees," "Exaggeration Diary," "If correspondence fails," "Prayer is not speech." Animals are "plucked / from books or fields" ("Owl"); the world fails to be "neat, never enclosed in form" ("Black Sun Diary"); a field with definite edges recalls and refuses Olson's Open Field poetry ("One Horizon"); and, bluntly, "there is not a text" ("The Cockatiel"). Form makes only forays, as eerie nursery rhymes vie with prose poems one moment and, at another moment, words spread themselves freely and easily over the width of the expansive page.

The title poem is a moment of relative flatness in a gently nuanced whole:

One white moth that shifts on the ceiling
One arc of fire thrown out into space and falling
One lost candidate depicted in one election poster
One beginning of a meeting, one reading of the roster
"Flares usually make little difference to the Sun's brightness in visible light"
One stormland
Impossible speak

("One Sun Storm")

On the whole, these poems are intricate and phrenic: to do, at once, with the mind and the heart. They deservedly won the Colorado Prize for Poetry in 2008.

review by
Ailbhe Darcy

19 September 2009

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