Diego Báez



Drift & Pulse. Kathleen Halme. (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2007. 47 pages. Paperback: $14.95, ISBN # 0-88748-463-8
The Dazzling Land. Brigitte Byrd. (San Francisco: Black Zinnias, 2008. 58 pages. Paperback: $17.00, ISBN # 978-0-9714085-7-9.)


Drift & Pulse, Kathleen Halme’s third book of poems, unfolds like an origami ecosystem, an elaborate web of realized dreams. Halme investigates with secular clarity the ethereal realm of the mind, locating the substance of imagination in the creative process. The effect is of poetic apophasis, at once harrowing and humorous, infusing corporeal immediacy into abstract designs. The strongest poems in the collection objectify cognition as elements wired into the hardware of a World in flux.

Central to the Halme’s collection is the transparent complexity of her creative method. As a series of suggested line-edits, “Scape” remains like a strip of film felled to the cutting-room floor, evidence of the editorial process. By recurrently calling to “delete / the full cold moon,” the urge to elucidate through trope is at once illuminated and extinguished. In “The Other Bank of the River,” she simultaneously eschews and embraces the trope of “Persephone spitting out her seed”. The poems metamorphose and speak to one another, shifting like sea creatures just beneath the surface.

Halme deftly negotiates nature and artifice, arguing against any great distinction, finding evidence in both evolution and its quandaries. The “ink bag / of an inkfish, a master of emotion” (“Rites, Practices, Spells, and Symbols”) produces ink that becomes a carrier signal, a spirit medium. A prayer written on paper, dissolved in water, and when imbibed, tastes “Surprisingly…bitter, / considering what it was”. She considers honeybees’ attraction to artificial flowers (“Comb”), and in oceanic trenches “bivalves secrete / more luster than mermaids” (“Vie”), suggesting truth and beauty in the archaeology of earth over imagination.

Yet for every viscera expounded, Halme counters with visual experimentation and playful depictions of the insubstantial. “Box Jelly” embodies the shape of its subject, an emblem superficial in form, considering the substance. Other intangible oddities receive a shape, find their form: the “Cubozoan bell swings galaxies / of eyes,” (“Box Jelly”), the “giant medusa waved her oral arms,” (“What Self”), a “whelk’s / folding in and out of form” (Futures Always Find Their Forms”). These myriad symbols transform from the purely representational to the linguistically imagistic, “two gold dolphins, parallel apostrophes” (“Voluptuary”), the neck of a goose flops like a question mark (“The Other Bank of the River”).

If the book lacks for anything, it is sheer length. I want to plumb deeper the untenable depths of Halme’s imagination. I want to meet Mrs. Livingstone’s lover (who must resemble Gargamel) in “The Maggot in the Mushroom”. I simply cannot leave the newlyweds be, in “The Brain Tells Us What is Real,” so seductive are the coils, so self-aware the narrative. Drift & Pulse is an argument for and the product of a process refined to extract/imbue sentience from/into the language itself.

Clever parentheses and stand-alone lines punctuate The Dazzling Land, Brigitte Byrd’s collection of prose poems. The speaker navigates a theatrical dreamscape, oscillating between form and function, play-action and experience, character and identity. Poems in The Dazzling Land attempt to wring authenticity from often austere language, not unlike the subject of “(permission for sympathy)” who requires “the silent laughter of an orphaned director to twist…melancholy into Hollywood tears.” This transformative feat compels the experimental collection.

Byrd plays with shape and grammar by interjecting virgules into otherwise unbroken paragraphs, ending sentences with prepositions, enclosing every title in parentheses. The subject of “(life as a soundtrack)” collides with topography when “All the French landscape hit her like. A breath a cloud a rock.” Fantastic elements in “(quixotic cooking)” (dis)appear when the speaker admits that, “(gone were the days when) / She ate / with her eyes.” The exceptional sentence structure provides the only recognizable current through the collection.

Aside from the initial cycle, the collection lacks formal, as well as structural, consistency. The narrative traipses through paragraphs, columns, single-line stanzas (or a combination thereof). The list poem “(of the impossible)” reads like so many isolated aphorisms rather than collected strains of a common thread, and it is, admittedly, “hard to rely on the allegory of composition.” This is certainly the case when many of the best lines in the collection have been appropriated from Sylvia Plath, Samuel Beckett, others.

The emphasis on irregular sentence structure and experimentation set in great contrast instances without such regulation. Stripped of line breaks and punctuation, the language cascades and tumbles, and, rather than drifting with rapidity, drowns in a stream-of-consciousness. Reading The Dazzling Land is an experience not unlike that of the subject in “(structuralist wisdom),” who considers “the difference between sentences and emotions,” and ultimately encounters “linguistic exasperation”.


diego báez is currently pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at Rutgers-Newark.