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colorado review 154 My mother used to cry in the car while driving to stop the sorrowful fighting. This was terrifying to me in the back seat. We shall fight again afterward, until the divinity chooses between us. Not only is she responsible for my safety she gives victory to one or the other. And now I cry in the car while driving. By this time the terms of death hang over us. . . . There is no sparing time for the bodies of the perished, this is a particularly deadly fight. In Equivocal, Carr attempts to hold the whole world in view by opening whatever membrane exists between the private and public, the personal and historic, the now and the past, to dazzling effect. Sources, by Devin Johnston Turtle Point Press, 2008 reviewed by David Doran Critiquing the hyper-reality of the world, Jean Baudrillard, in The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact, declares in one particularly haunting passage, “I dream of an image that would be the automatic writing of the singularity of the world.” For Baudrillard, the “real” eludes us not because it has abdicated to illusion, but because it is too multiple, it is too much itself. Our magnificent capacity to process has all but destroyed the product. Though its project differs, Devin Johnston’s Sources is born of a similar impulse. As is the case in each of his previous two books, we are given a recourse against excess, a poetic vision marked by brevity, preciseness of language, and a carefully rendered musicality: Black lees against the snow, a murder crowns what’s left of day. (“Crows”) 155 Book Notes Starlings plunge through cold fog; a pitchy xerox chafes the dawn chorus. (“Starlings”) The rhythm is astonishingly seductive, so much so that the book as a whole nearly succeeds on that level alone. But there are greater concerns at work here: for Johnston, the singularity of the world is the singularity of the image; or rather, it is only when the singular image takes precedence that the world—the world both within and without that image—is truly seen. Hence the book’s title: to achieve the singularity of the world we must return to the fundamental, to the Source. Sometimes that source is quite literal, as when the poet returns to memories, childhood, and Greek texts. In “The Door,” for instance, he writes of the origin of a wooden basement door. Before the tree was felled, he imagines, “Ticks crowded / summer leaves, / . . . jagged branches / made exploded / diagrams of cloud.” But this is too deliberate a device, as the end of the poem makes clear: “I know none of this, / only the dark / plumes of grain, / deep scores, and smooth / action of its lock.” By returning to the source at hand, the product of the finished door, the poem is cognizant of the difficulty of trying to will the thought from the image. Such awareness only strengthens the book’s most enticing creations, its most pleasurable work. Johnston is a master of the moment, and when his singular power of attention is one of listening without speaking, the poems take the form of an extended—or perhaps exploded—haiku. Consider the close of “Reluctant Travelers”: Across an inland sea of grass, nothing stops the sun but cinder block and cottonwood. I wonder where you’ve been. colorado review 156 It’s difficult enough to wrap one’s head around the notion of remaining silent as a way of composing. But the writing in this poem is more than crystallized, more than concentrated. It feels effortless. Or, to return to Baudrillard, it feels almost automatic : intention absent, only when the poem ends do we understand the field as source. More than a source of remembrance, the field becomes the occasion for the world’s singularity, which houses at once both the image and the thought. What is the thought contained in the image? It is the displaced other, but it is also the field, the image itself. Though, as Johnston knows, such easy passage from image to thought is not really a passage at all; the two are indistinguishable . The epigraph to the book (from Herakleitos) tells...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2325-730X
Print ISSN
1046-3348
Pages
pp. 154-157
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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