The Art of Seeing: The Arrangements by Kate Colby

Anna V.Q. Ross
| Reviews


The Arrangements by Kate Colby (Four Way Books, 2018).


“Were we born with eyes / or when we saw ourselves // seeing?” Kate Colby asks in “The Beholder,” a poem that appears early in The Arrangements (Four Way Books, 2018). This “fusion // of seer and seen” permeates the collection, written in the voice of a speaker reaching for self-definition, even self-hood, in the landscape she sees around her. “I’m / dying, you / see,” she tells us in “Inside Job,” the book’s opening poem, and we both do and don’t—for this is a speaker who is remarkably alive to the visual world surrounding her, even as she foresees this view ending. In Colby’s poems, the veil between eye and I flutters, dissolves, and reappears, allowing the reader to intuit the subjectivity of the self: if seeing is believing, can we discern who we are from what we choose to see? And does this seeing bring resolution?
“Two Sentences,” on the page facing “The Beholder,” enacts this self “seeing” via the commonplace within both landscape and language. As the title observes, the poem is comprised of two sentences, and Colby begins quietly, positing a seemingly simple observation about plant nomenclature in the first of these:

“Weeds” is missing
words for outdated

“feverfew,” and “sedge.”

The sonic dance of the second couplet—“feverfew” / “fescue,” “sedge” / “vegetation”—both alerts us to the distinction between these plants and the paltriness of “Weeds” as an aggregate title for such plenty. In the second sentence, Colby makes her argument:

If I displaced all particulars
of me with the category you

fall into, Tess d’Urbervilles,
self-effacing in the swede

field (only I’d call them
“rutabagas”), then kill

and hang for my own name
but call it love—small price

to pay for having it thus.

The word “missing” here is “women,” the “category” into which both the “I” and “Tess d’Urbervilles” fall. This perhaps suggests a political critique—the erasure of the “particulars” of individual women by oppressive gender mores, just as “weeds” erases the particulars of “‘fescue,’ / ‘feverfew,’ and ‘sedge.’” Yet the speaker seems to at least consider how she might identify with Tess “self-effacing in the swede / field,” while at the same time distinguishing herself through language, “(only I’d call them ‘rutabagas’).” In the end, a willingness to assert one’s individuality—the “small price” to “hang for my own name”—is what unites the speaker and Tess, an ironically hopeful reassertion of the complaint issued in the poem’s opening stanza.


Anna V.Q. Ross is a 2018 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow in Poetry and the author of the poetry collection If a Storm and the chapbooks Figuring and Hawk Weather. She teaches in the Writing, Literature and Publishing Program at Emerson College and hosts the poetry and music series Unearthed Song & Poetry.

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