The Art of Seeing: The Arrangements by Kate Colby

Anna V.Q. Ross
| Reviews


Moving from a contemplation of vegetation to declaration of personal agency via a 19th-century Romantic heroine in the brief space of thirteen lines may seem an overambitious leap, but Colby’s form allows for the broadness of her scope. Throughout the collection—indeed, in every poem but one—she employs couplets interspersed with the occasional tercet or concluding monostich, in a loose two-to-four beat line. This structure evokes the physicality of looking, as if we’re focusing on one image or idea, blinking, and then moving to the next. The back and forth between sound and silence might also echo the rhythm of footfalls, as this is a speaker who seems constantly in motion from one locale to the next. In “Platform,” Colby seems to address her form directly, calling her poems “stacks // of pallets holding / only one another.” Thus, Colby creates a kind of rolling parataxis, in which we rely equally upon white space and words to move us forward from one “pallet,” or resting place, to the next.
In the book’s title poem, she moves in unmarked sections, each new page beginning a new sequence of imagery and line length. We move from “a painting,” in which “the eyes / will follow till one of you is / nearly exhausted,” to “dregs of the season” and then a “red mist / of budding trees.” Again and again, the eye refuses to settle, moving from one seen thing to the next—the “mist” becoming “rain fills red Solo bowls / for feral cats in the yard” before the gaze moves skyward to

Beauty’s useless

afternoon moon,
a complete hole

into which
the eye grows

its pupil.

As with the other intuitive leaps between images in this poem, the movement from “Beauty” to “the eye” (of the beholder?) seems a kind of “arrangement.” However, the “complete hole,” a kind of visual oxymoron, is perhaps more telling here. Perhaps “Time,” which appears in the next section as both “a trash bag / forever collecting itself ” and also “exists if you buy it,” is the real measure of the seen (and therefore the self )? But Colby resists landing in abstraction such as this, instead bringing the focus back to the physical self as the greater, or at least more immediate, mystery the we continue to encounter:

I try

to experience my entrails, can’t
sleep for containing them. Is this

the same or opposite as being
in the world without eyes

for the infinite?

This final question provides a clue, perhaps, to a central question in The Arrangements: where does all this seeing lead us? Are we accumulating knowledge, a sense of some sort of “infinite” arrangement? Or is this even possible, given the limits of our sight.

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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