The Art of Seeing: The Arrangements by Kate Colby

Anna V.Q. Ross
| Reviews


In this version of the story, the words may be imperfect, but they nonetheless preserve us (much as the speaker’s “own name” did earlier), and that “broken couplet” of “wife, / mother, daughter” endures despite “History” and the outward signs of decay—“white ash” and “rotten pickets”—earlier in the poem.
This may be as optimistic as Colby gets. As the book draws to a close, the speaker seems increasingly concerned with erasure, and in “Annunciation,” the final poem in the collection, she turns to allegory to resolve her dread:

By the end, this
tentative angel has taken

from her the purpose of
history, to hold together

more than one horizon.

We recognize the story, of course, but, as in “Two Sentences,” Colby focuses our attention on agency: the Virgin Mary’s “purpose” has been foretold by the angel, and thereby “taken from her” along with any other “horizon” she might have striven to- ward. The speaker, meanwhile, seems resolved, declaring:

I can’t give back the time

I’ve taken up, but return
my capacity to the air,

alveoli to the vine, turn
myself into eyes.

In this final act, seeing transcends the self entirely, a kind of sacrifice or trade in kind for having “taken up” “time” in the world and word. And, like Tess in the earlier poem, the speaker chooses this fate for herself, an act of agency denied Mary and perhaps a kind of faith in shared “capacity” for sight among those who remain behind to use it.

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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