Lost Letters and Other Animals by Carrie Bennett (Black Lawrence Press, 2021);
Besiege Me by Nicholas Wong (Noemi Press, 2021);
Returning the Sword to the Stone by Mark Leidner (Fonograf Editions, 2021).
You can tell a lot about a poet by how they use nouns. An abundance of common nouns or abstract nouns usually means the poetry aims at loftier, grander themes. There is an ethereal quality to words whose referents are generalized—like some Platonic ideal of “bird” or “love” or “fingers.” One gets a sense of being high above the subject, gazing down at a panorama so vast as to preclude the use of specific, proper nouns.
Carrie Bennett’s Lost Letters and Other Animals deploys only two proper nouns. Her writing is stoic but somehow deeply personal, as if engaging with the subject at hand—the slow deterioration of a loved one’s memories—is almost too painful to do too directly. Here are the two proper nouns, from the poem “Animals in Pretty Cages”: “The first woman diagnosed was Auguste Deter. The man who diagnosed her, Alois Alzheimer, died at the age of 51.” Bennett’s collection examines the effects of Alzheimer’s on its victims: the person who has the disease and that person’s loved ones. As such, the erasure of nearly all specific nouns is appropriate, as a person whose memories have disappeared would see each noun as general, not proper. “Naming becomes important,” Bennett writes, “when the ability to name is gone.” Naming, after all, requires us to recall the name.
Bennett is fascinated by the way everything eventually fades, wears down, dies. In “Brainbox Portraits,” she describes the functions of our minds as something that “counts time like a mechanical watch. It winds itself into a nest that holds each memory inside a bright blue bell.” This brief section concludes, “Each bell contains a clue for how words are worn.” In “Animals in Pretty Cages,” Bennett observes: “Eventually all objects will lose their function: toothbrush, toilet, towel, mirror, door handle will all be a stone thrown into an enormous pile of other stones.” We, too, will lose our functions and become inert, lifeless, like rocks.