Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tamar Yoseloff - Fetch

A ‘fetch’ is defined as “a stratagem by which a thing is indirectly brought to pass…a trick; an artifice”, or as a 17th century term meaning “the apparition of double of a living person; a wraith.”

Titled Fetch (Salt Publications, 2007 - audio and information at the link)), Tamar Yoseloff’s third collection certainly revels in strangeness. It’s packed with disappearances, with colours viewed through murk, with threats that remain just out-of-sight, with surreal intersections between worlds. That’s not to suggest that the book is vague or at all impenetrable, more that this writer views her subjects through oddly skewed lenses.

In St Ives, against a pale background of sea, smoke and sky, a few tethered boats bob on the water and “imagine the open sea”. The poem then ends:

…From this window: curtains
partly drawn, the coffee in the mugs
stone cold, the tiny union jack
the only colours in the world.

This is a typical artifice in Fetch. The coffee mirrors the world outside, but the poem zooms in on the tiny, colourful flag flapping from a boat. It doesn’t read to me like a positive vision of colours brightening a dark world. The flag’s small loneliness is all the smaller compared with the gloom around it.

That kind of image, suggesting a great loneliness or darkness at the heart of things, is a recurring theme. In Siesta, “even the clock/ can’t be bothered to chime.” In The Sea at Aberystwyth, “The Spice of Bengal dims its lights, its one customer/ sated,” and

…What we want
lies broken on the shore, what we can’t have
stays black on the horizon:

the moon of the zebra crossing
flashing for no one.

In The Angle of Error, the narrator hears her “heart pounding its old song – stop, stop, stop.”

I enjoyed many of the poems in this collection, although a few didn’t elicit much of a reaction from me. This may be down to me rather than the poems, as almost all were well written. The settings were skilfully drawn and the technique of juxtaposing contrasting images usually succeeded in lending a new dimension to both. When Tamar Yoseloff attempted a more fragmented discourse, in poems like Marks, The Venetian Mirror, and The Firing, I felt the results were less successful, despite the presence of some fine passages within them. The Firing was the best of the three, but the other two left me unmoved.

Marks is an ambitious attempt to look positively on the experience of dissolution, on a world in which things no longer seem to connect the way they once did, and yet... But when I read stuff like “radio waves in air/ break over me/ words/ just audible/ between broken frequencies/ sound without/ meaning/ I mean/ the sky darkens to hold/ its weather” (I apologise for not being able to reproduce the formatting on this blog), it reminds me of many other such fragmentary poems on similar themes, and this one doesn’t stand out from the (always expanding) pack. Perhaps other readers will enjoy it far more than I did.

One of my favourites was The Library. A woman in a cold, sealed-off room reads books, which transport her all over the globe. The third stanza switches to the image of a model ship (boats feature frequently in Tamar Yoseloff’s poems) that had metaphorically “drifted on the dark, oak desk.” The ship becomes lost. The closing lines reflect a shift in perspective, and a double-edged shift at that:

…She would touch
its windless sails, wonder at how they could make
everything so small. A planet reduced.

So the library brings the world to the enclosed woman and expands her reach, but the reader understands how the world has diminished in the process.

Several poems titled Fetch are scattered through the collection. They all concern two woman, whose identities are bound up with one another. They could be different aspects of the same woman. Often one seems to exert a measure of control over the other. The opening poem begins:

I send her out
into the cold dark night.

Later, the sense of control is threatened. The two woman stop breathing; the second woman is making love, and the first is somehow caught up in that, but then:

As their bodies blur in the tangle
of bedclothes, I feel my skin
go numb; the power to receive
his touch is gone, his face grows dark.

The final, sinister Fetch poem has the first woman steer the second away from the safety of streetlamps and then a car “swerves into being” from the other end of the alley and races down the sidewalk towards her. These poems reminded me of recent David Lynch movies in which characters populate the same bodies with radically different identities. The films, as the poems, both invite and resist interpretation, and are attractive in their mystery.

This is certainly an interesting collection that repays thought, and the poems aren’t exhausted after a read or two. It’s well worth having a look at.

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