Beyond the Chainlink
Morrison writes: “Beyond the chainlink, a city is the union between two lovers, never taking place.” In this latest collection, her eye is attuned to the ways language both obscures and exposes the seemingly lucid illusions of intimate attraction. How to recognize the past’s specters as they beckon and frighten, haunt and call, from just outside the “chainlink” of one’s schoolyard expectations of self and other? Though Morrison may assert how impossible it is to escape the constructed frame of past experience, her gift for nuance makes each achingly exposed limitation permeable to our attention. She reports, “Impulse says a little hurt is worth the long, thin fracturing you can use as horizon.”
“I’ve seldom read a book so attuned to the abysmal profundity of the inchoate world, so sure we live in what we cannot fully describe, so sensible of the definitions as they diminish, but who also knows, that infinite darkness is lit by the smallest presences, and that abyss’s fearful scale is balanced by nothing more than a sparrow landing on a branch. These poems, and this poet, leave me thankful for visions of such difficult grace.” —Dan Beachy-Quick
“The day is a unit of attention that is given to representation. The received, already fixed sequence of things (paintings, taxis, bodies), the time of living and ending, can curve to reflect on itself, and that is what these tender, profoundly inquisitive poems of Rusty Morrison’s perform. How do we continue to choose, speak and interpret given the weight of the end fact? Silence in Morrison’s new work is transformed from an absence to a concept, a potential translator of temporal givens; she tends silence’s conscious work with a measure and a subtle ear. A moral generosity is inaugurated.” —Lisa Robertson
In through our bedroom window, the full dawn-scape concusses.
Difficult to sustain sleep’s equilibrium of wordlessness.
Naming anything, like stepping barefoot in wet sand up to my ankles.
Name after name, sinking me farther beneath waking’s buoyancy.
House, this morning, is pale with the rush of what night siphoned off.
Objects, still emptied of resemblance, hum their chord-less cantos.
Bloodless, my knuckles knock on walls without echo, testing singularities.
Sun on the cutlery offers an ageless sheen.
Though it ages the silver relentlessly.
New, but still rudimentary tools to be gleaned from my over-used weaponry.
Copyright © 2014 by Rusty Morrison
“Vividly serious and adroitly terse, this fifth collection from poet and publisher Morrison (After Urgency) steers a sharp course between the free play of figurative language and the demands of insistent memory. With several poems entitled ‘Backward rowing,’ several epigraphs from Danish poet Inger Christensen, and intriguing ‘formulations’ (her term) that resemble Continental philosophy (‘In a dialogic creation of meaning, everything/ must be eaten up’), Morrison’s syntactically isolated couplets, and her almost teasing impressions, can test a reader’s perception. Her unusual layout (some couplets right justified and others left justified) appears to ask whether we can put in the connections she leaves out. Yet these sets of pagelong poems turn out to pursue the same subjects, the same feelings, as those that more direct, even confessional, styles are often used for: romances approached and dissolved, the passage of days and seasons and the power of the outdoors, the ways that the human body fits and does not fit into its own desires. ‘Literal as the cat asleep on the bed,’ the Northern California–based writer finds herself ‘in the home/ I’ve buried in retellings’; later she turns a memory into a powerful come-on, declaring, ‘My new sundress is neither the solution nor the absurdity// but in the afterlife, I want to remember your hands/ helping me unbutton its buttons.’” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Morrison’s poems take place across the ephemeral and shifting landscape of self-reflection, and by daring to admit her own imperfect perceptions of the past, and her willingness to embrace them, she allows us to explore a world both intimately familiar and uncomfortably honest. . . . Beyond the Chainlink is an ambitious and intriguingly honest collection from one of America’s most skilled poets. Fans of Morrison’s work and newcomers alike will find the breadth and depth of these poems to be both challenging and immediately rewarding. Just as we recall fond memories time and time again, the poems of Beyond the Chainlink invite us back for multiple readings, teasing us with the promise of new discoveries and hidden truths. The deceptively simple appearance of much of the work belies an emotional complexity and raw honesty that reveals Morrison’s skill as a poet; a talent that inspires us to reconsider our own past and the lies we so often tell ourselves.” —Dan Shewan in The Rumpus
“A recurring trope throughout the book that functions as a site of boundary confusion and crossing is the body. The second permutation of the poem ‘Sensework’ reads in its entirety:
on my body, hard enough to feel its resins crack.
I court the cracks.
Squeeze every breach.
What leaks is, at its end, stifling and sweet. Patience, patience. The dead-animal
smell will be the last trailing hem
of outbreath. The body is a cosmos
of hidden atmospheres—each with its own ravage
to erupt. Every loss
is my accomplice. (15)
Why does the speaker ‘court the cracks’? Because when she does, out ‘leaks’ something of her that is both ‘stifling and sweet.’ This, of course, is not just a moment of loss of the self or something internal; with a little ‘patience,’ she realizes that while she might lose something of herself, she’ll also gain something from the world outside of her to replace what has escaped. Yes, it could be the ‘dead-animal / smell,’ which is the ‘outbreath’ of road-kill; but it could also be something more glorious. Good or bad, we can’t be sure; but it is through the grand permeation of the self into the world that we become one with the world.” —Joshua Ware in Vouched Books
“The poems in Beyond the Chainlink display a fantastic collage of meditative connections and self-contained moments, working an incredible tension between connection and disconnect, blended in such a way that the differences disappear. . . . It would seem that the entire collections works through a sequence of changes, both attempting and accepting various changes, and articulating the spaces those changes require. Given that the short lyrics in each of her three sections share numerous titles, this is the author working to return, rework and explore similar territories throughout, composing poems that subsequently move deeper into the subjects of body, possibility and perception.” —Rob McLennan on Rob McLennan's Blog
When the true keeps calm biding its story won the 2007 Ahsahta Sawtooth Prize, I wrote a biographical sketch about my personal and creative history up to that point. You can find it with the info about that book on this website. Now it’s 2013, and I am delighted that Beyond the Chainlink is about to be published by Ahsahta. Below, I’ve listed the standard information, updating my professional publication history since then. But so much has happened since 2007 that won’t fit into a professional bio. Both my parents are now deceased, and I now live with a chronic illness that has challenged and changed me. Perhaps cliché to say it, but the immensity of each moment occupies me, at times exhausts me, and if I’m lucky enthralls me with its shocking possibility. But how to access it? In his essay, “What is the Contemporary?” Giorgio Agamben explains that “the entry point to the present necessarily takes the form of an archeology; an archeology that does not, however, regress to the historical past but returns to that part within the present that we are absolutely incapable of living.” The work for me, in my life, and that I hope Beyond the Chainlink records, is to return repeatedly to what it is that I am incapable of seeing, to experience in each instance a deepening familiarity with that incapacity. As the title suggests, I’m looking Beyond the Chainlink and I’m doing my best to travel in that direction, with as much courage as I can muster, wherever it leads.
the true keeps calm biding its story (Ahsahta, 2008) won Ahsahta Press's Sawtooth Prize, the Academy of American Poet’s James Laughlin Award, the Northern California Book Award, and the DiCastagnola Award from Poetry Society of America. After Urgency (Tupelo, 2012) won The Dorset Prize. Book of the Given (2011) is available from Noemi Press. Whethering (The Center for Literary Publishing, 2004) won the Colorado Prize for Poetry. I’ve received the Bogin, Hemley, Winner, and DiCastagnola Awards from PSA. My poems and/or essays have appeared, or will appear, in A Public Space, American Poetry Review, Aufgabe, Boston Review, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review, Lana Turner, Pleiades, Spoon River, The Volta’s Evening Will Come, VOLT and elsewhere. My poems have been anthologized in the Norton Postmodern American Poetry 2nd Edition, The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral, Beauty is a Verb, and The Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare and elsewhere. I’ve been co-publisher of Omnidawn since 2001.
In Beyond the Chainlink I want to be honest about my dishonesties—the unreality in my truths and the truth of my unreality. I want to trust the useful disarray of dis-believing what I am sure of—to examine the ways I’m in two places at once. Of course, a preposition like “beyond” is exquisitely skilled at this (bringing attention to both here and not here)—though we hardly notice.
Barbara Guest begins some statements of “Poetic Codes” with:
“A pull in both directions between the physical reality of place
and the metaphysics of space. This pull will build up a tension
within the poem… It is noticeable that a poem has a secret
grip of its own, separate from its creator.”
Often, there is a tightness in the tendon of my right forearm that will wait to be noticed, just under the threshold of discomfort, for a long time. It isn’t until I rub it hard with my other hand, in the opposite, or lateral direction, that I feel all the tension burning there. Then the sudden pain is nearly revelation, the way it is harbinger of a release that's deeper than many pleasures, better. In working the poems of Beyond the Chainlink I’ve tried to exert a similar kind of deep, visceral consideration—to put that kind of pressure—on every given line. I’ve wanted to rub in lateral directions the tendons of each poem in order to enhance, to free, the power and limberness of its grip. Then, it is most important that I allow it to hold me in that grip however it will.
As epigraphs to many of these poems, and to each section of this book, I’ve used quotes from Inger Christensen’s It and Jake Berry’s Brambu Drezi. Hank Lazer says that Berry’s “text proves to be a generative site for colliding mythologies” and C.D. Wright says of Christensen that she is “a true singer of the syllables.” My use of the preposition “beyond” in the book’s title, and as a touch-stone or divining rod for the work of this book, might have grown complacent, even quaint, if it weren’t for the insights into form and its functions as fulcrum of content that I found in these two texts.
Also important for me is Theodor Adorno’s declaration that “art opposes the empirical through elements of form,” which brought me to consider how I might use poetic form to test the ways in which I have become comfortable or complacent about what I accept as verified in my experience, what I understand as “empirical.” In this text, I use both left and right margin ‘justification’ as opposing positions from which to initiate the work of these poems—as I come at an issue’s ever-shifting center. In this and other ways, I want to consider the subtle differences in perception that can occur when one changes one's physical angle of relation to an idea or a thing.