April 10, 2007

Review: Goodnight Lung

Goodnight Lung
Octopus Books, $6

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function.
-- Louis Sullivan

Almost all of the poems in Amadon’s chapbook are written in either couplets or tercets, and the form gives the content the space to proceed, to turn, and to try again and again to pin down what has happened or what will happen. In fact, many of the poems orbit around this idea of happening:
No one lets
my grandfather sand the ice, Kansas

isn’t very different from Belgium
& we each have a scaffold that wants

nothing to do with touching. Touch
yours to mine, we see what happens.

(“Last Giddy to Hospital Bed”)


Without an unmanageable
mistake, the day doesn’t


(“Uncomfortable Hand”)


We might see to the arrangement of a light
for an emotion which would strike a figure

of a person with a mind for what exactly
has happened to all the tea...

(“Frivolity With Lamps”)

But happening in these poems isn’t limited to the explicit use that word. The poems are pensive, unsure of “how to investigate / our loss.” The voice here is one of hesitancy, a voice that is seemingly uncomfortable in a place where “same will always into same.” For Amadon, the tension lies somewhere between the act of remembering and the act of doing.

The form, with its severe enjambment across couplets or tercets, enhances the tension of each poem’s overflow of ideas. The world is constantly moving, but it is a “world / that moves without attention.” The poems attempt to focus their attention, but the locus is typically unobtainable or elusive.

The repetition of happenings that twine throughout this collection reaches a crescendo in the poem “Declare! Declare!” This poem, as Amadon states in his notes, “is composed of words taken entirely from the eleven formal U.S. declarations of war, with one additional word per line from the Shaker song: ‘’Tis a Gift to be Simple.’” Truly, this must be where “same will always into same.”

The poems read as interior monologues, conversing only with themselves. Questions are asked (“Heard nothing?” “Act ourselves?” “How do we find a thing which / isn’t concerned enough with us to hide?”), but rarely are they answered. Amadon’s conversations unfurl in precise abstraction, and the only clear answer is that the poems themselves are what’s happening again and again.

by Nate Slawson

This is the fourth in a series of eight reviews on the chapbooks from Octopus Books.