Journal of Writing & Environment

Substantia – Web Rove

by Claire Kruesel, Poetry Editor

As humidity softens, and a revived memory of winter solidifies those walls between interior and exterior, I find myself contemplating structure. We’ve ground up the ground, mixed it with water, and formed it into shapes that keep out the frostbite, or keep in a private self. Who we are under bare sky but swaddled in layers of wool, polyester fleece, or even just ideas, and who we are naked but under a ceiling, are strange inversions of the same thing. Thus I was drawn to these poems, which explore themes of structure, the material that builds it, and content in (and of) the void.”

On Metal” by Jamaal May (from Gulf Coast)

“On Metal” contemplates how technology obscures mechanisms that can be intuitively understood – here, an engine. The sequestering of knowledge into increasingly esoteric arenas leaves us tempted to just let a specialist take over – but what about when they say no; when the machine stays silent?

The Taking of Lead” by Michael Lee (from Rattle)

In this four-part poem, the hand is a machine. The eye is an efficiency expert. Limitations come not inherent in structure, but in our failure to name beyond them. Like the machine-as-body in “On Metal,” in “The Taking of Lead” we see how “It seems to me this is all the body has ever wanted” – to forget its efficiency, and the naming which creates it. To live without, or beyond, language.

The Sign with Nothing on it” and “Aubade” by Sarah Galvin (from iO)

These two poems speak on content, on void. ┬áIn “The Sign with Nothing on it,” literal absence presents as a prominent theme, while scent as a ghost – off the husk of a body whose purpose, foggy to a child, is obscured – fills in the rest with meaning.

In “Aubade,” more ghosts – of imagined memory, and of sound. I love the love of space captured in these lines: “I’ll shove my sleeping bag into a newspaper box, / and drag the box into a parking garage, / so I can live in both at once. / I refuse to interact with a structure any other way.”

We are Both Sure to Die” (1st of two) by Wendy Xu (from DIAGRAM)

Wendy Xu’s poems easily deflect attempts at summary, but her fragmented-yet-cohesive style captures perfectly the chimeric synthesis of modern environment – both literal and psychological. In this poem, “Clutching a tiny molten piece / of someone else’s life” evolves through oxymoron and ultimatum into claiming vs. denying the body; denying vs. claiming death.

At the Learning Annex” by Jim Redmond (from PANK)

This last poem silvers the formal against the informal – textbook against the raw – into the real business of cutting down, with “a silver tongue / … anything / that will give up the solid.” Here, a reprisal (from the second poem) of war – this time the reasoning is a forgetting, too: a deconstruction forward, rather than back.