“a name will eat you alive”

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These notes are part of my “read 100 poetry books in 12-ish months” effort. Far from an official review, they represent first impressions and provide some context for what I brought to the reading of the text.

21 of 100: Some Planet by Jamie Mortara (2015, YesYes Books)

Quick, personal thoughts:

  • About a year ago, I read a more recent poetry collection by Mortara: GOOD MORNING, AMERICA. I’M HUNGRY AND ON FIRE. It’s how I ended up finding this book, even though it was published first. The voice in both books is similar but much more concentrated and refined in Good Morning…, which of course makes sense. As a poet, it’s interesting to have this example of how voice can find itself when nurtured/trained.
  • I love the experimentation in this collection. In addition to having several poems titled “experiment,” Mortara’s poems attempt a number of innovative forms, including a table and flow charts that are twice as wide as the regular pages and need to be unfolded to view. One poem is written as a paper fortune teller with an accompanying set of instructions for how to cut it out, fold it and read the poem. And still another form (as in the excerpt pictured) Mortara plays with is a kind of score card:
  • Some Planet reminds me of how much impact the ordering of the poems contributes. I have great affection for collections that switch point-of-view dramatically from one poem to the next, diving deep within (like “a church inside your father”) and then in the next poem rocketing up to the widest, tallest view possible (“distortion planet”). I also enjoy it tremendously when a poem runs (however subtly) with something it picked up from the poem before it. Mortara ordered the poems in this way, creating a kind of stitching between them and, overall, establishing a lilting rhythm.

Lines I want to remember:

  • “spend an entire morning with a coin of your choosing. // arrange your day into binary decisions … // tossing this old quarter for twenty years and i am finally out the door. // george washington tells me i’m beautiful and the eagle says bless your heart.”
  • “when people paved this freeway / did they pray that it would even last / or were they resigned to return to it forever”
  • “i speed / hug the turns / either i want to be home or dead / there is no in-between / … tell me how many times / must i be a terrified little rabbit / trapped inside of herself / how many / hands must run soft over her ears / before she won’t expect one of them / to go for her neck”
  • “a name can / and will / eat you alive / if you let it.”
  • “my heart is an unidentified failing object / there is not enough evidence to confirm or deny the existence of my heart / many people have claimed to have seen my heart / but it was only a weather balloon slash military test flight”
  • “the truth is a rabbit dies at the intersection of everywhere every idiotic day / that a dog abandoned / will either sleep away the wait / or tear the entire house / apart”

What others have said:

  • from Habitat magazine: “These poems break, bend, and resist natural law, only to make from this brokenness a new pattern, a transcendental taxonomy. … Mortara’s book contains its own nature. It participates in a larger force. It is a planet with no name that is necessarily understood as ours. We share in its secrets as Some Planet shifts tense and pronouns, moving along the spectrums of time and gender. But ultimately, we discover Some Planet to be unnamed, ungovernable.”

Where some of the poems from this collection live online:

Have you read this collection? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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