“punch drunk on gravity”

Posted by

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.

24 of 100: The Galaxy Is a Dance Floor by Bianca Lynne Spriggs (2016, Argos Books)

Quick, personal thoughts:

  • In the preface of the book, Spriggs describes a “chronic malady… the most physically vulnerable I’d ever felt.” Earlier this year (July – August), I had an illness that made me feel more physically vulnerable than ever, and so Spriggs’ words resonated with me as a way of introducing the work. I’ve always been interested in embodiment and detachment (a prior version of my own manuscript starts with a poem about taxidermy), and being sick this summer intensified attachment to themes related to the body and what it means to function as a body on the planet. It was difficult to feel like much more than a dense wad of puddy, but Spriggs’ poems present a different possibility: “do not think of me / in terms of a body at all. // Think of me the way I tend to / think of you which is nothing less // than a kaleidoscope of stardust,”
  • Spriggs’ preface describes the work of writing this way: “The poems in this collection…. years of accumulated internalized urgency to know.” Yes, yes, yes. In a nutshell, that’s why I write: to understand what it’s impossible for me to know any other way.
  • As an artist myself, I was also delighted to see that, like Rebecca Schumejda’s Something Like Forgiveness, this collection included sketches/art. The images — moth, narwhal, astronaut, etc. — appear in a series of “reverie” poems and contribute to the dreamlike, disorienting quality of those poems, which are numbered but presented out of order. The whimsy here contrasts with some of the other poems, which are tight and mathematical (the fibs, for example, a poetic form built on the Fibonacci sequence).

Lines I want to remember:

  • “Grow me … / a heart so heavy / it will not capsize in a storm, // and a gut so vast, I will never know / what it means to feel full.” (from “An Artist’s Prayer”)
  • “she stayed up all night / with the moths and June bugs / and hoped to catch Jupiter / and Venus dozing / so she could scoop them out / of the sky with the Little Dipper / and onto her plate.”
  • “I stood seven-hundred feet above / a tiny corner of the Atlantic, I could feel the might // of the tremendous ocean so cold and bright / beneath a northern coastal sun. Now that is a place // where water behaves the way it’s advertised.”
  • “The robin makes it up / as she goes along, / polishes the bright peel / of her breast / with two river stones, / admires her work,”
  • “Maybe a thousand dead bees blown from man-made hives up on the roof down into the parking lot. You mouth a prayer for every one we step over. Crossing an acre of asphalt never took anyone so long.”
  • “Most of us cannot let anyone off the hook.”
  • “We resent her for the very thing any of us was ever born to do: / survive long enough in order to change.”
  • “We’d get anywhere / we wanted walking / barefoot along the spines / of low-hanging clouds.”
  • “but Cupid will sometimes say, Let’s just get this over with,”
  • “punch drunk on gravity”

What others have said:

  • Spriggs’ own words from the preface: “Dare I say that I hope reading this book leaves you as irrevocably changed as the way writing it left me? I suppose that’s what any writer wishes, ultimately — to alter someone the way she has been altered. But that is what I wish — that you finish reading these poems and feel like you were with me last night, among a blur of humans, moths, cicadas, moonlight and masson jars, where for one flared moment — who knows, maybe we were all together for two seconds, maybe two centuries — but time turned into a slow, bright streak across the night sky where for once we were all of us certain of our hearts. For once, we were all certain where we belonged.”
  • from Publishers Weekly: “Affrilachian poet and multidisciplinary artist Spriggs takes cues from the cosmos as she couples meticulously composed ruminations on the nature of the universe with dreamlike reveries and quirky cartoons. Spriggs transforms the material into the emotional, imagining the flirtations of stars and the sensual schemes of fungi.”
  • Aracelis Girmay in a blurb on the book’s back cover: “From different species of automatons to spiders, ants, and bees, from moons to yellow jacket nests, Bianca Spriggs’ Eye is quick and slow enough to show us that the galaxy is vast and atomic, tiny. In this  science-minded and sensual collection, red lips stand in constellation with the ‘dionaea muscipula on the fly’ and tongues are abacuses. Bodies are ‘astonishing machine[s]’ made up of ‘stardust, / coils of oxygen and carbon / and hydrogen compressed / by time…’ … At a time when our senses and imaginations are inundated with terrifying news and shorthand, poems like these are critical for the ways they remind us that imagination, itself, might be a kind of balm or mercy.”
  • Richard Taylor in a blurb on the book’s back cover: “In these poems Bianca Spriggs becomes the heart’s astronaut, exploring, imagining, bringing the distant closer, giving substance to the invisible. In poem after poem she bears witness that the universe is a vast metaphor in which the outer world corresponds with the inner.”

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

Leave a Reply