Thursday, April 28, 2011

Michael Chaulk on First Books

Sarah Dowling's security posture

I first read Sarah Dowling's security posture on a half-empty airplane. There was a long delay, I think forty-five minutes. On one side of me, the window leading out to lengths of tarmac and a longer purple 6am sunrise. On the other, a man in a grey suit watching what had to have been a History Channel documentary about Things On Fire. This is relevant.

security posture, the winner of the 2009 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry and so published by snare books, is coherent as a first book because it leaves you with an impression. It might be an indistinct impression, but it's nonetheless full and it all works toward building it.

This is the way that Dowling formats security posture as well. If they are separate poems, even, they are untitled. Some parts seem to be governed by erasure, and others by grounded things like hair and lamps, but the subject is almost always obscured. There are no sections or headings or epigraphs. It is all one progression, and it has a pulse.

There are several pages of poetry in the middle which seem to be anchored by the letter f used as itself. These poems are then written in their reversed forms, but because the language itself is so peculiar and dense, it's hard to notice at first. There appears to be some sort of system, but what? Nouns becomes verbs or something else entirely and indefinable. It's pleasing and unfamiliar, and feels more like rolling than reversal.

Here's an example of one of what I call the “f poems” on page 38:

sky, the against
is spread out evening when
I turn over
there I turn
myself, like

soft white walls
you are my
you, everyday
turn, pass her delicate may I

pool I leave it
turn you're what
like stones f
the against like

And then, on page 39, this poem is reversed. Read/write it out yourself: “f/ like against the. . .”

So that's also what can cohere a book: an overall something that cannot be defined (by me), really, but effects you in an itself-nameless way. It reminds you of your relationship with your seat and its thistled fabric, resumes the plane's hums (the thick ones and the thin ones both) in your purview, and makes you (feeling peculiarly more water-based than ever) want the man to look over just once, which he doesn't. You look out at the purples and the tarmac and go “Huh, okay,” as if, for a moment, you might have understood it all, even if you would never have been able to articulate it.

Dowling, Sarah. security posture. Montreal: Snare Books. 2009. Print.


Michael Chaulk is a licensed Canadian seaman, but also a writer living in Montreal above heavy street traffic. He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Void Magazine at Concordia University and the Associate Poetry Editor for the Incongruous Quarterly on the internet. He has work forthcoming in the spring issue of PRISM international.

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