The Other World
Dancing Girl Press
“Bang the Busted Instrument”: the Burden, and Art, of Strumming a Broken Lyre
If Lucy Biederman’s myth-making, and myth-denouncing (in lieu of the wingspan of "truth") chapbook The Other World, deeply engaged with the tropes of creation, and, to quote Anne Carson, decreation, had a soundtrack, it would be an open-air live recording of the Velvet Underground as an opener, followed by the Cowboy Junkies. The fifth sense in the rondel of mind and body (after sight, sound, taste, and hearing), is touch—this allocentric mode of perception structure’s Biederman’s text, which implicates a distant listener.
“He’s not listening,// He’s not listening. He does as he pleases,/ Watches the nation’s drag races rage/ Wild behind the marquees.”
The age-old conundrum of why we are here (to love and feel ourselves beloved, according to Raymond Carver), becomes, in Biederman’s steadfast grip, and keening voice, that of what to do, as a speaker, in the face of silence from the beloved or other (perception of alterity at the foundation of Biederman's ethics of form). Moments and poems of fluency (Keats’ “full-throated ease”) abound in The Other World, this untitled poem as an example:
Sunset. If he loved me I’d bend
Like the blond grass that comes up past
His horse’s knee. The other world is blond
Tonight—that grass, a mountain, o lit smack
Of sky. I think I want to hear it sing
Yet, the collection’s pathos is generated not by poems of desire for wholeness - reunion with the Platonic double - but episodic poems of brokenness, pictorially framed as a lamp without a mirror, in Renaissance painting, a traveler without a compass, tilting at windmills, or (the actual situation) a speaker without a listener: a bard without a lyre. What to do, this poet asks, but hit the lyre harder and at greater pitch, with the visual symbol of linkage or addition (the ampersand) stitching together the speakers’ paratactic anxiety?
Bang the busted instrument. All night I called
Elevators & boarded horses & hoarded creamers in board rooms. Between
Next to last & last & last of all, some break will come, & that will
Be sadder. Bang the trusted it. Admitted,
Remitted, removed & remembered. Then back again & standing behind me
On the up & up & up, you’re so country &
Western. And what will be will be sadder than the buzzing
Neon you smoke & steam behind. I wish that break would come.
Past memories of event and the cumulative bank of sensory knowledge are all, in a sense, the speaker has: possession, here, is rendered valuable not as lyric or material possession, but the comfort of another, posited here, as a future gain, on the long stretch of highway between the American imaginary (dream) and its distilled future (reality):
I remember everything, even the things
That never happened, the faded pattern
Behind each time he touched me
All the sad stories are true
The other world is singing
I’ll have no one but you
The Other World pieces together, as travelogue and memento mori, the body of the shepherd from whence issues a duet (melody, and cadence), as well as (in a camp adjacent to irony, rather than posterior or anterior thereto), a fierce poetic not immune metacognitive ploys, or other squirmy ineffables (chivalry, metaphysical hope, the lyric poem), but the means of their recontextualization, as music (love child of Steeley Dan, PJ Harvey, and Wagner), in time.
Virginia Konchan’s poems have appeared in Best New Poets, The Believer, The New Yorker, and The New Republic, her criticism in Quarterly Conversation, Barzakh Magazine, and Boston Review, and her fiction in StoryQuarterly and Joyland, among other places. Co-founder of Matter, a journal of poetry and political commentary, Virginia lives in Chicago.
Also by Virginia Konchan:
A review of Clamor by Elyse Fenton
A review of My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer by Paige Ackerson-Keily
A review of The Lily Will by Melissa Dickey
A review of It is Daylight by Arda Collins
A review of A Witness in Exile by Brian Spears