Review of Amanuensis
From Erin Mouré , Books in Canada, 1989

Amanuensis by Phil Hall

AS IT IS: dense, compact, elliptic, fierce, without evasion.

Then they put our cages on wheels
and let us (stinking of snacks) push them—
we push them out of their parking-lots
into fields of wild carrot and chicory
but they always find them and drag them back
shove each cage into the muzzle of the next
        cage.

In Amanuensis (Brick, 64 pages, unpriced), Phil Hall has come, by strife with words and their embedded values, to a technique of compression that reminds of Paul Celan’s knotted poems: they beam straight through the skull. So that: “It is a lark drinking rain-water from a sun-dial” and “oat-dust gold along the snout-beam.” Poetry that recalls the organs of the body, that invents and compounds verbs, nouns and adjectives to reach toward what cannot be spoken, only named, if we use all the names, without censoring our hands’ flutter. It is poetry that “has been taught mockingbirds well.” Which is why, perhaps, Hall’s work has been little recognized by those grocers who are so invested in the cages and parking lots of the literary supermarket. Never mind. It is recognized by those who want, instead of supermarkets, food.

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