Review of Breaker
From Abou Farman , Arc (Volume 62, Summer 2009)

Poetry as disposition

For Sue Sinclair, poetry seems to be a disposition, a habit of looking and a practice of readiness, an inclination of her body as much as her thought. She leans into the world and the world shows no resistance. It takes in her mass and her mind in a mutually absorptive process until things, ideas, language and Sue Sinclair herself constitute one porous, if not unified, field, all agents of one another’s coming into the world. “We awaken to find the house / waiting for us, / patiently grazing …”, she writes in “Dawn Till Dusk,” noticing further down “… a lake of trees, / radiant with stillness.”

It sounds very simple, unspectacular, but when the house, an unnamed beast, waits and grazes, when the trees and the lake are one, both still, both radiant and all in the foreground, we lose a sense of what’s reflecting, what’s reflected, what is metaphor for what, until “the blue flame of the sky fades … the house wanders off / as night steals into the open mouths of cities and fields,” making us feel that there is no metaphor at all—the sky is  a flame, is blue, the house is a cow wandering off, the fields open their dark mouths at night. You can’t take anything to stand in for something else. She refuses you your compulsion for metaphor.

We practice
deep in our bodies a fierce acceptance that may be impossible

to achieve, especially now that summer has come,
the day silting into us, heavy fragrance of clover
manuring our lungs.

The sensuality of the last two lines, from the poem “We Hope it Will be Quick,” comes off fresh with the surprise and smell of new seasons, especially after the theory presented in the first two. But, like the profane manure and the healthy lungs, both sides flow into each other flawlessly. That’s how it goes with Sinclair: the world appears seamlessly interpenetrating, things in their multiplicity are “raw and enviable” aspects of each other, “not fragments but each one the whole you’ve lost” (“Evening”).

That ancient loss drives the disposition, the great gap (hole vs whole, as per above) in the relationship between us and the silent world. This “inherent misalignment,” as she calls it, makes Sinclair yearn for communion with the universe, to “step into a place where telling the difference between / this and that means nothing” (“Vanity”). Yet, since, as she says of “the slow differentiation of leaves,” “Each thing [is] so separate, / so painfully distant,” all you can do is “begin to pin your hopes / on the impossible.” The poignancy arises from this contradiction: because she yearns, she can also commune, though always in an incomplete manner, always with “a blizzard of interference” (Draught”).

The culprit, to a large extent, is “the apparatus of the mind” and, though she doesn’t name it, language itself, the principle technology of that apparatus. She knows well the drawbacks of her medium: “So easy to pretend a single word / will occur to you, and that it will do all the good anyone could hope.” In response, she chooses to “lean into silence” and turns her poetry into an attempt to expand language against its own world-narrowing precession, to let it spread over the world as “the healing skin of its molten core.”

There has always been great sensitivity, thoughtfulness and enchantment in Sinclair’s poems, and judging from the number (this is her fourth) and progress of her books (the lines are smoother, the vision more consistent), she both works hard and possesses an abundance of whatever it is we refer to by the word “talent.”

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