Avery E.D Burns
The Idler Wheel
Oakland: Manifest Press, 2001

beginnings fall into question
idea, object, place, time, fact
collide with present notions

These first lines of Avery E.D. Burns' The Idler Wheel hint at the trajectory of the whole to come: of meditation and interrogation, of order and randomness, of the tension between the personal and the larger world. One finds, from the beginning, an extended serial work
composed of contemplative minimalist poems that ask to be read as both discrete units and as a single work. And this formal element drives the work, creating both continuity and fragmentary randomness. Most of the poems are structured around rhetorical devices or figures which, through their absence of noise and adornment, bring attention to the process of perception, of discovery, of a faith in the enactment of consciousness through the work. It demands this kind of flexible serial form because of its open-ended nature and because of the nature of the subject matter-which I read as consciousness acted upon the world and the world acting upon consciousness.

And Burns remains dedicated to the same gesture throughout, with earnestness, creating a kind of lyric that asks one to examine where the personal ends and the materiality of the world begins, or, more precisely, whether there is a difference at all. But despite the overall tendency toward seriousness, he is, at times, ironic: "I'm walking along/ You're walking along/ this that the other thing/ happens." This is not irony that distances but rather reduces and returns the reader to a clearer form of understanding, deflating the lyric, bringing it into contrast with something larger.

Much of the work functions in relation to the idea of landscape, which for John Brinckerhoff Jackson constitutes "a synthetic space, a manmade system of spaces superimposed on the face of the land, functioning and evolving not according to natural laws but to serve a community." Burns underscores the common human bond as enacted in the world-on the land-and as enacted on a more intimate scale-between individuals: "our place is to repeat/ourselves/to seek refuge in/similarity." But beneath this is a feeling that society is small in the face of nature, that a larger perspective looms, that Burns doesn't completely agree with Brinckerhoff:

you've heard several
things about me:
yes, mhmm
i see, interesting
well that just about covers it

topics scattered like
dandelion seeds reduced
by puffs the air swirl of
as spring takes hold again
rings tones of change

Burns varies his minimalist approach. It sometimes echoes the content and sometimes enacts the possibilities of the content. "These lines/ lines to make a circle/ circles to make worlds/ worlds to make sense/ sense to draw lines" is in the spirit of the subject, simplicity and movement toward renewal of possibilities. But "war boasts honor and duty/ read here the middle finger" is minimalism which is not minimalism. The fewest lines speak the loudest throughout the work, creating and questioning place, continuity, and consciousness.

-- Brian Strang