Sarah Anne Cox
San Francisco, CA: Krupskaya, 2002

In Sarah Anne Cox’s slim, challenging book, language goes hunting for itself, searching out new truths and old fallacies, finding odd epiphanies and almost rescuing syntax and meaning from their mundane uses. The title, Arrival, also seems to refer to a birth—the literal birth of an infant, but also births (and demises) of knowledge, memory and faith.
With its long prose blocks, "Home of Grammar" struck me as delightfully sound in its attempts to rupture grammatical rules with interruptions of conversational and intimate moments in a piece which also wonderfully parodies reading primers. The juxtaposition serves the piece well, because rather than feeling overly theoretical or ironic, “Home of Grammar” is poignant and courageous at once, an experiment that succeeds. These lines, from the first page, amply demonstrate the charms and distinctive voice of the work: “All plurally, This has become the restaurant of whom. Somewhat genitive when you were lonely and accusative…Here in the context of mayonnaise, a kind of subjunctive mood like cheese melted to bread examine this relationship.” Another pleasure of this section is the narratives which shimmer, hidden, occasionally surfacing with the full power of direct speech behind them, as in the story told on page 14: “he used to smoke pot by the door to the basement and I used to say really loud out the bathroom window. IT SURE SMELLS LIKE POT. poor dim though. his brother is a police officer and married a miss chinatown and lives in a house and poor dim was living in the basement all those years swatting flies under my window every morning.”
The other sections in Arrival are less straightforward, though read as a whole, certain strands emerge: memory, the falsity of memory, the fragility of children, of faith and of language. In “Distend,” the “I” darts around the stanzas, dodging responsibility, as in the lines “if I was here I would show you exactly what I mean” which is followed shortly thereafter with “I has nearly replaced the other less fortunate, and I has nearly been enveloped for the sake of a larger picture.” “A Brightly Colored Order,” which reads as a series of journal entries, continues this investigation of the pronoun, and also showcases Cox’s talent for visceral imagery, which is used not to ground the poems but to upend them through fragment and juxtaposition, as on page 27: “what happened in the netherworld, hair in a chignon, hair in the mouth, a tethered bell, harness, slope, the second before momentum, the time where you need to push into something and the time where it will take you…” I found it hard, sometimes, to “push into” these synapses, discover the origins, but perhaps this is part of the point, because in Arrival the very nature of origin is questioned, protected, discarded.
Later, in a section entitled “Your Obedient Servant,”Cox weaves a fable out of some of the recurrent codas of the book: nature, religion, authority, selfhood. In the fable, figures wander “without forecast,”encountering the terrors of both urban and primitive landscapes, and of the expression of landscape: “we began so many with letters/purchased franchise/options/the letters burned to the ground/we cannot reconstruct this.” Here, as throughout the book, words themselves are “occupied territories” and thus suspect, laboring (and perhaps in labor) to produce something new and meaningful while under an ominous threat of “black tarps,” “gunfire” and “checkpoints.” It seems fitting, therefore, that Arrival should conclude, in the section “All Roads Lead to the Dump,” with a series of dislocating double negatives, so that it is unclear whether humanity is
separated from the self and from nature or reunited with it: “what cannot be undone here is/this not the/distance of the farmers to/the heart, the inner stalks.”

-- Arielle Greenberg