E. Tracy Grinnell
Music or Forgetting
Oakland: O Books, 2001

E. Tracy Grinnell's arresting first book of poems, Music or Forgetting, rewards multiple readings. Here the reader encounters an intelligent lyricism in which form and content know a supple intimacy: "in the details are hidden fractures––//why bone decays in the living/and not the dead//and a hill becomes a river,/a monument the image of itself" (p. 24). While not facile, Grinnell's poems have a quality of innocence and transparency. That is, this work is replete with a sense of presence that is not overburdened by the self-consciousness of authorship. The resulting poetry achieves complexity without falling into opacity.

The poems sing––despite their sometimes halting and repetitive rhythms. Despite the fact that the singing voice is sometimes lost to audibility or recollection. The poems, composed of lines frequently broken by dashes, have less the effect of dislocating words and images than of making them seem as though they are strung together on a lengthening chain:

friendless parakeeting--on seeming to be outside--the
whole time--or the whole memory--nothing cataclysmic--
--about order--sugar, resolute--about disorder (p. 26)

Where voice becomes void, there is yet some sense of a breathing openness. Connections slide over the lacunae toward a greater continuity. Sequence becomes, repeatedly, overlap:

waves are either synchronic
spatial, or

new presence of body presupposes dialogue (p. 35)

The insights this work offers are not tentative but placed on the page nondeterminatively, as possibility that unfolds outward, striking by virtue of its subtleties. Grinnell's sure but unostentatious articulations are preoccupied with the nature of variation. That close focus makes the variation almost material: of what are differences made? There is an urgency to this query that, in turn, looks outward--beyond forgetting, poetry can call and recall: "a philosophy of bodies that is not symmetrical/bodies/is not symmetrical" (p. 60). The repeated evocation creates its own melodic humming "there is no rhyme for" (p. 64).

--Elizabeth Robinson