Joe Elliot, Opposable Thumb, Subpress, 2007, designed and edited by Deirdre Kovac
"the predator is / forced to look at the world // surrounding his target"
Many poems in this books are built from speech-derived phrases partially teased away from original contexts, then re-arranged and sequenced, with a careful, light touch. The original contexts are still operative somehow, though not directly -- assemblages of ghost-frames shifting in the background of the poems.
Straight-forward concise meditations / commentary on place and sight, but the poems move outward in small bursts from their scenes and contexts with the levity and compact solidity of a stone skipped over the surface of a lake.
Many of these poems seem to approach motionlessness as a way of making room for their own occasions, with a self-consciousness which allows it's own awkwardness.
"the pattern of how you talk or don't talk about what you think you're talking about"
This allowance makes for an effective contrast when it segues into startling directness: "I cannot make my heart beat."
Some formula/exercise poems -- The _blank_ is a _blank_ that could have been cut. You "get the joke" after three lines and further reading doesn't add anything.
There are "New York School" strategies used, but never in a way that seems mannerist -- one never gets the sense that the author is merely politely basking in the atmospherics of leisure time with occasional casual thoughts and non-sequiturs thrown in.
The feeling of language as a solid, endlessly rearrangeable medium is always present, but there is also no point in Opposable Thumb where the author is not also seriously _working something out_ -- turning something over -- and connected to his chosen set of references -- the memory of a road trip, a response to a street scene or domestic scene, a series of contradictory thoughts -- often all at the same time.
"Denial's exposed puppet collapse."
The volume in the poems is mostly set to low, as in a Morton Feldman piece, so it becomes necessary to turn up the gain setting on your attention when reading, and Elliot uses this to achieve particular textural and cognitive effects.
"When you really breathe a bubble forms above your head where words can be put"
The long centerpiece -- "Index", is perhaps the strongest thing in the book. Here the tentativeness and sometimes slightly excessive self-consciousness operative elsewhere has been scaled back, and Elliot allows himself more bite, and a much more confident pacing, with vivid, gently tumbling associations, intertwined observations, settings and fantasies, world play, and a popping, balanced fusion of humor and insight. You can feel that he's having a good time with the poem, and he doesn't hoard it all for himself.
"Hyperbole starts when you pick up a pen"
"an eye from the point of view of a maggot"
"can't save face and ass at the same time"
"when I'm unhappy it's hard to brush my teeth"
"dutiful display of love laced with resentment"
"I love to watch you buy things"
"say hello to the cameras I guess / nothing but arrested putrescence."
"Throw the plastic baby onto the waves for the chocolate lab to fetch"
The other high points of the book, "Office Work," and "Half Gross" are also serial pieces with rich textures, flawless stop/go rhythms, and evocative variations. The alarmingly high success rate in these poems make me think Elliot may be a maximalist in minimalist drag.
"the dark is alive"