Some Habits of Syntax

A Woman of Property, by Robyn Schiff.A Woman of Property, by Robyn Schiff. Penguin Books, 96 pp., $20.
Cities at Dawn, by Geoffrey Nutter.Cities at Dawn, by Geoffrey Nutter. Wave Books, 120 pp., $18.
Float, by Anne Carson. Float, by Anne Carson. Knopf, 272 pp., $30 (hardcover).
The Ruined Elegance, by Fiona Sze-LorrainThe Ruined Elegance, by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Princeton University Press, 72 pp., $14.95.

As poets we are writers, and as writers we are observers, manipulators, orchestrators of sentences. What concerns me in this review is the sentence. I am drawn to poets who know how to write a sentence. I am drawn to difficult poets, or the poets that are often labeled difficult or obscure or baroque, and I believe they are given this label because their sentences are dynamic, unpredictable and unpredictably engaged with the line, challenging to follow, not monotonous, not boring. Syntax, the structure of the sentence, is form. Like any form, syntax should be modulated, employed with variation and surprise. A poet not attuned to his or her habits of syntax, not in control of them, is for readers a formal bore.

The four poets I discuss here, four poets with recent books, are not bores. They are players of wonderful syntactic games. Their thoughts on the page are “Alive like patterns a murmuration of starlings / Rising in joy over wolds unwittingly weave,” to quote two lines of Auden that display his own syntactic play. These poets do not employ syntax in the same ways; each seems to have his or her own pattern of choice, habits that are modified and celebrated in concert with subject matter: the compound-complex sentence, the catalog, the cut, the fragment. To examine a collection though the lens of syntax is to look at the foundation or structure that gives each its lift, that allows each, in its own distinct ways, to fly.

I. The Compound-Complex

Robyn Schiff’s voice, and therefore her syntax, is breathless, uninterrupted, inspired with a speed and urgency that seem supernatural. A poet who specializes in long poems, Schiff weaves compound-complex sentences across multiple intricate syllabic stanzas akin to those of Marianne Moore. Schiff’s stanzas are made up of variously yet symmetrically long and short lines that enact violent enjambments that, in turn, betray the poet-speaker’s violent disquietude. Take as example this representative sentence from the poem “Nursery Furniture” in Schiff’s latest book, A Woman of Property:

Nod does mean sleep,

but only as a pun on the state Cain
fled to after slaying
Abel—a waking sleep part
denial, part self-righteous,
a neutralizing hallucination of
North Carolina I rock in-
to inhaling the off-gassing batting, bare heels
rhythmically worrying a loose
staple behind

the rigid skirt at chair-bottom where coarse
temporary fiber
as permeable as loose
landscape fabric partitions
against interior interior where
an involuting spring grinds the
slow industrial rattle I recorded
for Alison and played back over
the telephone.

This poem, like many in the collection, takes as its impetus some mundane everyday act of upper-middle-class domesticity, privilege, consumerism, or homeownership; here the speaker is “expecting a new chair” to arrive from a nursery furniture store called “Land of Nod.” This leads the speaker into the highly associative hypotactic sentence quoted above, wherein we follow her mind's movement from the word “Nod” to the murder of Abel and the somehow similarly violent “industrial rattle” of the speaker’s flawed rocking chair. This leads to Alison, the manager of Land of Nod to whom parts of the poem are addressed and with whom the speaker is trying to negotiate a return or exchange. An exchange of the chair, sure, but a return to what? “The Return Policy at Land of Nod, / like an insidious, / mum extension of the dead- / line for completion of a / project I wish I had not undertaken, / threatens endless, unrelenting / replacement of everything, no questions asked,” the poem continues, betraying Schiff’s delight in the ironies of the language of consumerism. Cain’s murderous intent is echoed and elaborated here with the enjambment of the word “deadline” and the idea that “everything”—perhaps the speaker? perhaps her newborn child?—can be threateningly, unrelentingly, replaced. What is remarkable here, beyond the formal dexterity and skillful associations, is how the syntactic urgency either establishes or mirrors the speaker’s emotions. As a woman of property—a woman who owns things or is owned by her things, a woman whose privilege is also often a trap—the speaker has certain obligations that she has difficulty reconciling with her individuality.

This tension is where Schiff’s lyricism flourishes, and it is why her form, her complex patterns of syntax and association, works so well. The book’s first poem, “Gate,” investigates the “theatrics” of gender relations through a trope of deer hunting, recalling Dickinson’s famous “My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun” in its invocation of buck and doe (“when bucks hear / the sound of the fawn ... they come, too, not in pity, but in lust, // so badly they want the doe / drawn by the yearning / of a fawn in need of her”). The poem “H1N1” uses swine flu and the form of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Sow” (Plath: “God knows how our neighbor managed to breed / His great sow”; Schiff: “God knows how our neighbors manage to breathe”) to explore anxieties of pregnancy through tropes of infection, animals bred in captivity, Biblical exorcism. In “A Hearing” the poet-speaker imagines herself brought to court by her neighbor for letting a “strip of earth” go to weed, a piece of land she “did / not know [she] owned.” “Siren Test,” perhaps my favorite long poem in the book, braids images of domestic work with dreams of annihilation of the home and a retelling of the fable of the boy who cried wolf:

I counted on the
crying boy who swore he heard
the wash of piss against these trees we call ours.
I possess such unbearable
affection for my glistening property I
fear it will be unborne. The wolf
raises its leg

and shakes its mark over everything I
have. Now what? Cycle a
second load of wet laundry ...

Here the speaker acknowledges that the performative utterances involved in homeownership (for example, “our trees”) are shams, hollow vessels of privilege that amount to little. More real, however, are the speaker’s fears—her fear of destruction, of the tornado sirens, of the mundane yet sinister laundry she has been set to. In the book as a whole, the speaker’s fear of actual disasters (tornadoes, anthrax, swine flu) blends with her fear of more figurative infections (privilege, obligation, domesticity, suburban complacency), leading her ultimately to this kind of pointedly manic repetition: she sees an “uncontainable, / uncontainable, / uncontainable, uncontainable, / uncontainable, / uncontainable force in this house.”

A house, a body, a nation. The last and longest poem of the collection, “The Houselights,” culminates these tropes by showing how questions of ownership, domesticity, theatricality, and, by necessity, Americanness collide in the term entertainment: “the most desolate word I // ever said, that ever could be said.” In this final poem, “house” is both the speaker’s home and the theater, both sites of catharsis—American dream and American tragedy. After the speaker tells us of attending a showing of the musical 42nd Street on Broadway four days after the September 11 attacks—“I / had tickets”—the truth of her property both figurative and literal, what she owns and must reckon with, is revealed to her:

I think you understand I felt sick
telling my friend he entertains
in his living room and why I
hate poetry and having depicted

this nothing life I live in a field of
mortgaged dust as one in which we drift through
rooms with nothing
to discuss but rooms themselves. My house stood for a
long time before I came in and
tried to make it stand for something.
The sun drips fire. I want to hold steady

in mind, entertain an idea without
it having to arrive.

We see here, and have seen throughout the book, the speaker’s attempts to make her “nothing life” and “mortgaged dust”—her house—“stand for something” through her poetry. We see and have seen her whiplash associations as a process of “entertain[ing] an idea without / it having to [fully] arrive.” She lets slip, through a quiet subordinate clause, a hatred for this poetry because it has failed in its attempt to stand for something. I admire this sentiment; it feels sincere, much more than a mimicry of Moore’s famous statement “I, too, dislike it.”

Moore is Schiff’s closest poetic ancestor, but the inheritance is sublimated by what I see as the political charge of A Woman of Property—to draw attention to the mundane violence of American consumerism and ownership—like the sun’s fire, an apparent constant. The end of “The Houselights” offers little resolution. I would say that none of the poems in Schiff’s book end in any way that could absolve the speaker, her property’s willing if unnerved participant, or reassure a reader. In this way the poems stay true to their syntax, mirroring patterns of disquieted thought, no resolution permitted, none sought.

II. The Catalog or List

Like Robyn Schiff, Geoffrey Nutter is a practitioner of the long sentence. Unlike Schiff’s, however, Nutter’s long sentences I would classify as catalogs; instead of delighting in striking leaps of associative logic or hypotactic manipulations of dependent clauses, they present elaborations, long strings of descriptive modifiers, lists of environmental details rendered with startling specificity. Cities at Dawn, Nutter’s latest book, is a lengthy collection, over one hundred pages of mid-length lyric poems replete with imaginary details of the city of Nutter’s imagination. Sometimes this city looks like New York, sometimes it doesn’t, but it is always fully and weirdly rendered with, to use a phrase from the book’s title poem, “specificity beyond / reason.” In a poem called “The Strange Lives of Others” Nutter imagines the inhabitants of his city in characteristic detail:

Some [people] preening the coal-black wings
of paper planes to flick from windows, others
resting under soft globes of light, or chandeliers
of tangled crystal branches, having
sworn allegiance to the careworn ashplant
giant against the gnarled wall. Some
can see the park from their windows,
the needle-like towers behind the park, and over
the towers the sea and its towers, cities
honeycombed in gold; roaming cities.

Here Nutter’s sentences expand not with association but elaboration, each clause providing new details of the “millions of rooms / with millions of people living their lives / inside them, people you will never know.” What I find so intriguing about these details, why Nutter’s specificity is “beyond / reason,” is that the information given is not actually information. It does not actually tell the reader anything about the strange lives of others. Instead the reader is given characteristics of the light, some strange “paper planes” flicked from windows, and—most representative of this book—a “careworn ashplant,” which my research tells me is both a kind of walking stick and an allusion to James Joyce’s Ulysses. Why this ashplant finds itself in this poem is “beyond / reason,” as are the beautiful towers of the sea and the cities “honeycombed in gold” and “roaming.”

As I’ve said, this is a lengthy collection, and reading such detailed catalogs that describe the setting of poem after poem can become monotonous. In a garden we are given “shops selling terra-cotta storage jars, parsley pots, / insect-repellent garden candles, umbrella stands, / weather vanes and aromatic oils, oblong willow trugs, / wallpapers velvet and damask, as well as jellied eels and antique clocks”; on a beach we are given “the eyeliner pencils, the yellow plastic jugs / for cooking-oil, the empty vodka bottles / and the bleached-out labels on the weed-killer canisters”; in a tenement we are given “he / who improvises tools to open waterworks; the hoarders / and the unofficial mayors and the aldermen; / those who tend feral cats in the trash-strewn gorges; / the vendors of radishes and the vendors of green ice; / keepers of the secret aviary; the men who repair / the gear-work of elevators,” and so on. My impulse here—to cut the list short with “and so on”—illustrates the danger of the catalog. Such an abundance of detail risks elision. While the book seems to be arguing that what makes our human environments so sublime are their multitudinous details, those “millions of rooms / with millions of people,” and that to elide over any detail however minute is perhaps a criminal act of erasure, the sheer volume of poems and catalogs in Cities at Dawn limits engagement.

I found myself most drawn to the book’s catalogs that were less Whitmanian in their attempts to encompass multitudes and more, for lack of a better distinction, personal. Nutter’s is a speaker who keeps himself, his histories or his feelings, obscured, so any glimpses of the personal (whether real or imaginary) are thrilling. Often these glimpses appear in poems about the speaker’s father, like this passage from “The Man Who Was Used Up”:

And he had children, too, besides me.
There were children, legitimate children, and two
or three false children; there were bastards,
doppelgängers, changelings. There was
a wax child, and a glass child, and a fire child
(though that last was not a child at all
but merely a fire with which he lit his pipe).
And he had a mandrake root, a mandragora,
a suit of armor made of bone. And we
who consisted yet of all our original parts,
were strangers to you, or so it seemed.

This catalog of the father’s children progresses wonderfully from the realm of the expected to the realm of “specificity beyond / reason.” The “fire child,” who is not a child but the flame that lights the father’s pipe, creates both a sense of callous indifference in the father, that he would care as much for his own pleasure as he would his children, and an atmosphere of the unreal that imbues the poem with the quality of fable. This fable is complicated by the very real revelation at the end of the stanza that the speaker felt unknowable to and severed from his father. Like the city many of the book’s poems inhabit, whether this father figure is autobiographical or apparition is hauntingly, productively, unclear. This distinction is made unimportant.

In the collection’s best poems, Nutter subverts the traditional notion that specificity is a hallmark of realism, or that a metaphor can’t also be material, literal. Yes, the city of the poem’s title is often imaginary, but Nutter also uses this trope to illustrate the point where the imaginative and figurative, the specificity beyond reason in which the poet so clearly delights, fails. Take as example this sentence from “These Are the Cliffs of Wonder” that brings to the fore what other poets of human landscapes might ignore, the caustic industrial outliers that challenge a city’s pristine, romantic, progressive image:

When we moved from the wilderness
(of our feelings), past the granite quarry
and the saltworks and the winding
towers (of our feelings), through
the coal gas plants and gravel-crushing
structures and blast furnaces
and limekilns (of our feelings),
to the far, rotting bridges (of our feelings),
and thence to the suburbs
(of our feelings), there too the dark
eucalyptus trees lined avenues
where the lone eye in the cubit stone
was venerating Makepeace Thackeray.

I love this catalog, how it moves toward a metropolis through the various orbits of its outer rings: from wilderness to industry (quarry and saltwork and gas plant and limekiln) to neglect to suburb. All of these, the poet repeatedly and almost desperately reminds us, should stand for something, for “our feelings.” Much like Schiff’s attempt to make meaningful her property, these intentionally vague parenthetical inserts illustrate the poet-speaker’s weakness. These blast furnaces and rotting bridges don’t stand for anything; they aren’t metaphors, they just are. I like a poet who recognizes and celebrates his or her limits. Like Schiff, Nutter seems to realize that what he can control is language, is syntax; anything beyond that, like deep meaning, might be too far out of reach.

III. The Cut; "The Shuffle”

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Anne Carson said that her new book Float is “to be read on ‘shuffle.’” Like most of Carson’s books, Float contains a wide array of genres: essays, poems, autobiographical “lyric lectures,” performance pieces, translations. This is something Carson has been doing for some time, and no one should be surprised by it. (Think of how her masterpiece long poem “The Glass Essay” sits with a critical essay on the gender of sound in Glass, Irony and God, or think of her opera libretto in Decreation.) For Carson, a “collection” need not be a unified project but more of what the word suggests, an assemblage. What is surprising about Float is its production: what I’d think would be separate sections in a single book are instead isolated, bound as twenty-two individual chapbooks and slipped into a transparent plastic slipcase. The table of contents lists the title of each alphabetically but they are not stacked this way; they have been shuffled and can be read in any order. What unifies them is Carson’s singular voice, breadth of literary and artistic allusion, and, I would add, the form of shuffling itself.

One goal of Float—besides collecting work that for the better part of a decade has remained unpublished—is to put the reader into a state of “freefall,” as the note on the back of the slipcase states. This is accomplished through the randomization of the chapbooks, yes, but shuffling and reshuffling also seems to be a major syntactic hallmark of the work itself. The chapbook “By Chance the Cycladic People” is an anthropological narrative of an imaginary civilization presented in numbered lines; the numbers and lines, however, are shuffled out of order, and therefore the narrative cannot be read from top to bottom of the page—it begins with number 9.4, with a referential pronoun that has no antecedent: “They put stones in the eye sockets. Upper-class people put precious stones.” One can read this poem in order, shattering its linear narrative, or by actively hunting for linearity by flipping back and forth, a kind of reshuffling, to read the lines in numerical order. In the chapbook “Stacks,” individual poems are “restacked” or reordered: Carson repeats certain words from the original poem in new syntactic orders that put the original through something like a translation—a translation away from understanding, not toward it. Here is the beginning of the poem “Shame Stack”:

Shame requires
the eyes of others
unlike guilt. The eyes
of Elijah the Tishbite saw
in Jezebel a person with much
to be ashamed of. There is a link
between shame and mercy people who
lack the one lack the other. No one could
relax around Jezebel. Psychoanalysts say that
shame ruins your capacity for reverie ...

It is classic Carson, both meditative and wry with a declarative, didactic clarity and a focal allusion. Now, here is “Shame Stack Restack Restacked,” a shuffling of a shuffle of “Shame Stack”:

Jezebel could
crack
psychoanalysts
off your
mind and
ruin the
lack of
lack.

The relative straightforwardness of the original poem is obliterated here, like it was sent through a sieve or a paper shredder and brought to a heightened if perplexing lyricism.

In the chapbook “Cassandra Float Can”—which contains the masterful and iconic essay of the same name, first performed in 2008, on Cassandra from Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, the philosopher Edmund Husserl, the artist Gordon Matta-Clark, as well as syntax, and translation—the poet calls this form of reshuffling, this translation, by a different name. She calls her restacks “cuts,” a term derived from Matta-Clark’s practice of making architectural cuts in buildings slated for demolition, and from what she describes in Cassandra’s prophecies as “some action of cutting through surfaces to a site that has no business being underneath.” In Husserl, too, she sees this desire to cut away the veils of syntax to find the place,

one or two beats before a thought forms itself into anything like mental speech, into phrase or sentence, into an order of communication, something earlier, rougher, more gripped, more frail, more saturated, something that will dry away like the dew or crumble like prehistoric paint as soon as it’s exposed to air, something that—compared to a sentence—is still wild.

If syntax is form, “order of communication,” Carson is more interested in what language would look like before syntax, some strange formless place between silence and language (an area she explores in another essay in Float, “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent”). In “Cassandra Float Can,” Carson attempts to access this frail, saturated, wild, syntaxless place in two cuts that use words from the essay but obliterate its syntax to access a wild lyricism that I’m sure some readers find distasteful.

Float arts prove which if if doesn’t.

Swimming the she shelter surface struggle at is
gigantic the rip.

Greek veils crack another.
(“Birthday Cut”)

This is obviously bewildering, and it is supposed to be. Carson has created sentences here, but the rules of communication have been cut away to make room for various brief glimpses of the sublime. Spend time with some of the unexpected yet felicitous pairings this cut has made—“Float arts,” “swimming the she shelter,” “veils crack”—and you will see what I mean.

Carson has always made cuts in the line between heartbreaking clarity and baffling obscurity; that is why I read her. At one moment she writes accessibly and emotionally about her uncle who lived as a hermit in the Canadian wilderness, and at the next she creates a chorus of four Gertrude Steins who say things like “Volcano and say so / No noise no potato,” as in the first lyric lecture in “Uncle Falling.” As a collection this is how Float operates, shuffling between sense and madness. While it might not win Carson any new devotees, it will delight those whom she already delights.

IV. The Fragment

According to the rules of syntax, a sentence fragment is an incomplete thought, a sentence that technically is not one because it lacks a main subject or a main verb or both. Like a lyric poem, a fragment might be short and mysterious. Like a lyric poet, a writer of fragments might be prone to withholding, hesitation, or withdrawal. Fiona Sze-Lorrain, a translator of French and Chinese, a zheng harpist, and a lyric poet, is prone to these things, but beautifully so. I am stunned by her third book, The Ruined Elegance. What stuns me is the way her fragment habit complements the sharpened shard-like nature of her short lyrics without minimizing their attention to the similarly shard-like nature of our era’s political history. In addition to being a lyric poet, Sze-Lorrain is also a poet of transnational politics, attuned to real concerns of authoritarianism and resistance that in this dawning era of Trump take on heightened urgency. Consider the first half of her poem “Backstage”:

News of Nixon’s state visit spread from one labor
camp to the other. By force,

they nourished her with sautéed duck meat, crab
dumplings, ginseng, and longan.

She stopped plowing the acres with her capitalist
hands. Pulled out the zither

from its tomb under her bed, swaddled with
a drugged serpent, stitched

with dingy scarves.

Set in China in 1972, in the midst of the violent Maoist Cultural Revolution that sent many to labor camps, “Backstage” imagines a zheng (a Chinese “zither”) harpist accused of being a capitalist and imprisoned by the state. This passage exacts strong emotions, from the careful balancing of expectation and shock (for example, the suspense and tension created in the juxtaposition of and enjambment between “By force” and “they nourished her”), to awe at the instrument’s power (for example, its figurative “tomb,” the “serpent” that swaddles it). The last sentence of the passage, technically a fragment because it lacks a main subject, leads to a series of fragments in the poem’s second half, fragments woven together by the woman’s music as she begins to play:

          She plucked each string,
rehearsed her fear. Notes

took flight. The color of tears. Short tragedies,
part of a tunnel. Thrilled

to honor the first to laugh. Spirits in a fray,
twisted by ashflecks. Her lips

were parched. The strings stayed taut.
None broke. Her fingernails did.

Part of the beauty of these very short sentences is in their unexpected, almost unreal accuracy—one could read each fragment from “The color of tears” to “Spirits in a fray” as modifiers of the “Notes” that take flight from the woman’s harp, her lyre, just as they take flight from the self-same lyric. But the poem subtly demurs against this reading, that the music creates these apparitions, because each modifier stands alone; each tunneled tragedy, each spirit in a fray, stands syntactically independent. Either way—whether the music is generative or not, whether it makes a difference or not—the end of the poem finds the woman, clearly now a portrait of the poet herself, playing (or writing) to the end of her body’s ability. This, the poet tells us, is how the music of resistance is played. It stays strong, as “taut” as its syntax, while the human behind that music begins to parch and break.

Unlike Schiff’s and Nutter’s books, which have no sections, and Carson’s book, which has a chaotic assortment of them, The Ruined Elegance is divided into four sections that attempt to arrange Sze-Lorrain’s poems neatly, thematically. “Backstage” is found in the second section, which contains poems with historical references to Chinese authoritarianism, while the third section, my favorite, meditates more generally and archetypically on the book, the poem, as a tool of resistance against oppressive states. In this section the power of the written word’s “thundering silence” (“To Whom It May Concern”) is celebrated. If Marianne Moore is Schiff’s closest poetic ancestor, Anna Akhmatova is Sze-Lorrain’s. She recounts, inhabits, and makes mythical Akhmatova’s poetic resistance against Stalinism in the poem “Anna Akhmatova, or the Thoughts She Didn’t Write,” a fourteen-line lyric in which each line is an imagined thought- fragment, taken out of context and syntax, from the poetic ancestor. It begins with the line “If Lev [Akhmatova’s son] could telegraph his dreams from the Gulag,” and ends with the couplet “Wishing to still these lips with screaming gloves / for you and you to stab me without knives.” As this shows, Sze-Lorrain’s relative simplicity of syntax is matched with a chilling complexity of metaphor and image, as it is in Akhmatova, who wrote (when she could write, not merely “telegraph” her poems, without fear for her life) highly figurative poems of resistance to pass Soviet censors.

The mysterious complexity of “screaming gloves” and stabbing “without knives” is also apparent in the poem “Against Prologue,” here in its entirety:

In the middle of the night, the heroine woke up realizing
she left the gods
in the dark
wet and naked, cloth over the eyes. Under her bed, two snakes glowered

holding back their thirst


[Stories are stolen even in sleep]

This lyric fragment is as mystifying as it is seductive. The “heroine,” like the imprisoned harpist in “Backstage,” lives with snakes—violence, danger, power—under her bed. Here, too, the heroine has committed some kind of sin by leaving the gods unattended, just as the harpist was ideologically or otherwise opposed to the authoritarian state. This is all we are given. The final line, the poet’s editorial intrusion, offers the important context—that this fragment, cut off mid-sentence, has been stolen. Reading this I feel like the perpetrator of some mythic violence, as if I stole this story by reading it, as if I am aligned not with the heroine but with the serpents who are, for now, “holding back their thirst.” Sze-Lorrain clearly sees the poem as a thing of enormous subversive value, something the powerful would want to steal. This idea may be less familiar to American poets than to poets of other literary traditions, the Russian and the Chinese among them, where poetry and oppressive power are historically opposed.

In the collection’s title poem, “I Wait for the Ruined Elegance,” the poet-speaker says that “[s]oon, or / now, my gaze // will break. I want to honor / the invisible.” And Sze-Lorrain does honor the invisible, which in the poems of this book includes the sacred, art, and political engagement. Resistance, an often invisible act, will cause the poet’s gaze to break just as the harpist's fingernails did. Resistance will cause any “elegance” to become “ruined.” Sze-Lorrain does not look at beauty without considering the ruin that surrounds it. For her, a poem is a thought ruined, a fragment, always already incomplete. To me, right now, this seems among the bravest admissions a poet can make. She makes it toward the end of the collection, in the nine-line poem “Transparent”:

At first I’d forgotten
its color.
An umbrella that couldn’t open. The aftermath of tears.
God’s mask:
a mangosteen with worms.
To turn this ruined thought
into a poem,
I took out four words.

What is “it,” the thing whose color the speaker has forgotten? The umbrella, the tears’ aftermath, God’s mask? Or are these just approximations, facsimiles, of that original thing? It is not clear. The syntax prohibits clarity. Which four words were removed? It does not matter. Transparency is not the same as certainty, Sze-Lorrain reminds us, not the same as clarity. When we see clearly, we see what’s left unseeable, unsayable. The forgotten, the invisible, the ruined.

 

 


Christopher J. Adamson's poetry, creative nonfiction, and criticism have appeared in ZYZZYVA, the 2016 Orison AnthologySouthwest ReviewBoston Review, and several other publications. He holds an MFA in poetry from Vanderbilt University and lives in Oakland, California.

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