Lily Brown. Rust or Go Missing. Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2011.
Reviewed by Craig Blais
In his 2009 Boston Review essay “The New Thing,” Stephen Burt sought to define a new generation of poets who—turning away from the elliptical scene of the ‘90s and their forbearers of Dickinson, Berryman, Ashbery, and Graham—looked to William Carlos Williams for a new poetry, a “new thing,” that was, as Williams’s poetry was, “well-made, attentive, [and] unornamented.” Burt elaborates on this new poetry: “It is equally at home (as [Williams] was) in portraits and still lifes, in epigram and quoted speech; and it is at home (as he was not) in articulating sometimes harsh judgments and in casting backward looks. The new poets pursue compression, compact description, humility, resisted diction, and—despite their frequent skepticism—fidelity to a material and social world.”
Superficially, Lily Brown’s 2011 collection Rust of Go Missing has the marks of a New Thing book—from the blurb on the back by Rae Armantrout (who Burt deems a New Thing predecessor) to notes of thanks on the acknowledgments page to Graham Foust and Joseph Massey (two leading poets of the New Thing). Though it’s hard to image anyone embracing such a moniker, the poems in Rust of Go Missing stay relatively faithful to Burt’s above definition.
A poem like “Ex-Sonnet,” for example, exhibits defining New Thing characteristics in its extreme compression, compact description, and in the (playful) humility of the title:
All my life, I saw the same
people. New freckles. Brown
moons. I don’t know, pinions,
skin. Arms hung on the train
strut. Animal, animal
in the tree’s
beam, I see you standing
in your cradle.
Williams’s influence is felt, too, in the epigram-like couplets, irregular line lengths, and severe enjambment.
Equal parts portrait and still-life, the final section of the three-part title poem “Rust or Go Missing,” is also an example of some of the most powerful work in the collection. Despite the fact that the male figure’s words are what we are left with at the very end of the poem—or rather, his words imagined and then voiced by the speaker—it is his physical absence that allows attention to be focused on an everyday object, a thing, thereby creating the space necessary to experience the sublime:
A woman talks quietly.
It’s her nature.
A man talks loudly.
It’s his nature.
Have they chosen each other or is it fiction,
what they see?
Through his eyes, through hers, light may bounce
specifically from their features.
I can’t see light sneaking
anywhere. He says, while you enjoy your coffee,
I’ll go to the bathroom.
He says, here’s the light. I place it in your glass.
Here’s how light stays when I’m gone.
Lily Brown was born and raised in Massachusetts. She holds degrees from Harvard University and Saint Mary's College of California. She has published poems in such journals as Denver Quarterly, Fence, Pleiades, Colorado Review, and Gulf Coast. Her chapbooks include Being One (Brave Men Press), Museum Armor (Doublecross Press), The Renaissance Sheet (Octopus Books) and Old with You (Kitchen Press). She lives Athens, GA, where she is a PhD student at the University of Georgia.
Craig Blais’s poetry collection About Crows was selected by Terrance Hayes for the 2013 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. It will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in early 2013.