Brooklyn Arts Press, 2011. Reviewed by Matt Shears Jack Spicer famously likened the poet’s role to that of a radio—a conduit transmitting language. It’s an apt beginning metaphor for Joe Fletcher’s “Already it is Dusk,” but a metaphor that requires one small update: on this radio, the Martians have saturated the airwaves, and one of them (will we ever know who?) has programmed it to change stations when there is a new story to be heard. Whether a highwayman lurking at the edges of our primitive forests of consciousness or some mantic daemon bending our ear an hour after closing time, the voices that inhabit this remarkable collection offer their stories as the static sets in: just at the edges of sense, just at the edges of recognition.
“Antenna,” the opening poem, situates us in one such encounter.
Listen. Watch for what comes out of cracks in the tundra, out of the sink in the demolished villa, out of you, who want so badly for things to be stirred, for breath to rise to your brow and to break in the salt-spray of an idea.
Fletcher’s speakers shift as their worlds shift, and one of the pleasures of this work is that we are not always sure which—speaker or world—produces the fiction. In its most haunting moments, his fictions themselves open into spaces that we didn’t know existed: and they are all the more true on account of it. Take this section of “Thicket” for example. What strange omniscience is this? Into whose epiphany do we travel?
Beneath a sky recently shredded by thunder you follow the yellowing thicket past the city’s radius. You follow into heavy silences some thread of dream the birds sense—they watch you as if through masks.
On the long late night drive through landscapes made all the more strange by their familiarity, Fletcher’s company is one that records dreamsense in sound and image, sharing with his readers the promise of the defamiliarized. In what is ostensibly a nature poem, “Thicket” understands that description is both a receiving of the world and the creation of it. Fletcher’s encounter with nature(s)—landscape or psychological interior, encountered reality or imagined—is often an act of intensification. We are immersed into the language of these poems while what we know is slowly peeled away. “Thicket” continues:
You pick up a turtle shell still smelling of rot and peer through it at a cloud you will forget. Mushrooms sprout from soggy drums of hay. Here are some violet berries nestled in thorny tunnels. Sweet juice coats your throat. The essence of summer is packed in those dark clusters you scar your wrists to reach, in whose depths open night skies swarming with storms that knock pinecones to slick highways lovers race down.
In Fletcher’s work, a “sky recently shredded by thunder” can recompose in “night skies swarming with storms,” and both image and speaker can unmake and remake themselves in these tissues of utterance. And while Fletcher’s work is stunningly visual, perhaps its most tangible quality is its physicality. Here, the roving gaze of the poem and its doubly conscious iteration fold into body, where “Sweet juice coats your throat.” Here speaker and referent blur into one, and these blurrings in “Already it is Dusk” make available startling clarities. Indeed, here, present mixes with past as it does with future. And that sweet juice coats our throats. “Thicket,” like many poems in “Already it is Dusk,” is a cosmos.
In the remarkable “A Night Out,” Fletcher’s speaker details one of the many fantastic encounters that comprise the work. After a summoning within the poem (“A murmuring finds its hearer in me. / I follow it deep into a building.”), Fletcher’s next stanza answers, recording the following:
A funeral. Whose? I partake. In torchlight I see something dark scurrying around our ankles. A woman passes ladling a drink from I don’t know what reserves. It goes through me like a hornet swarm. A priest slurs through a prayer. The coffin hacked from an enormous ash. We approach and tip it down a gleaming rail into gloom and the sound of gurgling pumps. We disperse.
Here, we are provided with neither intention nor resolution. It is a scenario that the reader must navigate much as the “I” in the poem must navigate it: without the benefit of foresight or hindsight, a phantasm moving about its phantasmagoria. The strangeness hacked, like the coffin, out of the familiarity of this scene offers it multiple readings and allows it to register multiple tonalities. Fletcher’s poems gather and disperse, and his readers are offered experience and beauty for the small price of their assurance that the world is flat, that the past is a site of contemplation and that the future, the future will answer all of their questions.
These are poems that twist and turn through their own wormholes, surfacing just long enough to catch the world by surprise, and to see it and record it before it puts its face on. And they are poems where angels impart orders to figures inhabiting landscapes from Lubbock to Pioneer Valley, where the writer can disappear into the fiction residing under the floorboards or awaken in web spun inside his own mouth. Fletcher’s fictions can arise from (and descend into) anything. The longer one sits with “Already it is Dusk” the surer one is that the world is composed of fictions and that we, its readers, are better off for experiencing them. A murmuring found its hearer in me. I tuned in.
****** JOE FLETCHER is the author of the chapbook, Sleigh Ride, published by Factory Hollow Press. Other work of his can be found at jubilat, Octopus, Slope, Hoboeye, Poetry International, Hollins Critic, MoonLit, and elsewhere. He lives in Carrboro, NC.