Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review of Jessie Carty's "The Wait of Atom"

The Wait of Atom, by Jessie Carty
Folded Word Press, 2009 (ISBN: 9780977816705)

Jessie knows men. She gets that it’s the detail they revel in, whether it’s sports, or cars, or the contours of good wood, or in this case, chemistry. It’s what keeps the brain from focusing on disquietude, displeasure, disappointment, dissatisfaction, disenfranchisement, or any number of other “disses,” all of which are various manifestations of the human inability to know whether we’ve gotten anything right at all. In other words, the details we fill our lives with are distraction from what might otherwise produce the dangers of depression, desperation, dysfunction, and a sense of impotence against the oppression of time, nature, society, and inescapable ignorance.

But don’t think Jessie is just male-bashing. She doesn’t characterize just men as Eliot’s man-brute Sweeney because Jessie knows women too. She gets that they are the same as men . . . only different. She gets that the struggles are the same but the distractions different. Just as her Atom has “learned / to keep his eyes focused on a point / just over her shoulder while he let his brain / scan the periodic table of elements,” her Zoe has learned that “her purse had to match her shoes” (“The Wait of Atom”) and to want “a full church and months of / preparation. Preachers and parties. / Invitations and tradition” (“Bright Beacon”).

And Jessie knows psychology and sociology, and of course chemistry. She knows that the source of these differences is not, ironically given the structure of the book, chemical at all, but rather environmental, as is made clear in “Pink Was the Color of His Weakness,” a poem in which the two main characters fulfill the expectations of various “visitors” all the while harboring contrary truths about their personalities: “They always asked him about his comic books. // . . . as she / would try to discuss the rows of romance novels / that no one knew he wrote.”

And don’t think that her new book of poems The Wait of Atom is even remotely as heavy-handed, dry, or nihilistic as this review might suggest because another thing that Jessie knows is poetry readers. She knows that the darkness of these poems is best kept just under the surface to be experienced by most almost subliminally or to be ferreted out by only the most careful of readers. She knows that the surface will fare much better with humor and the opportunity for light self-reflection, allowing any reader the momentary chuckle when they recognize their own habits, as they will, among those of Atom and Zoe.

Besides, “The Amateur Geologist,” the best of these poems, and meaningfully the last of them, can only be seen as dark and nihilistic if one considers existentialism as inherently nihilistic. We see the subject of this poem “searching” on what he “calls” “a path,” and having found a temporary satisfaction, he returns, “cradling his prize,” “to his abandoned bike, / wheels still spinning / as if they had achieved / perpetual motion.” This wonderful metaphor for human endeavor to find value in life is Sisyphean, and thus existential, suggesting that the endeavor itself, the perpetual spinning, the ceaseless search, remains sufficient and justifies the constant doubt and the necessary diversions we undertake to keep the wheels in motion.

1 comment:

  1. i'm in awe of your ability to write book reviews :) thanks so much for this!