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Made Close by Jane Gregory’s My Enemies

By Harriet Staff

jane gregory

Jane Gregory’s new (first) book, My Enemies (The Song Cave 2013), is given a close-read by Charles Altieri, writing for Feedback (the critical theory blog-arm of Open Humanities Press). “Reading Gregory becomes an object lesson in how our language itself mimes (or perhaps creates) our fundamental confusions about what we can control and what controls us.”

To think of a book is to think about possible dialogue between author and reader. To think of a book you will not write is to confuse author and reader, since one must justify this “decision” through internal dialogue. For Gregory this dialogue gets quite complex: the proposed reader of this non-book takes on intense imaginative reality just because that person will only exist in the imagination, sharing the needs of the author who also dwells on imaginary powers that may afford the poem’s deepest sense of reality. I love three aspects of this poem. First there is the extraordinarily intricate enjambment that I suspect is based on a syllabic count, but I do not understand the principles involved. What I do recognize here is the terrific pressure on monosyllables as building blocks of the line and the language. It is as if “the book I will not write” permits control over the language on a more elemental level than if one were trying to write the book. For then one would be locked into self-protection and fear of judgment. And perhaps monosyllables are the only way to avoid how syllables combine to become my enemies. Then there is the internal semantic sequence in the first half of the poem, where what narrative the situation allows is built on the transferential power of repeated simple operatives (like “music,” “ears,” and especially versions of “make”) to enact the strangely generous yet aggressive stance the poem takes toward “you.” No more saccharine second persons, and so no more hiding of the self-division inherent in the imaginative effort it takes for “I” to work out the dependencies that make it so wary of that second person.

Finally there is the imaginative scope and freshness and complexity of this last sentence. What is the benefit of leaving this book “and going on to look like what you have been through, rather than what you are in”? I suspect that to look like what you are in, when this poem is imposed upon you (making the author a monster), would be to change appearances constantly. When you are in the poem I will not write, you have no recourse to any separate or stable identity—ever. You are only a figment of my imagination that I want to reject. (What a great way to imagine punishing others, although it also involves punishing the self by dwelling in what will give no substance in actual accomplishment!) But looking like what one has been through is a badge of accomplishment. The past now gives substance to the self. And more importantly, the self would emerge in real time, perhaps capable of developing her own intentions to write a book actually coming to terms with its vulnerabilities (and aggressions toward this author).

Share its other senses of entanglement.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 by Harriet Staff.