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What’s in a Line: Anselm Berrigan’s Come In Alone

By Harriet Staff


Good news: The Rumpus has Patrick James Dunagan reviewing Anselm Berrigan’s newest book, Come In Alone (Wave Books, 2016). “Berrigan has successfully defined his own one-shot lyric form. Flip through Come in Alone at a glance and you’ll see a lot what look to be blank pages. Every page in fact is a box of blank white space framed by a square border composed of one continuous ‘line’ of poetry squaring back upon itself,” writes Dunagan. Curious:

The line has no ending and no beginning. There are no end-stops, such as periods, and there are no page numbers. Without any indication given as to where in the line one might start reading, it might seemingly just as well be anywhere. As the line turns at abrupt right angles moving around the page’s border, unless you’re comfortable reading text running sideways down a page, then upside down across the bottom, and sidewise back up, the only manageable way to read the line is to rotate the page in a clockwise motion. In other words, to begin reading turn the book any which way you like and open at will.

At first this may appear to be rather cheeky, perhaps even a cheap shot at following Ezra Pound’s dictum: “Make it New.” Keep reading, however! The realization soon dawns that indeed Berrigan pulls off something else entirely. He manages nothing less than a fresh approach towards a redefinition of how a lyrical line of poetry looks and operates upon the page. He’s busted out of the confines of the line break while not surrendering himself to the otherwise unavoidably confined terrain of the prose poem. There are few, if any, annoying bells and whistles, nothing too flashy or over-stylized. The language may best be characterized as a cross between stream-of-consciousness and found, or overheard, fragmentary hits from off the everyday conversation of sidewalk and cafe.

Here’s one of Berrigan’s lines from a page taken at random, the right angle turn at the four corners is indicated by the inserted “|”, I begin a few words in from the “top” left of the page:

“[…] she detects more than me, but she may detect more than I believe | I give off, a relationship to no, internal, speaking, I know will not to hope to feel so known, projecting, as with | living, but I want you to know, not so much to be, being that, no matter what surface climbs | up to ride along, it’s a good mess, I get it that way, out on the skirts, the we who lives with me, from the off-center | wheel but deep, no new, she detects [etc.]”

Must acquire! Read the full review at The Rumpus, and hold tight until the book’s release this spring.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, February 19th, 2016 by Harriet Staff.