Poetry News

On Ann Lauterbach's Spell

By Harriet Staff
Ann Lauterbach, Spell, cover

John Yau reads Ann Lauterbach's tenth collection of poetry, Spell, at Hyperallergic. Yau takes a comprehensive look at Spell, beginning with the front cover, with its "silhouette of a crow’s head, which William Kentridge has drawn on a page from a dictionary, using a brush loaded with dense black ink. By bringing image and word into inseparable proximity, Kentridge’s drawing calls up the question: what is the relation between word and thing?" More: 

Visually, the crow’s silhouette sits between the title above and the author’s name below, with the profile of their hand-drawn letters echoing stencils and typeface. Turn the book over and you see that the crow extends to the back cover. In fact, you could say that the front cover (crow’s head) is figurative and the back cover (crow’s tail feathers) is abstract. Other than Kentridge’s striking image, there are no blurbs beckoning the reader to discover what truths lie between the covers. Either you begin reading and fall under its spell, or you don’t.

The first line of the opening poem, “Pause,” reads: “The arc of distance is partial.” The last line of the last poem, “The Poet,” reads: “The basket marked the poem rides out into the encrypted, unreadable sea.” Between these two lines, between the ”distance [that] is partial” and the “encrypted, unreadable sea,” the poem and poet must make their way, knowing that whatever is expressed is partial in every sense of the word. How do you get outside of yourself and your own views? This is one of the questions Lauterbach returns to in Spell.

The book, which contains around 135 pages of poetry, consists of 55 poems, nearly half of which are less than a page. There are poems after works by W. G. Sebald, Lucretius, and Ovid; responses to Balthus’s painting, La Chambre (1954); Verdi’s penultimate opera Otello, based on Shakespeare’s play, Othello; and Claudia Rankine’s books, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and “her acclaimed 2014 Citizen,” as Lauterbach notes in her poem, “Wounded Evidence”; as well as a “Hymn,” a “Partita,” a “Spell” and an “Invocation.”

Learn more at Hyperallergic.

Originally Published: February 12th, 2019