one of many books of poems published this year. This is unlike
almost all of them. Jeffrey Skinner's Salt Water Amnesia is an
odd book, a stand-out book, definitely. So much so that at times I'm not
sure what to make of it & its inclusiveness. Herein you'll find: a
blazer stained with actual shit, the voice of God, the speaker's (the
poet's?) father in a bear suit, Achilles, David Letterman's marriage proposal
to the speaker (poet?), several elegies (both directed and undirected—thus
a good bit of death), a lot of the father, a set of Theories and Inventions,
much reliance on the logic of dream, and much time spent in meditation.
It's hard to review: it's so variable, these poems have a quality of muchness,
of spillage over, of exuberance. At times it's a glorious mess. At times
it's spare. A set of them don't do that much for me, but almost all of
them are at least interesting if not always moving or profound.
The book is about two-thirds prose poems (or extended
prose chunks—I'm not sure how they function as actual poem objects,
and some of them have the traditional markers of regular prose with the
paragraph indents and all) and a third more traditionally lineated poems.
Skinner sets it up as a series of meditations—on the sea, that blankness,
that eternity of salt and wave action—and modulates throughout in
this sort of variable (and often great) collection. I think the thing
I admire the most about it is its ability to follow its own lead, to wander
freely through registers of language.
As a sense of this, here is a cross-section,
a sort-of vivisection, of selected first lines from the poems:
—Flags snap inland as the water scales. Try
—The cry of a gull, very like that of a flying baby.
—A physicist proposes time does not exist...
—This morning when I looked out the window...
—I was in a car with David Letterman when he quite unexpectedly
—On a long beach walk in winter I transcended my envy.
—One day when our sun runs out of fuel...
—Flowering plant spread like a fan
—A hair appeared in the poem I was reading.
—In a rare moment of repose, Achilles...
—When I quit smoking my sense of smell increased...
—There's always an extra pillow which you bash and coax...
—Like an intelligence test for the weary,
—Amtrak from above: a coastline zipper.
—Fucking Eddie, walks out of his seventeenth rehab...
—A calm water morning.
—Theory of heaven in which residents...
—In which we line the mountain runs with flat...
—Invention for the table in which the tablecloth is star-shaped...
—Mountains defeat description because...
—Father was not easy then, and tossed...
—A BOX like a microwave but tuned...
— Shoes of exacting buoyancy, not for the sake...
— Spectroscope, made with Dad for the science...
—This morning I began with large ambition...
—So it's pleasing to think of an infinite number
—Guy on FM had drilled three holes into his skull...
—I sewed my father into a specially designed, handmade bear suit.
—I cut my father into firewood.
— n the three temptations of my father...
—"Look," my father says, placing his hand on the sky...
—I take my father for an interview with Jesus...
—I worked for my father, and I was late.
—Such a long labor, my father's dying
—Sarah gone, and me whining again...
—Why would I want to return...
We can see several patterns accruing, in particular
this accumulation of fathers, and this accumulation of inventions.
Amnesia—the book builds on itself
by forgetting what came before. Still there's a trace beneath the just-wiped-clean
surface, and so it does build, it does accrue poem after poem. I love
the invention of the more prosy bits best, but I also find myself yearning
for the sort of prosody on display in the lineated poems—the line
for me is a good boundary to these poems.
And in the end, it's almost useless
to be critical of the book, as it goes where it will, it is a voice (if
not a mind) forever wandering, and the key is whether it will give us
pleasure, which we think it will. And so it does.