in this alone impulse
Shya Scanlon
Noemi Press, 2010

Reviewed by Angela Stubbs

[Review Guidelines]


Shya Scanlon makes sentences that defy distinction. In this alone impulse examines what happens when we arrive at the intersection of poetry and prose, where the illogical and practical collide. This debut work tackles new ground wherein the surreal becomes real and words take on new meaning. You might guess the author is a master architect who knows how to exploit white space while playing with syntax and structure.
      This narrative rearranges language in a way that makes English basics seem boring. Scanlon reinvents word usage so that it's new and familiar at the same time. Each page is a seven-line block of verse; each poem becoming more dense and fragmented as it progresses, full of guile. Scanlon restructures narrative and form: this is what stands out in each poem. In this alone impulse is a ferocious work of an altered language. In "'56", we hear the narrator explain the request in varied statements and rhetorical questions:

Don't take me lightly, if ever, if a window for lightness, a break a book, or red text shines and plots me. Don't steer me queer; I'll Howl. Should a smaller break mean bothering? I'll ask that bothering to enter, without light, and become. I'll lost it: fill it with something lost, or scattered. I'll broke it: fill it with a number charged for nothing. Please don't hold that way to me, to turn me, turn over me, hold the light so lightly. That red text wants to enter me, but does not ask me to read.

We see and hear cadence and word-play; each line acts as the scaffolding for the lines of text below and above it, lumped one on top of the other, thus building a sandwich of syntactic compounds where desire, regret and discontent overlap. Shifting language and neo-grammatical structures show-up as Scanlon's trademark. The poems introduce us to a world where phrases appear backwards and inside out. When we consume them they appear right side out and completely normal. The abused fragments and sentences are the collection's biggest asset. "Swift this jacket, wrapping, wet" is only one of many poems that avoid conventional structure and predictable narratives: "I would tell you let you in. I would teach you tether me to you. Our back was against it, but I was protected, and you were protected, and time wandered through this vision, explaining it in reverse." The intangible here exemplifies the playful manner in which Scanlon teases his reader. His sentences resonate with lyricism in our ears much like the dialogue that exists in "K": "Tackle I'm gone. Tickle I'm rubbed out. Rub me back I'm pulled between, looking up, twist and twurn. A gobbler. Saddle now saddle, sergeant suck."
      In this alone impulse experiments with poetics and the confines of form by deconstructing utterances of thought and memory. Characters that would otherwise be foreign to the reader upon reading become familiar. Scanlon's writing carries its reader into unstable and frenzied spaces where vague generalities crystallize before our eyes.