Christopher DeWeese, The Father of the Arrow is the Thought, Octopus Books, 2015

[Review Guidelines]

Not long after I began to read Christopher DeWeese's The Father of the Arrow is the Thought, my father announced that he was finally going to shave his retirement beard. Even though my mother was delighted, his decision was alarming as the beard had become his amulet, a live version of a rabbit's foot, overtaking his chin and neck, grown to activate good luck.

Broken into four sections, with intercalary excerpts of Paul Klee's theory of "creative kinetics" (from his Pedagogical Sketchbook), The Father of the Arrow is the Thought attends to the self that attempts to transcend the human body. My father's beard, for example, emanates from the body as it aspires to be beyond it. For DeWeese's speaker in "The Swamp," "your beard grows out around you, / its thousand little arrows / pointing the way / from where you've been / and what has been your industry" (22).

DeWeese's poetry alerts us to the trip wires inherent to pursuing a higher state, as in "you have to learn / how not to step on it," ‘it' being a "resurrection." "The Swamp" harkens back to its "American dead," steeped in language of the antebellum ("antique propaganda," "medals," "tourniquet," "cavalry," "arrows," "gangrene," and "bandage"). For resurrection to occur in a particular physiographic setting, there must be a critical mass of "legacy," "pride," and "tradition"—the body no longer bereft of its context (21-23). At the same time, "to learn / how not to step on it" might suggest that the speaker believes, at least early in the book, that it is possible to arrive at the ineffable without trampling it. This poem is succeeded by Klee's assertion that "the contrast between man's ideological capacity to move at random through...metaphysical spaces and his physical limitations, is the origin of all human tragedy" (25).

DeWeese emphasizes that one way to measure whether we are alive, or will live on, is how and what we consume. The juxtaposition of commodity and consumption ("italicized cheeses / upon the silver trays") versus the speaker's unfathomable transformation into an ecosystem ("I wanted to be the lake, / and not just in a meditative way. / How else to account for all the fish I swallowed") speaks again to Klee's creative kinetics, that "the broader the magnitude of his reach, the more painful man's tragic limitation" (39, 53). Consumption is inextricable with the American's "overwhelming inheritance" in "The Sky" as this material makes the speaker "feel infinite" so long as he dies with momentum and capital (5). "The Tide" (a long poem at the book's end) brings this ‘tragic limitation' to light; perhaps this poem is as close to transcendence as the speaker can get. The tone is noticeably tempered—less revelatory and more matter-of-fact.

Most of the book's poems are composed of impacted lines that methodically unravel down the page. While the lines vertically loosen, the lyricism gains momentum, with particular attention paid to the phonetics of A ("above," "astronaut," "always," "against," etc.), B ("bad," "blood," "bibles," "bones" etc.), and C ("coordinates," "cruciform," "clouds," "calling cards," etc.). DeWeese uses adverbs as a way to linguistically overextend (and so, transcend) the self. In "The Lake," we watch the speaker "trace [his] monogram, / and then again to make [his] face" (37).

All of the poems in this collection are titled after physiographic settings. They chart the body's relationship to nature and vice versa, binding Klee's dogged framework to the pleasures of an American verse. I remix the first ten pages into a system of semantic input and lyric output. From "The Atmosphere," "The Sky," "The River," and "The Lagoon":

In accordance with the componentry of systems, though, there are boundaries, limits. In Pedagogical Sketchbook, Klee directs us to the "feathered arrow," an object that moves "a bit further than customary—further than possible." In compressing all of physical geography into one collection, the speaker's body and reader's mind can traverse a varied landscape—from hill to bluff to mountain to orchard to swamp to field to valley to yard to reservoir to lake to island to stream to forest to meadow to pasture to harbor to narrows to cavern to marsh to plains to estuary to pond to spit to tide. It is a robust survey of new accretion which, like the beard, accumulates layers: the root is indivisible from the arrowed future. DeWeese's acute compression of space offers unexpected layers that masterfully anachronize the self.