cover image Incorrect Merciful Impulses

Incorrect Merciful Impulses

Camille Rankine. Copper Canyon (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-55659-490-8

Rankine’s highly anticipated debut collection is carefully constructed but riddled with deliberate rifts that threaten to tear into its ordered existence. It is this quiet tension that raises the stakes on assertions such as “we have two lives/ and only one of them is real.” The landscapes are alluring, yet sparse, conflict-torn, and replete with natural disasters; the poems’ speaker is plagued with worries of nonexistence, “all object,// all dress, no bone.” A profound sense of loneliness permeates, and that void is treated with ambivalence as the speaker seeks another’s touch and then flees from it: “A flock of birds/ when touched, I scatter.” Love is therefore also viewed as the potential herald for doomsday (which it often is in this collection), the speaker admonishing a lover, “You swore// there would be no other/ apocalypse and here we are/ again.” Desire for the other is “a sickness” and “viper’s poison.” Rankine’s style can be opaque—though fittingly wary of letting others in—but it yields many rewards; grappling with her language and engaging with the poems’ mysteries become their own pleasures. And it becomes easy to relate to feeling like “a dummy swaddled/ in worry and want, tethered/ by two small rooms, a few small thoughts.” Rankine skillfully matches form to content, and her linguistic ingenuity is worth reveling in. (Nov.)