The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven

Brian Teare. Ahsahta (SPD, dist.), $18 trade paper (98p) ISBN 978-1-934103-62-3
Written during a period of chronic, debilitating illness, this powerful fifth collection from Lambda Award–winning poet Teare (Companion Grasses) chronicles his struggle "to learn to think with pain"—to not only endure "days of headache," but to make meaning of those days. Observing hospital visits and "events/ like the calm after vomiting," his lyrics are austere but also deeply affecting, intellectually generous, and formally dazzling. Inspired by the minimalist compositions and metaphysical writings of abstract painter Agnes Martin, Teare treats each poem like a "field of consciousness." Arrayed across the page, their parallel stanzas sometimes coincide; like Teare's undiagnosable sickness, they invite multiple readings. At other moments, their arrangements are akin to spikes of pain, interrupting ordinary syntax. Indeed, Teare's suffering is such an overwhelming presence here that he sometimes ascribes it agency: "What is the ideal/ state of illness," he wonders in one poem, "does it want/ to attain anything." Regardless of its purpose, Teare manages to wring some wonder from his suffering. "Illness," he writes, "shares/ its few virtues/ with art... in not being ‘of'/ or ‘for' anything." Teare's virtues, on the other hand, are undeniable; these meditations give rare voice to an experience for which humans have little language. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 12/07/2015
Release date: 10/01/2015
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