cover image Utopia Minus

Utopia Minus

Susan Briante. Ahsahta Press (SPD, dist.), $17.50 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-934104-19-7

This second book by Briante (Pioneers in the Study of Motion) is rooted in an interrogation of the built landscape and backyards of capitalism, a panorama in which birds still fly but are as inexorably drawn to the lights of the local metroplex as is the traffic. Hers is a charged mode of perception rife with a political implication that does not exclude emotional directness nor wry humor ("Oh Sunglasses Hut we hardly knew you!"). Despite reoccurring fragments from the poet's daily life, it is perspective that aspires to the anthropological, and the well-attuned observations of the culture's detritus seem to prove the notion, elucidated by Robert Smithson in the epigraph, that rather than being built on the grounds of ruins, the sub-divisions and strip malls of the late century and beyond are themselves the original ruins, without history, decaying even as we occupy them. Though the poems are often associative rather than linear ("Gen. Sherman Painted Landscapes. God sends swans into a storm"), the book as a whole retains a high level of about-ness. The writings of Smithson, civil war photography, and Melville's journals all feature directly, as do studies on urbanism, politics, and late capitalism (Zizek and Naomi Klien). The risk of a collection so visibly buttressed by its own interests and stance toward the external world is that the poetry itself may come to seem merely a vehicle for them. For the most part, however, this book finds an urgent language for the world in which we live. (Apr.)