Rusty Morrison’s second collection of poems, the true keeps calm biding its story, is one of the most exciting collections of poems I’ve recently come across. On entering the collection one feels submerged in an immense, ineffable loss. The poet takes the loss on like a master, utilizing the structure of the telegram to send her messages into loss and memory. Morrison takes hold of the tragic, and like a boundless wave she smooths the rough edges away by her fierce attention to the experience—that is, coming to terms with the loss of her father.
The effect of the true keeps calm biding its story, often reminded me of Tennyson’s, In Memoriam in its constant need to re-examine a loss and shape it into something that imparts some clarity. Time and time again we’ve seen how language fails us when dealing with such a great loss. But for Morrison, to inhabit, is to get closer to comprehension. Morrison seems to be s atelliting around the loss, trying to capture as many frames as she can in order to see an absence from a thousand different vantage points. The result is a borderless body of poetry that ebbs and flows in and out of itself. The collection is largely plotless and proceeds without a clear beginning or end, but this approach enhances the content: anyone who has experienced such a loss knows what Morrison knows— “death stays demanding to be reabsorbed.”
The collection is divided into nine sections and each poem bears the exact same title, “please advise stop.” The collection is remarkable for its unwavering journey into a great loss and the intelligent ways it uses persistent disjunction to craft a cohesive body of work that is unified in its mission to plumb the depths of such emotional complexity. But what makes this collection so memorable are the deeply poignant, aphoristic lines. Take for example:
My father’s dying makes stairs of every line of text seeming neither to go up or down stop
That I make the nodding motion to help myself feel I understand stop
In common with his bafflements I find comprehension alone will not suffice stop
Morrison’s is not a journey to a destination, but to a familiar, wide, wintry clearing. The experience of loss is fully realized—there is not even a hint of closure. By the last poem in the collection we come to see that Morrison is right— what’ s needed i s a retention not reducible to memory. Language is never more unwieldy and unsatisfactory than when it grapples with loss, but, like John Berger once said, “Poetry can repair no loss, but it defies the space which separates. And it does this by its continual labor of reassembling what has been scattered.” Likewise, Morrison’s collection performs a deftly crafted system of recovery. Perhaps what is retained is more like a floodlit wakefulness that never puts a life to death at all, but finds a way to bring the dead to life and a life to a simmering, localized present.
Further book info:
the true keeps calm biding its story by Rusty Morrison
Publisher: Ahsahta Press
Link to Purchase: http://ahsahtapress.boisestate.edu/books/morrison/morrison.htm