Christine Garren’s The Difficult Here, review by Ryan Smith

Christine Garren – The Difficult Here. 42 Miles Press, 2011. $12. Reviewed by Ryan Smith.

The Difficult Here by Christine Garren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More so than with any poet I’ve yet to read, Christine Garren’s poems always leave me with an impression of what I imagine to be her ‘process’, which is the only word at hand for what feels like the machinations of a writer with the abstract, nuanced, first-mover kind of creative patience that forgotten deities would do well to gather around to take notes on.

These poems are absolutely precise, pristine, free of any recognizable scaffolding, having been spun into motion and carefully watched over, waiting for each of these scenes to suss themselves out with a Darwinian cruelty towards the unnecessary. The ‘scenes’ come in and out of view not so much with quickness as with a quiet consciousness of whatever it is a particular poem might do on its page, refusing to mill around at either beginning or end, waiting to be noticed.

In several of these pieces an attitude almost resistant to the reader-viewer flares, opening with a biting bitterness toward “the young, // with their fake cleavages and fake fingernails and fake-colored hair–that cheap / looking flock”. Like all of lines here, this scathing sweep never really swings home; there’s a periphery of empathy constellating around, a subtle but emotional tell that pulls this compelling chapbook together. This feeling of continuity was my central, overarching feeling while finishing this book, as its titular lines show in the poem ‘Late January’:

“In the air that was violently cold, in the grey unforgiving light of morning
I drove past miles and miles of houses. Forever the road went
and though it was the end of January, in every other yard it seemed
a fake wretched-looking reindeer stood abandoned–or a life-sized creche
wasted in the freezing weather. In the end it was impossible to ignore
the repeated frostbitten glare of the virgin staring out into the street
or the elegant, flesh-eaten camel who stood beside her infant
swaddled in ice–as they stayed on this year, living with us
a little longer now–suddenly stranded in the difficult here.”

While this poem seems lonely in its absence of any human presence save the speaker, it stands with an even greater degree of starkness in the context of the rest of the book, where life and motion teem over. This poem seems to me one way to frame the rest of the book, in that the compartmentalized feeling of each poem and their swift arrivals and departures remind me of the houses the speaker likewise passes; the ‘here’ becomes both some faintly concrete place as well as a more heady location carried through all of the poems, stringing them together like the various trees mentioned in nearly every poem both figuratively and, faintly again, literally as they can be found manning the gaps of the textual landscape from one piece to the next.

The ‘here’ is so difficult because of the experience of reality itself, passing as one does through the grey murk between both joy and bitterness with either too much speed or not enough, lulling around at times in the wet late of a January, the decorations either forgotten or somewhere near it, looking as weathered as we all usually do. The warmth of the holiday has passed–everything is passing–but will, of course, be coming around (and leaving) again. The ‘here’ is the small moment, the tedious and unforgiving one that sits between the various, kindly-regarded ‘real’ moments that constitute the whole of life. But even these moments and micro-moment snapshots prove rich, exponentially layered with even the fewest lines. There’s a grace to this, and a grace to such moments that Garren allows to permeate this chap; the effect is light but stalwart, never letting both feet on the ground while making a kind of ineffable sort of stand. Just don’t expect superficial, easy meaning to answer you in return; ‘here’, we’re absolutely on our own, whatever we make that out to mean:

The Living Star

“we forget we are dying
and spin
on and on drifting nearer
then apart–living just as you do–all the time
we see you in the fields near your Autumn fires–your faces tilted upwards
toward us
as if we held an answer–when we live just as you do–nothing
about us is free”

‘The Difficult Here’ is the first book from Indiana University South Bend’s 42 Miles Press.

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