The Figures ($10)
by Chris Fischbach
The first thing you'll notice when you open Braid are its braid-like stanzas, seven lines each set in strict syllabics. (Those familiar with Marianne Moore's poetry will immediately recognize the similarity.) It's not always apparent why Roger Mitchell has chosen such a constraining, seemingly arbitrary form, but that's half the fun of this unusual, difficult book.
At first, Mitchell's poetry seems merely at play in a landscape of language. It has all the prerequisites: the bathos one expects from New York/LANGUAGE school poetry, juxtaposed with meditations on life and the nature of language, its ability or lack thereof to represent any reality. Cheese sandwiches and Camaros vs. theology and poststructuralism. There is no immediate cohesion to these poems, but reading on, one discovers thin strands of narrative: that cheese sandwich mentioned on the first page is eaten pages later, now a metaphor for something like verisimilitude.
Like a braid (so that's what titles are for) whose strain of hair is hidden under others and resurfaces only to hide again, Mitchell's book-length meditation: "knows no language adequate to its condition, pretending, as it has for centuries, it is what it is not, is where it cannot be, poem equal // to the world, to the tree, to the fragments of graying styrofoam stuck in the Sargasso Sea, or strung out along the fence with the wrappers and torn bags, crushed aluminum cans, possum carcasses, dried grass."
Language, in Braid, is its own reality, based on a wide range of human perceptions and varying senses, and we construct forms, however artificial and syllabic, based on them. These become the forms we use to make sense of the confusing narratives of our own lives.
Rain Taxi Print Edition, Vol.3 No. 1, Spring (#9) | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 1998