The New Sun Time

Ish Klein
Canarium Books ($17)

by Robert Fernandez            

“The world is full of miracles; toys / are our blueprints for better living,” writes Ish Klein in her latest book, The New Sun Time, a riveting account of how life expresses itself in the world. Here, we see the world from the perspective of life and life from the perspective of one outside, but not quite separate from, the world:

Eh, allowing love
for it is outside
very like the nose
A lovely huge nose.

The New Sun Time ends with the masterful “Every Animal Is Your Mother,” which adapts the Tibetan Buddhist exercise of imagining every living thing implicated in every other living thing (such that a worm, say, could be your mother via the endless cycles of death and rebirth):

Cutthroat Trout eats small fish,
fish, eggs, algae, insects,
frogs and small rodents which
got delivered, I guess.
They’re et by bald eagles,
lake trout, otters, osprey—

      I will go toward commotion

The value of such an exercise is foregrounded in an era in which planetary life threatens to disrupt humanity’s homely domain. The New Sun Time reminds us that life can be threatening and indifferent, code-like and machinic, but it is also libidinal, funny, punning, spontaneous, shocking, innocent: “Iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb alive.”

The place of life—“a precious necklace [ringing] heart and breast”—can’t be penetrated, yet it draws the poet in: “I must only move towards life.” To be harassed by both the world and the invisible—the poet’s natural state—provokes cleansing utterances:

and he was like offended
and I was like you want me to do the German version
    of lick your asshole though you insult me

and he was like you are a prostitute in German
and I was like your mother is a prostitute
and he said destroy me in German    
and I said I’d like to see him try                                                                 

Klein’s poems are indebted to the New York School’s speed and immediacy (she was a student of Kenneth Koch's), modernist theater, film, Buster Keaton, Sherlock Holmes, games, Old English poems and riddles, and so on. Her idiosyncratic sensibility and formidable facility can lead to opacities, but the poems are also written with an eye to performance, and her readings reveal a sense of the poem as a complex body of feeling, tones, and thought integrated at the level of music.

The New Sun Time’s essential questions revolve around life, love, and freedom. Is life without love mere repetition? Is “loving a freedom state?” How does poetry access life? How does life access us? And do we feel it when the surface tension of the visible breaks and the invisible emerges: “When the stick figures leave / they go ‘Adios Bitcheros!’ Witty but will // their body get some spheres and arches?”

The poet is subject to the world and its conventions, limitations, and radioactive particles that “penetrate any place.” She can’t escape its scandalous rehearsals of law and power. But she is also prone to reversals, as when visitors from other zones enter and familiar orientations are turned on their head: “At the laundromat the earth shifted its / polarity. A child went missing.”

In a time of deadlocks and crises, The New Sun Time works toward liberation and healing. It argues for the transformative potential of the unseen and marginal over the captivating and narcissistic. The “new sun time” itself is perhaps the uncanny time of poetry, of approaching the sun’s place of “spheres and arches”—or life, which the poet moves inexorably toward.

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