1. If Geof Huth met Longfellow halfway in Longfellow Memoranda, Sina Queyras meets Virginia Woolf halfway in Lemon Hound. But I suspect Queyras and Woolf don't live as far apart. Lemon Hound returns, again and again, to a Woolvian world-weary melancholy, to that other sense of "the poetic". One poem starts: "If you open your mouth, ache. If you don’t open your mouth, swelter." I don't know Queyras's work outside of this book. What is her relationship to such melancholy? Is she leaning on Woolf to assume this emotional register, or as a way to incorporate this register into an exploration of other aspects of her poetry? Or is that register "natural" for her poetry? (Even if it is "natural", it's not unquestioned.) (And there are many other registers in the book, but this register is the tonic note that the book keeps coming home to.) I have been thinking lately about appropriation as a tool for accessing or allowing emotional writing. Does this book do that or not? I'd have to read other books by Queyras to tell.
2. But let's keep going with that poem:
If you open your mouth, ache. If you don’t open your mouth, swelter. If you open your mouth but hold your breath, ether. If you look for colour, coral and tea leaves. If you follow the moon, wet and concrete. If you cling to the earth, pistol and candy apple. If you give up your garden, maze and globe, hydrangeas and moon vines. If you lose your shoes, pumice and strain. If you have no money, tin and clang.That's the beginning of "If". Like many of the poems in the book, it has a certain structure. It is a prose poem that repeats the opening phrase of each sentence ("If you..."). They are, in a certain sense, list poems. Lemon Hound explores, ah, not so much the form of the list, but the form of the list poem.
So far, the clauses before the comma are mostly stable: "If you X your Y", with one "If you X your Y but P your Q", which is not so different. But the clauses after the comma flicker. "Ache" and "swelter" are imperative verbs, but "ether" must be a noun. Hm. Well, "ache" and "swelter" are also nouns. Although, does "swelter" want to be a noun? It prefers being a verb, I think. Similarly, "wet" can be a noun, but wants to be an adjective. So there is some grammatical tension building. At first, the nouns go together nicely enough. "Coral and tea leaves" both connect to "colour" easily enough. But "maze and globe" require interpretation to be resolved, and "globe" re-moons the "moon" in "moon vines". And "pumice and strain"?
Later in the poem: "If you can, software and lingerie.", which adds (bitter?) humor to the ache and swelter. Then, instead of nouns, there is a verbal phrase with "If you love flowers, do not fold." But: "If you are blonde, topple, flax, moraine." And towards the end: "If you know anger, detonate and flex." "Flex" can be resolved into a noun, but "detonate" and "topple" can't, and the pattern of verbs forced into nounhood is complicated further. Can we imagine "a topple", "a detonate"? The form is a list, and at times reads as a preacher's rhetoric (get Obama to do the audiobook), but the expectations set up are, again and again, subverted.
3. It's not just Woolf: There's a secondary strand of Stein running through these poems. Lemon Hound is a book of short declarative sentences. There are almost no relative pronouns. Removing relative pronouns removes a form of subordination. It encourages repetition. It encourages lists. It discourages the overgrowth, the weedy and untended patches of nature that too easily grow in, say, my blog writing. It is a neatly trimmed pubic area. But it is a still human geometry, trimmed but not airbrushed, manicured but still pungent.