Black Series

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Circuits

Again the dark ...

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Overview

Circuits

Again the dark begins to meddle with the buildings,
first softening then releasing them
that they might fold themselves back into concealment,
while the silences wander, inexhaustible, diverse,
hovering like shame and not like shame,
dispersing over neon-shattered streets.

But the programmed air is purposeful and sure; it doesn't wander.
It carries a deliberateness inside it,
a brittleness like wooden boxes.
In my neighbor's room, electronic voices soothe him,
and bodies made of an uncertain light
that pass back and forth through brief episodic disclosures.
No microbes live in them, or stenches—only a blue glow.
Each night they become their own erasures.

The circuits that guide me are smaller than I know.
What gaunt liberty this is, this waiting for headlines,
the flesh drenched in hearsay,
or the distant, lovely algebra of stars,
the offer that is good for one week only.
Outside, the raw data of the faces pass.
Someone is tearing a photograph in thirds. Someone
is laughing. Someone is stockpiling rage,
sharp words about to burst into the throat.
Where is the soundtrack? Where the poison dress to sting me clean?
How quiet chaos is. How tracelessly it enters.

Copyright 2001 by Laurie Sheck
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Editorial Reviews

C.K. Williams
Rarely, if ever, has the contemporary lyric been both so pure and so informed with varieties of experience; the historical and the mythic and the utterly everyday; crack addicts and Medusa and Goya, carpenter bees and graffiti, the blur of a xerox and the evocativeness of cave paintings; all conveyed with a startling precision of perception and reflection and locution. This is fine work, both delicate and bold.
Donna Seaman
Sheck is a nature poet, but the nature she attests to in her rapt and emotive, fresh and exacting long-lined poems is nature now, smudged with our finger-and footprints, soured by our toxic exhalations, and loud with the whirrings and cries of our machines. In the title cycle, she conjures a series of poignant urban night scenes in which mannequins sprout red wings when an emergency vehicle flashes by and neon signs pitch their "dizzying auras" onto passing faces. Intrigued by the poetics of electronics, she writes lyrically of circuits, "datascapes," the "netted dark," the "programmed air," and our enthrallment to televisions and computers. Sheck moves on to contemplate an array of telling landscapes, from the beautiful but trash-infested sea to a nuclear missile silo, and reinterprets the story of Medusa, all the whole considering our vulnerability: "How quiet chaos is. How tracelessly it enters." The best of poetry is both timeless and specific. Sheck's is meshed in the particulars of our digital world, but her orientation is mythic and her empathy boundless.
Booklist
Publishers Weekly
From the "irradiated mirrors" and "smooth unstartled mannequins" of its long title sequence to an impressive poem about art historians' radiography, Sheck's fourth collection presents intricate verbal surfaces, with pointers to elaborate philosophical depths. Unfortunately the surfaces, and the depths, most often seem borrowed from another contemporary poet, Jorie Graham. "How silent the unbecoming is, how silent the unraveling," Sheck writes in her title sequence, in phrases sure to recall Graham's The End of Beauty. Other poems seem to pick up, or try to rewrite, Graham's best-known single poems (one about Pascal's coat, another about Orpheus and Eurydice, another about a subway). Her influence shows in dramatic description of light and shadow ("bright/ chaos of atomized instances"), in rhetorical questions and portmanteau words ("What inside me will finance the trepass, the unprisoning?"), in her fleets of abstract nouns ("Immobilism leaned down tall in her black dress"), in allusions to the language of film, even in titles borrowed from Tudor poetry: matching Graham's "Of Forced Sights and Trusty Ferefulness," Sheck has "To Tell Him Tydings How the Wind Was Went." Sheck (The Willow Grove) is hardly the only poet to mimic Graham's influential manner her sawtooth-shaped stanzas, her Pascalian wagers, her rapt stutters and showstopping queries. "Doubt is a beautiful garment," Sheck declares, "if only I could wear it,/ all silk and ashes, on my skin." Her new verse shows undoubted ambition and charm; it may also give many readers the feeling that she's wearing someone else's clothes. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"Abeyance of stars, blacknesses of night, the undisfigured place/ between each footfall/ my flashlight marks." Even when describing the everyday world, Sheck whose recent collection, The Willow Grove, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize paints a picture of an ethereal, mysterious place. Sheck writes cityscapes, historical poems, and paeans to nature; some of her titles include "Wall-Writing," "Traces, "Foal," "The Cave," "Seaweed," and "Escape Velocity." However, it is really memory she archives in these poems: "Think hands, think mouth, think eyes. Those pieces floating/ in their stream of thought. That they might cohere and be a life." These lines from "So Fast Away" could serve as Sheck's ars poetica. Sheck is the first poet that this reviewer has encountered who effortlessly captures the cyberworld both its hold on us and its otherworldly qualities: "Now the ghost-bodies are crossing and re-crossing the screen,/ unmoored from this lullaby called solid world,/ called touch." Occasionally, a simile falters ("The stars like microchips"), but more often than not Sheck succeeds in leading us into a dream world composed of scraps and shards of memory. We follow her even when she leads us into dark places we might not otherwise choose to visit. In fact, so artfully does she weave grief, loss, and chaos into her shattered cityscapes that it is hard to remind oneself that these poems were written before this year's terrorist attacks. A haunting, beautiful collection that is highly recommended. Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375412790
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/1/1901
  • Series: Black Series
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurie Sheck is the author of three previous books of poetry, the most recent of which, The Willow Grove, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work appears widely in such journals and magazines as The New Yorker, The Kenyon Review and Boston Review. The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, among other institutions, Sheck has been a member of the creative writing faculty at Princeton University and currently teaches in the M.F.A. program at the New School. She lives in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

"The Subway Platform"
And then the gray concrete of the subway platform, that shore
stripped of all premise of softness
or repose. I stood there, beneath the city’s sequential grids
and frameworks, its wrappings and unwrappings
like a robe sewn with birds that flew into seasons of light,
a robe of gold
and then a robe of ash.
All around me were briefcases, cell phones, baseball caps,
folded umbrellas forlorn and still glistening
with rain. Who owned them? Each face possessed a hiddenness.
DO NOT STEP ACROSS THE YELLOW LINE; the Transit Authority
had painted this onto the platform’s edge
beyond which the rails
gleamed, treacherous, almost maniacal,
yet somehow full of promise. Glittery, icy, undead.
Sharp as acid eating through a mask. I counted forward
in my mind to the third rail, bristling with current,
hissing inside it like a promise or a wish; and the word
“forward” as if inside it also,
as if there were always a forward, always somewhere else
to go: station stops, exits, stairways opening out into the dusty
light; turnstiles and signs indicating this street
or that. Appointments. Addresses. Numbers and letters
of apartments, and their floors. Where was it, that thing I’d felt
inside me, tensed for flight
or capture, streaked with the notion of distance and desire?
And the people all around me, how many hadn’t
at some time or another curled up in their beds with the shades drawn,
not knowing how to feel the forwardness, or any trace
of joy? Wing of sorrow, wing ofgrief,
I could feel it brushing my cheek, gray bird
I lived with, always it was so quiet on its tether.
Then the train was finally coming, its earthquaky
rumblings building through the tunnel, its focused light
like a small fury. Soon we would get on, would step into
that body whose headlights obliterate the tunnel’s dark
like chalk scrawling words onto a blackboard.
I looked down at the hems of the many dresses all around me,
they were so bright! Why hadn’t I noticed them before? Reds
and oranges and blues, geometrical and floral patterns
swirling beneath the browns and grays of raincoats,
so numerous, so soft: “threshold,” I thought, and “lullaby,” disclosure,”
the train growing louder, the feet moving toward the yellow
line, the hems billowing as the train pulled up,
how they swayed and furrowed and leapt
as if a seamstress had loosed them like laughter from her hands–
"Circuits"
Again the dark begins to meddle with the buildings,
first softening then releasing them
that they might fold themselves back into concealment,
while the silences wander, inexhaustible, diverse,
hovering like shame and not like shame,
dispersing over neon-shattered streets.
But the programmed air is purposeful and sure; it doesn't wander.
It carries a deliberateness inside it,
a brittleness like wooden boxes.
In my neighbor's room, electronic voices soothe him,
and bodies made of an uncertain light
that pass back and forth through brief episodic disclosures.
No microbes live in them, or stenches--only a blue glow.
Each night they become their own erasures.
The circuits that guide me are smaller than I know.
What gaunt liberty this is, this waiting for headlines,
the flesh drenched in hearsay,
or the distant, lovely algebra of stars,
the offer that is good for one week only.
Outside, the raw data of the faces pass.
Someone is tearing a photograph in thirds. Someone
is laughing. Someone is stockpiling rage,
sharp words about to burst into the throat.
Where is the soundtrack? Where the poison dress to sting me clean?
How quiet chaos is. How tracelessly it enters.

Copyright© 2001 by Laurie Sheck
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Table of Contents

The Store Windows Glitter 3
Then a Dusk Like This 5
Meanwhile the Lilies Start to Close 6
So Fast Away 8
Driving Home 10
The Mannequins 12
In Curious May 14
Bridal Veil 16
Medusa 18
Instructions for a Black and White Photograph 20
Circuits 21
The Flowers 22
The Cave 24
Foal 26
The Horses 27
Memory Palaces 28
Pompeii 30
The Burned Tree 31
No Printout 33
Sun 37
Wall-Writing 40
Broken Window 42
Traces 44
The Carpenter Bees 50
Waking 52
Seaweeds 58
Escape Velocity 60
Dark Lullaby 62
The Crossing 67
Tracks 69
Walls 71
Summer Storm 78
Inside the Screen 80
No Threshold 82
Heath 87
In the South Bronx 90
At Niaux 92
"To Telle Him Tydings How the Wind Was Went" 94
The Subway Platform 99
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