Said Not Said (Review Series)

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Each month I review a new book for ImageUpdate, which is put out by the fabulous people at IMAGE Journal. Here’s the latest.

Poems of Violence and Mercy
Said Not Said: Poems by Fred Marchant

“Imagine a fishbone lodged in your throat. / Imagine it kicks and squirms. / You cough, you hack, you try to heave it out…” writes poet Fred Marchant in his new collection Said Not Said. “[Y]ou try as you may to discern meaning / in the situation. You feel the bone stirring again.” Maybe every good book has a fishbone lodged in its throat. In this one, it might well be violence itself. Violence is the schizophrenia assaulting the poet’s sister, akin to the abduction and rape in Titian’s painting Europa, “her eyes turning into dots of terror,” “how her madness descended / or rose up beneath her, took her beyond known islands.” Violence is also armed conflict, including the Vietnam War, during which Marchant (then an active-duty U.S. Marine) became a conscientious objector. He visits that part of the world in “Quảng Trị Elegy,” acknowledging “I am pretty sure that I would have died here” or “killed here…with no god, and few others to forgive me”; and where is God in all this? As a young man, the poet struggles over Dante’s Inferno; his Dominican professor says that “here we could / glimpse the stern harmonic that governed,” while the student thinks that “the calculus of the deity appalling.” But Marchant neither rails against God nor argues for theodicy. He lets his eyes adjust to the darkness and paints what he sees. Any peace he finds feels fully earned. In one poem, travelers are instructed to “just step right out” into the rushing traffic of a Hà Nội street, with the assurance that “Motorbikes—hundreds of them—would find / a way around us”—and they actually do. “At that instant,” the poet writes, “I tried to imagine / a world // completely merciful, and belonging to those / few who, // as they passed smiling, looked as if they just / might forgive us.” Read Said Not Said not only for the fruits of these meditations but the experiments with form that Marchant uses as vessels for them: planted in the middle of a poem, for example, a photograph of a clay hand, with instructions to “look hard into the open palm”—“take your time.”
—Reviewed by Jen Hinst-White

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