I Read Julie Agoos’ Property (Ausable) this week. Fairly representational narrative poems about New England, written in loose blank verse: hmm . . . who does this remind me of . . .
Actually, the book diverges from Frost in some important ways, and that has made all the difference. First, the narratives end rather abruptly – almost in media res, just as the story gets going. I like that, b/c stories ought to make you think about why they end – and begin – where and as they do. Not only does one have to piece together a narrative from the shorter poems, one also has to think beyond the ending.
In addition, these poems actually deal with history. With actual history, I mean – tho sometimes quotes are transported into totally different historical contexts. As I’ve said in these pages before, it’s hard to write about the Pequot War, for instance, without some readers’ thinking of Susan Howe, and these are definitely not Howe poems: for one thing, they really do tell stories, albeit slant (the “Reading of the Pequot War,” for instance, fast-forwards to later anti-immigrant sentiment at the end).
The best thing in the book is the long poem “Deposition,” composed of 21 “transcripts” – really snippets of imagined cross-examination in a trial. Not only does Agoos maintain her more-or-less consistent blank-verse template, she also (at the same time) presents an Altman-esque rendering of people talking over one another and at cross purposes:
Q: I mean, where had they emigrated from?
Q: Where were they from?
- place? – Or did you mean –
Q: Where had they come from?
Attorney for the Defense: Let the witness answer.
-- what the last place was?
And that’s the entirety of “Transcript II”; some of these exchanges are worthy of Howard Baker and John Dean’s during the Watergate hearings. “Deposition” is not a Reznikoff deposition – indeed, it reads more like a mystery novel.
At other points in Property, the verse sounds a little (little) like North of Boston:
[they] should have foreseen, the signs all in
as they always are after the fact,
when the story becomes like the story again
of the universe starting: never before
was there something like this, at no time, no sir, ask anyone.
There are worse things to sound like. The transcript poems are worth the price of admission.
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17 hours ago