Saturday poetry pick: Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath

At AWP in February, I heard Benjamin Grossberg talk about–and I’m paraphrasing–how writing could whirl up its own subjects (I remember the image of a whirlwind, although perhaps that was my addition), how, instead of lacking a subject, you could write and the act of writing would create its own subjects, call them forth. (It makes me think of the way a fire can make its own weather.) I was intrigued, and wanted to see what the writing whirled up for him. Recently at Open Books I picked up a copy of Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath. Later, I noticed that it won the 2005 Snyder Prize from the Ashland Poetry Press.

So here’s the disclaimer–these poems are at a nine-year remove from 2014, so they might not (are likely not) representative of the poet’s current explorations of writing and creative weather. However, Mr. Grossberg has helpfully posted more recent poems on his website.

Back to the book at hand, these are expansive love poems: love between Penelope and Odysseus, love between Hero and Leander, love between men–love and relationships in a time of AIDS. (Yes, we are still in a time of AIDS). Many of the poems are long (and I enjoy long poems), and in many of the poems the lines are long. Without a lot of white space, without a lot of stanza breaks–a kind of whirlwind, an urgency underlying the poems, just as the voice might be quiet while the subject is taut. I think of “Barely April,” with its meditative voice talking about a breakup and glass splinters in the soil, things falling and fallen apart, green growth and danger. Other favorites of mine: “Underwater,” “Drowning,” “The Deer,” “A Middle Class Consideration of Lust,” “Amerigo Vespucci, 1506, Contemplates another Sheet of Vellum,” “The Man Who Had His Bone Marrow Irradiated Writes Jeanne Calment.” I had a lot of favorites.

I apologize for not providing a poem here. I had a hard time finding links to poems online, but you can follow the link above to see Benjamin S. Grossberg’s newer poems. Or you can pick up a copy of Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath.