Late Humans and Other Animals – The Brooklyn Rail


There are a number of bears in Jean Day’s Late Human: some rendered “at HO scale” are “hardly threatening” however one turns up “close to the guests’ heart,” and one other “from all fours / stood full to her horrible peak.” The nearness of animal life, and its alternation between acquainted and alien, cute and unknowable, pervades this dense and beautiful assortment of poems. Though we frequently do our greatest to neglect it, we’re animals—and like them, our lives heart as a lot round consuming and discovering mates as anything. Our pondering minds run alongside this exercise of survival, within the sometimes beautiful type of background hum: jokes, songs, perception, philosophical and in any other case. Plenty within the combine, if that is what makes us who we’re. But who’s to say it is not consuming and mating that defines humanness, or {that a} bittern (or a she-bear) has no inside life? Anyway: what’s Late Human? A kind of individual? A mode marked by the point of its composition (“late Dylan”)? A geological period (named, maybe, by kids)?

“I do not wish to communicate for you / however now we have to begin someplace,” begins “A Sentimental Education.” It’s one among three “Obvious Elegies” whose titles have been lifted from French novels (the opposite two being “In Search of Lost Time” and “Lost Illusions”). The deadpan appropriation of those titles, alongside the splendid, unusual, and very American language out of which they’re composed, distills a sure facet of Day’s writing that I’ve been drawn to for years. The first poet to be printed in Lyn Hejinian’s now legendary Atelos sequence (1998’s The Literal World: word the delicate nonetheless from Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man on the quilt), Day is well-known within the Bay Area, however this newest assortment (three serial poems and two lengthy poems), just lately out on Ugly Duckling Presse, should deliver her marvelously sharp, mysterious poetry to wider audiences.

Humans do (maybe we ‘late’ ones most of all) have a fraught relationship with our personal animality; among the many quite a few threads operating by these poems, that is one among its brightest and most seen. On the primary web page, the speaker riffs—humorsously, dejectedly—on the drained trope conflating the avian with the female:

It’s a tough life
for a chook on a aircraft
sans cocktail

Day returns to the absurdity of this sexist trope elsewhere, significantly in “Early Bird,” which closes the gathering. Sexism, not intercourse; capital, not meals’s shortage or abundance; work, and a uninteresting religion in numbers—these have come to separate us from the animal kingdom (not souls, no matter meaning, and definitely not brains):

Why have they set us knaves to hauling
the embers of different members? Amount,
quantity, O fellow fur-bearing creature;
reside as much as your school diploma!

It’s riotously humorous, in some methods, but in addition lifeless critical. What makes us human, and to what extent have our late applied sciences (together with, maybe, French novels) come to outline us over and above the traits we share with different animals? Throughout, the poems change and give pleasure, however in addition they return to sure very actual realities: to know-how, poverty, sexism and conflict; to the wreckage of local weather catastrophe and the ugly glaze of bureaucratic tech-speak which is employed to shine it over. In that sense the poems are additionally summary—they draw forcefully from a tragic, all-too-familiar world with the intention to embellish their supreme fictions. And they’re definitely greater than mere abstractions.

Also (once more per Stevens), these poems teem with an unique and beautiful vocabulary. The phrases really feel nonchalantly littered by the poems however they’re the truth is completely positioned—I appeared up bombilating, lazzaroni, beta waving, antinomian. Hebdomadal, propaedeutic. Miscibility is one other one I discovered (adj., chemistry: able to being blended), and it appears significantly related. Often, an elevated, even Romantic poetic diction abuts a form of zany cartoonishness:

but lets quail
with the foolish birds?
whose legs in flight shoot pencil-like
from their rumps?

There’s an exquisite measure within the imagery, which, as in Ashbery (to whom she glancingly alludes: “The double speak of Spring”), flips registers: serials, cleaning soap jingles and cartoons emerge from out of the static, and bump up towards allusions to the Tempest, Old Navy, Abbas Kiarostami, Voltaire, and The Children of the Corn, simply to call a couple of. However in some methods, Day’s poems really feel extra pressing than Ashbery’s, and definitely extra urgently political.

The three “Obvious Elegies” grouped below the heading “Sojourn” maybe finest epitomize the gathering as an entire. They animate and queer their titles, overtly plucked (as talked about above) from these three pinnacles of French literature, with one thing which continues to be darkly glittering: baroque, realist, and humane, however far more riotous, approach much less male, and deeply American. Funny and clever, filled with darkish laughter throughout the very shortest of the geologic eras, they appear even to anticipate no matter’s subsequent—a post-Anthropocene.

Apart from their titles, it is in no way clear what’s “apparent” about these elegies. They resist, fairly superbly, ‘essential interpretation.’ They appear to kaleidoscope from a projected finish of human historical past again out to earlier than we arrived on the scene. Like the “hummingbird” of Lawrence’s Birds Beasts and Flowers, you are feeling as in the event you’re wanting on the scenes the place these poems happen “from the unsuitable finish of the lengthy telescope of Time.” Immediately after asserting, “the bombshell arrives within the type of DNA,” the speaker interjects a query: “that Delaware you thought you have been?” First I believed, “Small Wonder,” however no: that is Rhode Island. “The First State.” Through a self-perceived firstness, people now vie to turn into earth’s final species, seeing ourselves as Alpha and Omega. We might have named a geologic period after ourselves, however French realism and iPhones, together with melted glaciers, will probably be our legacy.

There’s a Mid-Atlantic smallness, a specialness, in these poems, which performs out towards the hindsight (foresight?) of California time lag, a gaze again over the darkening continent, or a life—to register some sundown that is already occurred. One factor I’ve at all times secretly cherished about Jean Day’s poems is that you could hear them, in the event you squint, in David Berman’s voice. That droll mid-Atlantic oracular drawl, a laconic deadpan sequence of sibilant sluggish declaratives. But provided that Berman was much less impatient—each extra beneficiant and additionally extra realizing. It’s there, too, in the way in which she bends colloquialisms, generatively queers them out of their tendency towards reinforcing a uninteresting establishment: “Hasters gonna haste,” she writes, and, with terrific directness, “speaking of taking / the bull by the balls.” More ominously, “Let’s not cry over spent rods” propels childhood’s spilt milk hundreds of years, as radioactive waste abides in post-human panorama.

But that is the way in which
of the sentence
and our job to name a spade
a cradle

At occasions the beasts that prowl the poems appear to have turn into Operating Systems (“linked by way of Leopard, Lion, Lamb”). A mountain vary “we had hoped to scale” turns into an error code: “(not discovered).” “Having by no means obtained the grasp / / of observe modifications,” the poet’s surge of “ridiculous pleasure” is simply the unhappy results of inhabiting “a brand new cubicle.” A way of all that is been misplaced suffuses the e book: from the heights a Proustian elegy would possibly conjure, but in addition on the degree of ongoing mass extinction, and on the scale of a human life, too: “we’re at current in a protracted wave / of stagnation—struggling at a gown / for which we’re too outdated.” This loss is marked by its fatally human (significantly capitalist, male) misrepresentations—ladies as birds, animals as Operating Systems, an entire mountain vary as a 404 error.

“Early Bird,” which closes the e book, opens,

The music had already begun
to disappoint
I can not go on
slaving for bread, sir
although sunup boasts
an egg in its fats
a worm in its pores and skin

See the way in which that Beckett-like line (a direct quote, actually) “I can not go on” is torqued into music: on this case, Desmond Decker’s rocksteady basic “The Israelites.” The darkness and lateness that pervade the poems is fended off with what the thoughts finds instantly at hand: jokes, scraps of music. Later within the poem one other lyric from the tune pops up once more: “so that each mouth / might be fed.” The picture conjures equally mama chook feeding her younger, and a protection of (animal) mutual assist as towards capitalism’s brute logic of hunger. It branches from Beckett into reggae, from a disappointment in beginnings right into a starting, nonetheless.

The phrase “propaedeutic,” which I appeared up whereas studying “Early Bird,” means “preliminary to the research of.” It’s helpful in occupied with this poem, and about Late Human extra typically. The poem appears partially to evaluate of the (im)chance of starting, or, in having begun, of continuous: “Having once more not but begun,” “however that is the way in which / of the sentence” “I run out I run out I run out.” Sunup, on this context, is pretty much as good a starting point as any, and simply as arbitrary. At the outset of the poem, the solar trembles like a gelid, yellowy yolk: each chook’s personal egg, gruesomely externalized, and worm-filled reward for being an “Early Bird.” It’s calamitous, absurd: a panorama through which the chook’s personal egg is its reward, or the place getting “the worm” is proven in human phrases (gross). It put me in thoughts of Elizabeth Bishop’s “All the untidy exercise continues, / terrible however cheerful.” To start, to start with, or to start once more: these are the rewards for being an early chook.

If beginnings are not possible, or endless, one solution to “go on” then is thru the lyric, or, actually, in bits of music lyrics. Songs are woven all through the e book: not simply “The Israelites,” however “I’d Rather Go Blind,” “Love Train” by the O’Jays, even David Allen Coe’s novelty nation basic, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name.” Day’s poems are intensely musical, lyrical, however in addition they present how—if a poem is the “graph of a thoughts shifting,” as Philip Whalen put it—the poet at all times has a music in her head. In the grimness of this late panorama, music is a refuge, on rotation, like humor. Another approach of occurring is in asking questions. “Early Bird” pivots on an amazing cascade of startling, humorous, heady questions, together with:

Do I’ve time to squeeze my kidneys? Have you been crying?
Is that truthful? What Marx would name “moist”?
Why did not I feel to name the air “floaty”?
Did you see the sky? Are you bowing or simply tipping over?
Why do the males of some species sing so many various songs?

Do I hear free verse?

Why, whom, what? Questioning, like consideration to the lyric, like humor, engages deeply with the world, irrespective of how broken or late it has (or now we have) turn into. Like different poems within the assortment, “Early Bird” rigorously attends to and remarks upon its personal progress, amending itself infrequently because it goes, usually within the type of questions it asks itself (“How got here we / and whence?”). A capability for grossness (these squeezed kidneys) stays alongside marvel (“did you see the sky?”). The poem delights in its capability to let all in. Music is at all times there so that you can head afresh into the mess; the questions you ask your self present firm to go on within the darkening gloom—

then drowned by the roar of the surf
we toast ourselves

a species
unable to fathom its limits