Rob Schlegel, January MachineJanuary Machine
Rob Schlegel
Four Way Books, $15.95 (paper)

To think of a month as a machine is to concede that measured time, like the human’s conception of its place within it, is an agreed-on construction: January’s 31 days might just as readily be February’s 29 or a long June’s 180. Months can also be sentiments and feelings, ones we make and remake season by season, year by year. January Machine, Rob Schlegel’s second collection and winner of the 2014 GrubStreet Book Prize in Poetry, likewise invokes both the arbitrary structures we impose on experience and the emergencies of feeling. Consisting of two sequences (the found language piece “Bellwethers” and the long title poem), January Machine asks what makes America American, patriotism patriotic. Schlegel writes, “Around those whose agendas / are national, I need to know / what national is. Its use seems limited / to the human condition, / but its condition seems fueled / by privilege.” Elsewhere, the pervading sense of mass shooting–related, drone bomb–detonated American gloom finds its way into the volume: “I live in fear till fear becomes / that part of me / impossible to face.” January Machine is tentative in its proclamations—Schlegel is not a bombastic poet by any means—but the statements it emphasizes linger and fester, its tightly fitted lines (many in quatrains) giving voice to our current confusion and concern: “Saint Ice, Saint Anthony, / Saint Destruction, find for me / a water deep enough to drown / these straws of indifference.”