Deadfalls and Snares
Samantha Giles,
Futurepoem Books, $16 (paper)

The art-class injunction to draw what you see rather than what you know aims at least in part to detach observation from idea, trusting that a subject is better served by the reproduction of its values—light, dark, curved, straight—than by subjection to a name: martyr, bowl of fruit, dead bird. Samantha Giles’s uncompromising deadfalls and snares wields a chilling version of this technique in poems describing the Abu Ghraib photographs: “grey-white / with shape of / fist in lower / left / white solid / black line / completes / triangle.” Giles also works from ominously incomplete transcripts (“Voice One: OK, Here we go. Voice Three: [redacted]”) and surveys (“Hung by feet? No. / Hung by arms or hands? Yes.”) and from the testimonies of individuals who administered and suffered torture, setting appropriation-based poems against stark, stuttering lyrics. In one devastating sequence, rearranged pronouns—“I placed me on my backs, naked”—foreground the roles of empathy and implication in the double bind we face when venturing (as we must) into such compromised territory. The psychotherapist and writer Adam Phillips recently suggested that the “conscience,” and the self-critique it fosters, can become an “unforbidden pleasure,” sublimating the ambivalence attending our most difficult realities into comfortably inert self-blame. deadfalls and snares makes such maneuvering impossible. The trapping devices named in the collection’s title are rudimentary compared to those of the book itself, which spares us nothing, least of all any palliative sense of conscience.