“What is reality without the dislocating energy of poetry?” asks Maurice Blanchot. The question is to the point. In a cultural climate just beginning to recover from the so-called death of postmodernism, widely rumored to have taken place after the events of September 11, it’s gratifying to know that practitioners of the indeterminate and contingent have persisted in their quiet work. We have continued to remain uncertain, it appears, as to who the enemy is, and we’ve continued to resist the vilifying of the other. The poems by Matt Shears presented here participate in the ecstatic, in its original etymology, which means to be “placed outside.” Why should individuals and cultures learn the lessons of dislocation? Perhaps because it is a concept that is ontologically correct. It’s clear that Stein is a presiding genius loci in Shears’s poetry, as is the Black Mountain tradition and other progressive poetics, with their dictates against a priori truth. Readers are asked to put their assumptions aside and abide in the poem for the time it takes to read it. It is time well spent, as each poem, with its perfectly timed medial line breaks, reveals its necessities. Sense is derived, as in music, through repetitions and durations (“an ecosystem,” “a market”). Sense is also derived narratively, via perfectly constructed parallelisms (“a wholeness, i answered”). Deeply humane, transparently humble, these poems collapse categories to expand the available reality. It’s marvelous that, while working an ethos more clearly than an aesthetic, they are also deeply beautiful. Increasingly, the clearest testimony to our present moment appears in work that skirts the line connecting ethics and aesthetics, and which is invested in discovering where it is crossed. Matt Shears’s poetry is such work and I’m immensely thankful for it.

—Claudia Keelan


an ecosystem

its consolation, embedded mimicries
one noticed (a further spring, a rose, a moon
severed, the dilemmas of class, taste
burgeoning in signs of stars once traced,
their atlas equipped the trappings
of a small dream, of a bird in flight, of tomorrow
constrained. every message, spreading
wings, a wave without breath,
the starlings too crowded, darkness
in the envelopes/enveloping a limit, of speech
considered, bloomed the rotting heap, lifting,
a blanket of youth, of clouds, of every
the light somewhat, filthy
a crashing each heard distinctly.
a without, harboring the scents of ships
could its economics could its revelations
so risen in watchtowers of yore, the neon burnt
if smoke, if the answer if the question
positioned a terrarium, the grief, of those
within, what left behind,
the vase which had carried, an ocean


a social poem

when they were killing its animal.
when perhaps he should have. done something else.
while they were, the question.
remained. open.
perhaps he should have done something
other its open. remained.
while they were away, killing, killing, killing—
while it was ‘being killed off.’
where. other, than
the question of which. remained.
had it been done. had it been done. had it been done.
when they were killing its animal.
were they. away.
have you met them.
when, perhaps, then, you should have done so.
they were killing its animal.
i was being ‘thinned out’—
had it been done.
now it is the kind of dreamt that always did it.
had it been done.
while they had been watching,
what they were looking for.

• • •

so minimal, its animal.
a decimal, a decibel.
a crucible.
there were so many, on its Crusade.
along the way—killing, killing, killing
could it have loved terror.
could it have been named, Terror.
else, it claimed.
had they been thinking, something else.
it claimed. perhaps it should not have been.
altogether, unthought.
perhaps they should have
done something else.
have you spoken to them.
although it was not unheard.
it was being painted. over and over and over
again. could it not
come. would it not, again
come killing its animal. and weren’t they,
if they could/if they couldn’t.
in what kind of Dream, were they coming.
when did it run.


a market

          were the heirlooms agreed, upon were
the spirits packaged, in weather, neighborhoods
tongued into each other, identity caressed
what the consciousness said it answered
the burning of its dream, this type of fire
in the absent, foundation could its reach
how it thought itself, how it said it answered
one spoke, a knowledge, an application
they did not recognize each other, skin was
everywhere reincarnation was, everywhere


a wholeness, i answered

of a new garden they dreamed its winter, everything electric, kinetic, he was walking through it, where she followed, where she went. only the language, unsorted, lifted in a wind that brought nothing, the absence of gardens she was walking, where he followed, where he went. that the signified could not lighten, that neither was carrying it. an impossible dance enmeshed the lights, the lenses, where its winter expanded, where it fell away. that the fallen world, was not theirs, that the voices each carried, tangled, in the spaces they opened, where a sun could have been. only everything, was infinite, he could no longer, celebrate its landscape, she could no longer, include a sprinkling of stars, the edge of morning. that the risen world, was not theirs, he was walking, where she followed, where she went. an impossible music lifted, a further music, one that returned, with the absence of music. the ends of dream narratives spread out into the blankness, words, letters dissociating, vestiges of themselves, they were walking where it followed, where it went. everything insubstantial, potential, each to be written again, to be dreamed again, each one disappearing apart/together.


a threshold

where it was crossing, with painting

where it was crossing and dotting, as well as

operatic, cinematic, where it had been

going and going to. where it was scheduled,

where it was intimately involved, another

gleamed, a wing, a spoon for allegorical

imperatives, strangers in the night, a solid

silhouette. he could not stop being

an allegorical figure, the kind of figurine,

had it been rusting, which might forego

a public appearance. they could not argue

about the weight, of its disappearance, how

it was throwing even that weight around, how

all the eyes were hanging lowly, a sort of

relief that is always gathering,

pointing toward, the proper kind of else.

i might have disagreed, however i was

yearning. i might have followed the space

of desire a little further, although.

why he was becoming, a cartoon, a kind of

dancing, a gleam in someone else’s eye.

where it was becoming, less fructified, less

wasteful, and sweetly, was clinging,

to the type of backdrop, which signified the presence

of memory, although she said it was a cauldron,

although it might have been churning,

counter-clockwise. a voice among voicings,

its kind of ventriloquism, that yearning

was, in fact, everywhere, it had only to be

summoned, purposefully, asked nicely, written to.

that the deep heart’s core, that amongst well-wishers,

with a kind of goodbye, a wave, some music.