The True Keeps Calm Biding Its Story
Ahsahta Press, $17.50 (paper)
Each line of every poem in Rusty Morrison’s The True Keeps Calm Biding Its Story, a book-length meditation on her father’s death, ends in the words “please,” “stop,” or “please advise.” Readers can choose to treat these telegraphic line endings as pauses in an argumentative whole (“stop” in place of a period, “please” and “please advise” acting as ellipses or commas) so that they become more or less unread. Or they can allow the endings to remain consciously perceived obstacles that break the otherwise unpunctuated verse into skeletal, gnomic units: “here is the orderliness in genetic logic its wall of curtained windows stop / wind in the winter jasmine will undulate but not accumulate stop” and “within the costume of aphorism a thought flees extinction stop.” One’s choice of strategy will probably hinge on whether one prefers poetry to follow a rhetorical arc of accreted meaning or to work by associating discrete fragments. Part elegy, part epistolary sequence, The True Keeps Calm comprises messages to the dead in the form of telegrams that never reach their destination. Such conceits often prove more interesting in their potential than in their execution—once we have a grasp of the poetry’s conceptual framework, its specifics begin to seem less important. It is to Morrison’s credit that the book’s clumsier moments (“close to form today but didn’t penetrate more than formula stop”) are few. Meaning and punctuation are at odds in Morrison’s work, and endings—death, the finish of a line—are places where the finite is both illusion and governing principle. Where, Morrison’s wordplay asks, can we place full stops if we are unsure where or whether anything—especially mourning—ever ends? The poems chart the interrupted logic of grief in a way you will find either monotonous or compelling in its consistency, a sustained minor chord mediated and shaped by the formal repetitions that both divide one line from the next and drive the poems inexorably forward.