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Out in Rain—and Back in Rain : On Lucy Ives’s Anamnesis

by Kate Northrop

Anemnesis by Lucy Ives. 106 pgs. Slope Editions, 2009. $14.95.

The urgent condition in Anamnesis is restlessness.  Of being always en route, of shifting constantly in between: in between wrong and right, in between start and finish, I and you, experience and the naming of it.   While much of this book is made—and left—up in the air, it is not driven by skittishness.   To make meaning in language we must find the right word, the word that will suffice, but what if, in choosing that word, we set in motion another great loss?  What if, once named, the experience begins to change? To pass away?  And if the experience is of one’s dead father?  How to accept that word? That loss?

Anamnesis is a series of poems built around two commands, Write and Cross this out.   Here is the second poem in the first section:

You can write, “He left the house before noon, after they finished breakfast”
Cross this out
You can write, “He checked the prices of digital sound recorders on the internet”
Cross this out
You can write, “We hear the train at night”
Cross out “train,” write, “satellite”
Cross out “at night”
Write, “who are both unsure what will happen”
Cross this sentence out
Write, “How could one escape the notice of that which never sets?”

In spite of learning I should cross out ‘train,’ I still hear a train, only dimly, as I try to reject it for a satellite.  Then I must turn night into day, though I am further haunted by trying to hear that satellite in the dark.  In this way, the poems in Anamnesis conjure a ghost world, one that I struggle to know and unknow, one that troubles me, and wakens me.  In the introduction to Broken English, Heather McHugh claims that while exposition’s means “is its invisibility…you look through in at its object,” poetry is not exposition precisely because “It is the place that suffers inscription….everything moves in it (as everything moves in the mind); its glass is not transparent but is the sign of the seer’s own slant.”  In Anamnesis the world is—or a world was—and the speaker scripts and scripts it.  The glass is not transparent, as it is not transparent in Rusty Morrison’s marvelous the true keeps calm biding its story, a book more certainly about a father’s death but no less haunting, no less a troubled surface.  In both books, my gratitude for this inscription (rather than “a very windexed window”) is keen.  In Anamnesis, the poems hold and hurt, without requiring my becoming too chummy with the poet, or viewing too clearly the intimate details of a loved one’s death.

On Christopher Cook’s poetry blog, I read that in the third section of Anamnesis the poems “begin to out themselves as being about the death of Ives’s father.” I was pleased to read this, because I too sense in the poems an illness and a father’s death, but I wasn't sure, and I still am not.  His “begin to” seems quite accurate.  The poems begin to out themselves, but never completely emerge.  That we do not apprehend the knowledge of that loss—that it never turns for us into hard fact—is central to the experience of Anamnesis.  How else recollect the story of a previous life, lost life?  Knowledge, that is, that cannot be exactly known? That is powerfully sensed, though it isn’t named?

As the poems continue, the quotes begin to drop away and the referents blur.  The beginning of the second poem of the third section:

Write, “Bright sun came through in a pink stream”
Write, “It was just like living in the country”
Cross this out
Sorority girls falling down
Cross this out

Am I to cross out the first and second sentences?  Only the second?  Or should I cross out the crickets?  Sorority girls?  Because I can’t locate the referent, I stop crossing things out. I stop erasing.  As a result of course, the world of Anamnesis draws closer, begins to acquire color and shape.  The end of the poem:

I am thinking about the Natural History Museum
I want to go to the basement
Fish statuary, blown from glass
This is like a memory of being taken someplace by a father who is no more
Only here in person, but distant, yes, a memory erodes
Leaving in its place a circle
Beautiful circle
Cross this out

Reading this book, I was reminded of something a friend of mine said this fall, on the anniversary of her father’s death, fifteen years ago.  Immediately after his death, she grieved the loss of her father. Now she grieves the loss of the memory of him.  Although she attempts to hold—through writing, reminiscing, remembering—the memory steadily blurs.  It is the work of Anamnesis to make such a ghost-blur urgent, as it is to the speaker.  To me the most telling (and deeply saddening) image of the book appears two poems later:

The world just slips over itself and then what was isn’t
Recognizable but no longer known
And that transparent man at my shoulder
Carrying within him a lazy boat and all the colors

Here the hold the poems increasingly have on me begins to tighten, continuing until the crucial poem, which appears almost at the end of the book, the only poem that does not include the imperative, “Cross this out.” It’s a startling absence, as if the work of the book were to get to this point:

Natural sounds
Fences rattling
Cars being allowed to go
And no sound from the hour
The hour as ever silent
Write, “Leaves quietly again”
And I am still with you

Even at this moment of the book, the moment that almost provides a landing, “And I am still with you,” we cannot hope to arrive finally: we shift there between stills.  Still: I continue to be with you? Still: without moving, I am with you?  It can be both; it is neither.  We are still in the air, but not without a slight—very slight—sense of communion.  Soon afterward, the speaker suggests:

You can know other people             
Cross this out
But it’s true
You can know other people

While “you can know other people” is insistent (it survives a crossing out), the phrase has the air of a mantra, of something said, especially if one is grief-stricken, to generate hope.   Whether that hope is well-founded the book doesn’t say, at least not outright.  At the end of the book, we arrive at a frame: 

Cross this out
————- “The reports of adults on the radio make you feel”
Now write, “Older now” 

Finally something is crossed out.  Something is totally absent and only then are we allowed a place, a landing there between nows, however temporary the stay.


Kate Northrop is the author of three poetry collections: Clean (Persea Books, 2011), Things Are Disappearing Here, and Back Through Interruption, which received the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University Press. A recipient of a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship, Northrop is a contributing editor at The American Poetry Review and teaches in the University of Wyoming’s MFA program. (4/2011)

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